In spite of what you learned
in high school or college English writing classes, writing
for the news media is different in some respects.
Paragraphing is different. It is not bound by the
rule that sentences with like ideas all go into the same
paragraph. While that works for college papers and other
types of writing, it does not work for newspapers. Why?
Because most newspapers and magazines are formatted in
columns. Usually columns are not very wide. If you took
a normal paragraph and put it in this format, it could
take up an entire column. Shorter paragraphs in newspaper
columns are easier to read. Therefore, in news writing
paragraphs and sentences are shorter. Most sentences are
of short or medium length. Longer more complex sentences
Personal Titles in newspaper format are not capitalized
when they appear after the name of the person they refer
to. If the title appears before the name of the person,
it is capitalized. Example: United Sates President
George Washington. George Washington, president
of the United States. Newspapers follow the Associated
Press (AP) Handbook in their use of grammar and style.
The way a story is put together is different. Newspapers,
radio and television all use a format called the inverted
pyramid. In this format the information is reported
in descending order of importance. Information crucial
to the story, the who, what, where,
when, why, and sometimes how, known
as the Five Ws, should appear in the first three
or four sentences, which means in the first two paragraphs.
Supportive information should come next followed
by repetitive information. The inverted pyramid
looks like this:
There is a valid reason for preparing your story in this
format. Newspapers work in a space availability
mode concurrent with the timeliness and importance
of the story. Though they may have full intentions of
using your whole story, if something happens that shortens
their space availability or a more important, timely story
comes in, they have the option of either eliminating your
story entirely or merely cutting parts out of it. If the
newspaper chooses to try to fit it in, they need to be
able to cut your story to fit without cutting the meat
out of it. They will start by cutting from the bottom
of your pyramid. Remember, shorter stories and
stories tightly written which appear in the inverted pyramid
format have a better chance of getting used. So make sure
your stories are prepared so that if the media finds it
necessary to cut out part three and some of part two or
both, the essential information appears in part one. All
press releases should be double spaced, bear a title,
the date, name and phone number of a contact person.
Helpful Tips for Writing
- Get right to the point with a strong lead. Be clear,
concise, direct and to the point in content. Example:
say met instead of held a meeting.
They mean the same thing.
- The date, name and phone number of a contact person
and the story title should appear on the first page
of the press release. The source, title of story and
page number, should appear on second and subsequent
- Do not interject opinion. Objectivity is the key
here. Opinion is best used when it is attributed to
someone through a quote. This gives opinion validity
- Avoid exclamation points.
- Do not use technical jargon that only a specialized
audience will understand. Use simple, down-to-earth
words. They are more effective.
- Should you need to use a long title more than once
in your story, it is permissible to use an acronym
in all forthcoming references, provided the first
time you used the title in its entirety, the acronym
followed in parenthesis. Example: Human Services System
- Vary the pace of your writing by using short and
medium sentences, such as one short and two medium
or a medium and two short. The reason: newspapers
are setup in columns and long sentences make even
longer paragraphs in column format.
- Use orthodox spelling.
- Punctuate carefully. On both press releases and
PSAs, - 30 - should appear centered two
spaces below the text on the last page to signify
the end of the story.
- Unless they are in a phone number or address, all
numbers under 10 are written as words. Numbers 10
and over, are written as numbers.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS (PSAs) are written
specifically for the broadcast media (radio, television).
PSAs must be read. Therefore, it is important that they
be written to be read in specific blocks of time. Radio
PSAs should be in block form and can be either single
or double spaced. Sometimes they are in all caps. Like
the press release, PSAs should bear the name and phone
number of a contact person, the date and a title. The
amount of time it will take to read the PSA should appear
in parentheses centered under the title. Example:
(Read Time: 10 seconds)
After preparing your PSA in the form described, count
each word. You can skip single character words such
as A or I. If your count is not within five words either
short or over the given read time, revise your PSA to
fit into the time block you have chosen.
seconds = 20 words
seconds = 50 words
seconds = 75 words
seconds = 110 words
seconds = 150 words
*These items are the ones most
likely to be used by radio stations.
**Television stations - specifically cable- have their
own special forms to fill out. Therefore, it is best
to check with the individual station to see how it wants