You may already be very familiar with writing college essays. Those personal narratives, interpretive theses, and research papers are all great preparation for news writing.
your goals as a news writer are different, so what counts as "good
writing" is also different.
Audience: Your Instructor
instructor knows more about the
subject than the student-author.
Audience: The General Reader
Usually, the reporter knows more about
the subject than the general reader.
Essays for Your Instructor
Your academic goal is to demonstrate how
much you know or what you can do.
- Your instructor does not expect you to be an expert. You write as a learner..
You can trust your instructor to correct your mistakes. .Your
teacher will read your work with an expert eye, ready to call your
attention to claims that are inaccurate, misleading, or incomplete.
Journalism for the General Public
A journalist aims to inform the
- The journalist writes from a position of authority. The news is supposed
to be a source of verified facts, not just a vehicle
for passing along what people are saying. (We will cover the term "verification" later.)
- Readers depend upon you for accuracy. Most will not know when you are wrong, and most will be too busy to double-check your research. (That's why they read your article, to save themselves time and effort.)
In high school, you may have been asked to express your
feelings, perhaps by explaining what you would have done if you
were in the protagonist's place, or relating a concept to your own life.
- You used phrases like "I think" or "I feel" or "now that I look more
closely at it..." in order to tell the story of how you came to
your present understanding of a subject or incident.
- Your teacher rewarded you for demonstrating personal involvement
with the subject, because students who engage in this
manner are generally more likely to learn the subject matter.
Traditional journalists stay out of the story. No
"I" or "me" (and no "this reporter," either). (Reporters have various strategies for writing as an "Invisible
- Journalists report the emotions and opinions of the sources they
interview --not their own personal feelings. (Traditional news reporting attributes every emotion, opinion, or prediction to a specific, named source -- avoid "some people say" or "it has been said.")
- Journalism investigates each story from the perspective of those
who care -- including those whose reasons for caring conflict with each other, or with the journalist's personal
values. (If it's not interesting to you, it may be interesting to someone.)
Instead of a thesis or research question, a news article has a lead (or "lede"). Instead of long paragraphs designed to convince professors that you understand your subject, a news article has short paragraphs with details carefully chosen to help non-experts understand your subject.