J-Skills: Newswriting & PR writing

    A 10-or-13-week pick-all-or-some exercise package:
    WRITING LEADS. [week 1] 00format, 01start, [week 2] 02event.
    WRITING STORIES. 03judge, week3: 04lecture.
    DETAILING. [weeks 3-5] 05grammar, 06stylebook.
    WRITING HEADLINES, OBSERVING. [week 5] 07heads, 08room.
                      INTERVIEWING. [week 6] 09interview, [week 7] 10films.
                      THE BIG PROJECT. [weeks 7-10] 11preparation, 12opinion, 13topic.
                      Extra 3 weeks?: extra material.

    Make a bookmark for this Web page.   [5-week version for editors]

    PHILOSOPHY: J-Skills exercises may stand-alone or be used together as a progressive drill, cumulating knowledge, building to The Big Project over 10 weeks. Its companion 44-page ready reference handbook, "Newswriting Step by Step" (online and bulk discounts), with innovative direct explanations, may replace a textbook. The students learn by doing, in class and with homework. Thus, the instructor may focus on personal mentoring, instead of lecturing.

    "Grammar Repair" is the second companion booklet to this Web page.


J-skills was accepted for a peer-reviewed presentation at the "Digital Revolution" conference on Oct. 14, 2004, at the Newsplex, College of Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia.

    00Format

    Work in single space to see more copy. Print in double space for easier editing.
    Tab paragraphs. Type just one space after a period. Leave top two inches free for comments.
    Work in 12-point type and keep the paragraphs about two or three computer lines,
    which is under one newspaper column inch. Break graphs if more than four lines.

    In the upper-left corner on three lines:
        Storyname (one "word")
        Date
        Firstname/Nickname Lastname

    At story end, place an endmark: ###   Add a source list with contact numbers.
    "Save" vital work while writing. Before rewriting, "save as" story2, and work in story2.

    Backup important files on a disk or on a hard drive.
    Share your work with your mentor or instructor by printout or e-transfer. If using attachments or using different computers, use compatible word processing programs or use Rich Text Format. ["Save as" storyR. Change "file type" to RTF. Attach storyR.] Or "copy" and "paste" in e-mail message.


 

    "Journalism Step by Step" and "Grammar Repair" are the companion booklets to this Web page.

    01start [use this storyname] Find good leads.       [JQG: "News Tasks"]

    Identify the Five W’s and an H in the leads of news stories in a printed newspaper. Put a "I" over the "Who?" and a "II" over the "What?" The "IV" for "Where?" may go over the city name or a word such as "here." Note that most of the Roman numerals appear in order:

I. Who? II. What? III. When? IV. Where? V. Why? VI. How?

    Note that not all of the Five W's and an H will be used. Then use the newspaper to find the Five W’s in several delayed summary sentences.

    To see how news coverage of the same event changes, look at "The Big Haze 1997" (Comparing International News Coverage).

    Search several newspapers on the Web [not TV networks, not tightly written USA Today] for examples of good newspaper leads and openings. Check out some favorites at NewsPlace.org: News. [Web pages may open in a different window.]

    Find two examples of event-oriented ("hard news") leads that set up an inverted pyramid story, which moves from the most important information to the least important. "Copy" and "paste" the lead. [ How to copy part of a Web page to your word processor. ]
    Add the newspaper name and date. Say why you think each story is effective.

    Next, find two examples of timeless-feature ("soft news") opening sections with a delayed summary sentence and a news peg. "Copy" and "paste" the opening through its summary sentence and news peg. Provide the newspaper name and date. Say why you think each story is effective.

    02event Write leads.       ["Writing"]

    Pick an ad in the student paper for a campus event. Pretending to be a member of the sponsoring group, write an enthusiastic invitation to fellow students in 25 to 35 words. Then, as a news writer who is pledged to neutrality, write a detached 25-to-35-word single-sentence lead paragraph for a news story.

    First write the invitation. Then, for the news story, copy this exercise's instructions to your word processor. [ How to copy part of a Web page to your word processor. ]

    Put the event info into a Roman-numeral Five W's outline, probably filling four or five of the slots. Then, "copy" your outline and "paste" it just below your outline. In the duplicate, remove the numerals and the line-breaks, creating a summary sentence that is the very same order.
    Try an outline that focuses on the sponsor and one that focuses on the people who might attend. Say which is better. Submit both outlines and sentences.

    I. WHO?   II. WHAT?   III. WHEN?   IV. WHERE?   V. WHY?   VI. HOW?

    I.
    II.
    III.
    IV.
    V.
    VI.

    03judge Write a news story

    Look at "One story, three markets" [Comparing Local News Coverage].

    Go to 03judge. New... [2010 update!] After this exercise, read the after word.

    04lecture Write another news story

    Write a seven-paragraph news story for a general audience on parts 1 and 2 of "Newswriting." Pretend that parts 1 and 2 are the notes of a guest lecture by the author at your school today. Hint: What is the one over-all message that includes all of the sub-messages? It is about a particular newswriting technique. What should newswriters use?

    Which format (based on another "lecture") do you prefer?

        1. A journalism professor told journalism students today that they should talk to their audience and keep themselves out of their news stories.
        2. Reporters should talk to their audience and keep themselves out of their news stories, a journalism professor told journalism students today.

    Include your Five W’s lead outline. Bold every transition word.
    Italicize every attribution ("he said"), for both direct quotations (with quote marks) and paraphrased ones (without). Use an endmark: ###
    Swap your story with a classmate. Get some suggestions and make changes.

    Save. Share with your editor/instructor. After seeing comments, "save as" 04lecture2 to keep your earlier version. Rewrite and resubmit.

    Your mentor/instructor may assign individualized writing exercises for additional practice.

    05grammar Interactive fun       ["Grammar"]

    Review Grammar Repair. Online exercises at Grammar Matters.

    Joe Smith's car. Joe's and Mary's jobs (two jobs). Joe and Mary's kitchen (one kitchen).
    Smith. the Smiths (plural). the Smiths' home (first plural, then possessive apostrophe).

    Top misspelled words in the American news media
    By Factiva, a Dow Jones company, 2007.
    Judgment, lightning, millennium, calendar, cemetery, accommodate, collectible,
    receive or receipt, committed, separate.

    Take the Grammar quiz based on "Grammar Repair" and the online grammar exercises.

    06stylebook Up or down, short or long       ["J-Stylebook"]

    Review the stylebook chapter at Grammar Repair. Online exercises, a quiz and an exam at J-stylebook.

    See the NIU Northern Star Stylebook for a student newspaper supplementary stylebook. And see the NIU Editor's Manual for a campus-level stylebook.

    07heads Practice writing headlines.       ["Rewriting"]

    Write practice headlines to see if a headline writer will find your focus.
    Write a head as a sentence with a subject and verb, a mini-summary, but drop the helping verb "is." Try to keep a phrase on the same line. Use digits 1-9.

    A headline count has an identical range for each line of the head. [11-13]
        Heads may be [12]     Heads May Be [13]
        in ‘down-style’ [12]     In ‘Up-Style’ [11]

    Headline Counts [count=14]
    small letters = 1     small l,i,f,t = ˝     small m and w = 1˝
    CAPITALS = 1˝     CAPITAL I = 1     CAPITAL M & W = 2
    digit 1 = ˝     other digits = 1    space and punctuation = ˝

    Work first with pencil and paper. Then, type the heads for 02event, 03judge and 04lecture on the same page. Make each two lines, down style, 22-25 count on each line.
        Glenn returns to hometown [23]
        to celebrate mission in space [24˝]

    Type each headline at 18 points for a nice display. Show the count for each line.
    Print the page and request approval. Resubmit.

    08room Practice observation.       ["Reporting"]

    Try your awareness skills first -- just for fun -- at "A Test for Professionals".

    Describe your lab. Look around your workplace for 10 minutes without talking. List your observations. Then write three alternative openings for a feature.

    Look at Plagiarism.

    09(insert name) Interview a classmate.       ["Reporting, Bias Patrol"]

    See Watch Your Language [diversity awareness (in center box)].

    See Take Note of This for interviewing techniques, including this:
    "After the assignment, boil down the story to one sentence."

    Conduct a preliminary interview. Then, switch roles and be interviewed. After the initial interviews, seek multiple sources: friends, roommates, classmates, family members and workplace associates. Then, re-interview your subject for clarification and more depth.

    Use a feature opening. About seven-to-nine graphs, each two-three-four computer lines long. After first using both the person's first and last names, on the second and subsequent references, use just the last name (unless the person is not yet in high school, so that using just the first name is still appropriate). Use Mr., Mrs. and Ms. only for second reference in an obituary.

    Check for attributions. Check for transitions. After the endnote, list sources with a contact phone number, address and e-mail address.

    Save. Share with your subject. Share with your editor/instructor. After seeing comments, "save as" 09(name)2 to keep your earlier version. Rewrite and resubmit.

    10films Conduct interviews.       ["Reporting"]

    Using the info-gathering and interview guides, talk with two or more students/colleagues and at least one faculty member/expert about movie ratings. Check out MPAA.org for a description of the industry's rating system to prepare for interviews.

    Write a 10-paragraph news story. Check for attributions. Check for transitions. After the endnote, list sources with a contact phone number, address and e-mail address.

    Save. Share with a colleague and then with your editor/instructor. After seeing comments, "save as" 10films2 to keep your earlier version. Rewrite and resubmit.

    Your mentor/instructor may assign individualized writing exercises for additional practice.


    Search engines

    • New... Info [fewer items, and more to-the-point than Google]
    • New... Vivisimo [more directed than Google, with side folders]

    The Big Project: 11preparation, 12opinion, 13topic

    11prep Preparation for a big project.       ["News Tasks"]

    Prepare for a story on a campus/local issue that has at least two positions.

    Check out the campus/local newspaper’s archive. Use the Web and the library to check out other campuses and relevant sources. List possible ideas for photographs and graphics.
    Prepare a list of possible interviewees and a set of interview questions. Get an approval. Rework and resubmit.

    See NewsLink to look at other college/local newspapers for story ideas.
    See NewsPlace: Search for search enginess to check for today's news elsewhere.
    Look at Media-Agenda-Setting to guage your power and responsibilty.
    Look at Crisis Communication Plan for public relations concerns.
    Look at Working Fast: Getting the job done when you don't have time to think.

    12opinion Interviews for a big project.       ["Reporting, Bias Patrol"]

    Talk with involved people. Include a policy maker, a faculty expert and several affected students. Mark key points in your notes and box personal reminders. Submit your original interview notes for evaluation and for consultation on story development.

      Objectivity means trying to give all sides a hearing. It does not, in my view,
      mean treating all sides as equal.
      -- Christiane Amanpour, CNN

    13(insert your topic) Putting it together.       [Rewriting, Law Brief"]

    Write a news story on your campus topic based on your research, interviews and observation.

    Prepare a 12-paragraph news report. Remain detached. Attribute all opinions. Check for attributions. Check for transitions. After the endnote, list sources with a contact phone number, address and e-mail address.

    Write a headline, two lines, down style, 22-25 count.

    Save. Share with a colleague and then with your editor. After seeing comments, "save as" 13(topic)2 to keep your earlier version. Rewrite and resubmit.

    Material for any extra time

    1. Do a second Big Project.

    2. Explain why "who" is correct. Explain what "she said" is.
    The man whom she loved and who she said was there was not there.
    [him she loved]   [him she said was there]   [he she said was there]

                                              ###

Professor Avi Bass (abass@niu.edu), Northern Illinois University, NewsPlace.org

"Journalism Step by Step" and "Grammar Repair" are the companion booklets to this Web page. ©azb 2002, 2014