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Written by Pat Wolff

Human Services System

Community Relations Officer, 

Performance, Education and Resource Center

Facts About News Writing

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 are avoided.

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 Press Releases

    1. 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.
    2. 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 pages.
    3. 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 and authority.
    4. Avoid exclamation points.
    5. Do not use technical jargon that only a specialized audience will understand. Use simple, down-to-earth words. They are more effective.
    6. 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 (HSS).
    7. 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.
    8. Use orthodox spelling.
    9. 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.
    10. 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 (PSAs)

    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.

    Read Times 

    *10 seconds = 20 words

    *20 seconds = 50 words
    30 seconds = 75 words
    45 seconds = 110 words
    60 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 PSAs prepared.

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