Basic Writing for Journalism
Updated: Jul 11, 2021
Source: Victor Hanacek from Picjumbo
Be it writing an article for a module, for your editorial internship or just a post on your personal blog, these tips on basic writing for journalism will give your tutor, supervisor, blog readers a gleam in their eyes when they read your work!
1. Purpose: What drives your writing?
Not to preach ikigai or Japanese philosophical concepts here but before you write anything, always ask yourself – what is the purpose of writing. Is it to report as a news media organisation, to boost your company’s image, or for entertainment purposes?
Knowing the why behind the writing and the message you wish to bring across to your audience sets the structure, flow of ideas and use of details to make up the core of the article. :)
Source: Stories from Freepik
2. Newsworthiness: Who is your audience and why should they read your writing?
Now that we have the purpose of your writing down, let’s consider who your message should even be for. Is it for the general public, or a specific stratum of society? For those well-read regarding your choice of subject, or those who are reading content on the subject for the very first time? Putting yourself in your ideal audience’s shoes will shape the diction, depth and development of your article.
The next question that follows: What’s in it for them? In a world where people face thousands and millions of texts, graphics and information at them on a daily basis, why should they even bother with your writing?
To answer this, consider the following values to judge the newsworthiness of your story angle in maximising engagement with your ideal audience:
Timeliness: Is the subject something that is happening now?
Prominence/Significance: Is the subject regarding famous people or places of interest?
Magnitude/Impact: What are some consequences of the subject, how does it affect the audience?
Relevance/Proximity to Audience: Is the geographical location of the subject near the audience or some distance away?
Peculiarity/Uniqueness: Is the subject rare or unusual? Is it the first, last or only of its kind?
Topic Currency: Is the subject a matter of current interest or conflict?
Human Interest: Does the subject appeal to human emotions? Is it something the audience will be generally interested in?
Source: Pikisuperstar from Freepik
3. Presentation: How to best present your writing to your audience?
For different target audience, the best way to engage with them varies. Consider the writing in an article by Mothership versus an article by The Straits Times, do you spot any difference?
Let me clue you in: Not only do the tones differ in the writings, with Mothership adopting a more informal tone as compared to The Straits Times, the House-styles of the two organisations are also different.
House-style, also known as the style sheet or style guide, refers to the specific usage and editorial conventions followed by writers and editors to ensure stylistic consistency in a publication (which could be for companies, news organisations or blogs). Some standardisations in House-styles include which punctuations to use, whether to capitalise letters, spell out numbers or use numerals instead, how to format dates, citations, and many more.
While this may be a hassle to writers, the overall consistency makes your articles much more professional and palatable to your audience. Be clear on the House-style and both your audience and your editor will thank you for a smooth read!
4. Presentation II: How to best present your subject to your audience?
In light of our digital age, journalism goes far and beyond just writing. Every writer should consider how various graphics and quotations from interviewees can support your writing in effectively conveying your message to your audience.
For example, rather than reading a bunch of facts and figures that will just go over the audiences’ heads without any retention of information, use infographics instead! This helps the readers process the content more efficiently and in a more enjoyable manner.
Other graphics you should definitely consider are photographs and videos. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
As writers, it may be upsetting that what catches the audience's eye are the article graphics, and not your words. Regardless, remember that the ultimate goal is engagement. As long as your article maximises engagement with the audience, it's still a win! :)
Source: Stories from Freepik
5. Journalistic Conventions: What you should always keep in mind while crafting your article.
Journalistic Integrity and Attribution: Always aim to present your subject with integrity. If you choose to quote an interviewee, do not twist their words or take it out of context at your convenience.
If you use any additional information from other sources, always credit them, just as you would appreciate if someone refers to your work when they used it in theirs.
Objectivity: As a journalist, you should ideally be balanced and objective in your writing with a certain level of detachment. However, it would be rather hypocritical and boring for the audience if the journalist were to be purely objective and approach the subject at face-value without any personal input.
Always consider your core purpose in writing, be truthful and sincere in your writing and remember that your words as a journalist can have a huge impact in lives. It is your responsibility to consider these positives and negatives as part of your craft.
Source: Stories from Freepik
That’s all from me! Although this little handbook to writing for journalism is really basic (there’s so much more to journalism that isn’t covered here!), I hope it helped pave your way to becoming a better journalist. Always remember that writing is a process of rereading, rewriting and refining your work, don’t give up!