glossary: August 2007 Archives

You may already be very familiar with how to write an essay for an English class.  Writing scholastic essays gives you verbal and compositional skills that transfer well to news writing.  Nevertheless, your goals as a news writer are different, so what counts as "good writing" is different.


English Essay

News Story

Audience: Your Instructor 

Usually, the 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 are supposed to be learning. You write from the position of a learner.
  • An instructor already knows the subject matter, and is interested in evaluating your knowledge, technique, and growth over time. 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 reader.
  • 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.)
  • Most readers won't know when you are wrong. Their understanding of the subject depends entirely on your ability to research and write the news. 

Personal Perspective

  • 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.  

Objective Perspective

  • Traditional journalists stay out of the story.  No "I" or "me," and no "this reporter," either. (We will cover the concept of the "Invisible Observer" soon.)
  • Journalists report the emotions and opinions of the sources they interview --not their own personal feelings. (We will cover the concept of "Attributions" soon.)
  • 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.)


Key Concept:

Spike (v.)

To spike a story is to reject it for publication. Perhaps the story is not newsworthy, important facts cannot be confirmed, or the reporter seems too close to the story to be objective. The editor would traditionally stick the pages onto a metal spike on his desk.
Key Concept:

Hard News

Hard news describes stories that are newsworthy chiefly because they are about events that have a significant impact on the lives of many people. Examples might include an outbreak of an infectious disease, the bursting of a downtown water main, a hostage crisis at a local daycare, or an attempted assassination of a dignitary visiting the White House. Global events, such as wars and crises, are hard news.

The story about the lonely zebra in another state that escapes from the zoo and is recaptured when it takes an interest in a police officer's horse?  Definitely soft news, unless, for instance the chase for the zebra causes a traffic snarl that leads to a violent road rage incident. (See "If it bleeds, it leads.")

"Dog bites man" is snoozeworthy because it happens all the time, but "man bites dog" is less common, so it is more newsworthy.


Key Concepts


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