News: short and simple are the secrets

Posted on January 9, 2013

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This post defines the main characteristics of a news article.
First of all, what is news? It is events.
What is a news article? It is the repeating of such events to an audience.

An event, in order to be classified as news, has to be:

  1. Relevant. It must affect the lives of the audience to local/national/ international levels.
  2. Current. News is about what is happening now.
  3. Negative. This is not an essential requirement but bad news generally ( not always) are more interesting for the audience.
  4. Unexpected, surprising. Something that is unusual or that rarely happens. Think about a terrorist attack or a scientific discovery (this point includes quirk behaviors).
  5. Predictable. Events known in advance such as a big football match, an anniversary.

A news article has to be:

  1. Neutral. A news article is about things happening in the world and it must not involve the journalist’s opinions.
  2. Simple. This is one of the essential requirements for writing news. An event must be told in straightforward and unambiguous terms. There is no time for intricate sentences: leave poetry to other writing styles.  Think about where people mainly get news from: they read a newspaper on a crowded train, they listen to the radio while driving to work; they read news  on phones and tablets where the small screen requires a short, catchy and immediately understandable article.
  3. Active. Do not use the passive form. News is about people doing something not something being done by someone (there may be exceptions).

How to write news for newspapers

  1. A brash and short headline. You have to be able to say what is happening in a catchy way and in the smallest amount of words possible.
  2. 5 wh- words. You have to answer to the questions: who, what, when, where and why in the very first sentences. Explain the fact in a very simple way yet exhaustive enough for readers to understand what is going on as soon as they start reading.
  3. Large and dramatic pictures. Images perfectly combine with words and they are, very often, more eloquent.
  4. Short sentences. Limit the number of ideas in each sentence which has to be short and simple. Remember: people do not have neither the time nor the patience to untangle complicate phrases.
  5. Do not use foreign words if you have the correspondent in the language you are using to write.

How to write news for the online platform

  1. Combine words, pictures and videos. You can!
  2. Offer links for readers to gain more details on a story
  3. Choose a good and short headline
  4. Keep the piece very short. Online readers jump from a web page to another in matter of seconds. You want to keep their attention as long as possible. Give quick information. The first sentence contains the most important information.

This is an example of today’s BBC world news webpage:

India says Pakistan ‘beheaded’ Kashmir soldier

Indian soldiers carry coffin reported to contain body of colleague killed by Pakistani soldiers (9 January)This coffin in the Kashmir town of Rajouri was reported to contain the body of an Indian soldier killed by Pakistani troops

The headline is short and clear; it answers to 2 out of 5 wh-questions: Who?India (government) What?Says Pakistan beheaded a soldier.
A picture of the coffin is included. This gives more drama to the story and makes it more real. The tagline is very important as people want to know what they are looking at.

India says one of two soldiers killed in an alleged cross-border attack by Pakistan troops in the disputed territory of Kashmir was beheaded. The first sentence gives us further details. When? During the cross-border attack. Where? Kashmir territory. Why? An Indian soldier has been killed and India is seeking the guilty party.
Pakistan has rejected accusations that it killed any Indian soldiers or fired across the Line of Control (LoC) which divides Kashmir.
India called the attack “barbaric” and summoned Pakistan’s top envoy in Delhi over the incident.
Claimed by both countries, Kashmir has been a flashpoint for over 60 years. Do you see how short each sentence is?
A statement from the Indian foreign ministry said the soldiers’ bodies had been subjected to “barbaric and inhuman mutilation” which was “in contravention of all norms of international conduct”.
India’s chief military spokesman told the BBC one of the soldiers had been beheaded by the Pakistani army.
Troops searched the area afterwards but could not find the head, the spokesman said. India believes the Pakistanis took the head with them when they retreated. Each sentence gives new information. 
The spokesman confirmed the body of the other soldier had been mutilated but would not give any further details.
The Pakistani foreign ministry says India’s allegations are “baseless” and it is willing to have a UN investigation.
A Pakistani military official said Pakistan had verified the facts on the ground and found “nothing of the sort” had happened.
He denounced the Indian claim as “propaganda” to divert attention away from a clash on the LoC two days earlier.
Pakistan said one of its soldiers was killed on 6 January after an Indian incursion. India denies its soldiers crossed the line.

On the right – hand side of the page there is a list of links that will help the reader to deepen his knowledge on this story:

Related Stories

At the bottom of the web page there is a list for related stories: 

Related Stories

BBC includes also articles from other websites on the same topic:

From other news sites

Did you like this post? Did you find it useful? Wait for the next one: Can you write a feature article? 

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Posted in: BeaJournalist