October 13 2019
Every writer has been there: staring at the blank page, unsure of where (or how) to start your next piece. However, for journalists, these simple decisions can have daunting consequences. In a world clouded with contradictories and biases, it’s hard to decipher the facts from fiction and deliver quality news that’s both interesting and credible. However, regardless of the hardships, journalists play a vital role in educating the masses and keeping powerful figures in check.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with fellow journalists at KERA, the local National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service station in my community. They offered insight on how to write articles that incorporate both the informative and stylistic factors of journalistic writing.
To help you perfect your next article, here are the five most important tips I learned on my visit:
1. Your headlines are vital.
Headlines are a quick way to earn (and lose) a potential reader. When writing a headline, take into consideration the overarching voice you want your article to have. For example, you don’t want to give a serious article a comedic title. Avoid being flashy or using clickbait titles, and choose words that are closely related to the topic of your piece. When writing a hard news story, a headline should contain the main point, almost like a one-sentence summary of the article's contents.
2. Use visuals to summarize main points.
In the digital age, readers are looking for a quick, bite-sized way to get their news. You can quickly lose the attention of your reader by including long sections of writing that could be summarized with visuals. Additionally, the use of visuals gives your article a more polished feel.
3. Quote sources close to the matter.
Adding quotes to your article not only increases your credibility, but it’s a convenient way to transition between points, add emphasis on certain details, and give an article an emotional aspect that is very compelling.
4. Not all journalistic pieces are written the same.
Writing for radio and other live media is different than writing for print. A radio or television reporter must produce a script that flows like natural speech, but still contains everything it needs to get its purpose across. Other styles, such as print reporting, need to flow in a concise manner so that the reader can get all the facts. Different news organizations also deliver the news in their own unique tones. The New York Times and Teen Vogue both write political articles but their styles are completely different. Before starting your career as a journalist, it’s helpful to explore all the different journalistic forms and see what works best for you.
5. Be observant.
It’s important to be observant of the world around you. This will greatly help you choose relevant, interesting topics and give you a better grasp on issues that aren’t so clear cut. During the 1972 Watergate scandal, journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were originally assigned to report on the burglary at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters. However, by observing the crime more quizzically than his fellow reporters, Woodward discovered several political ‘dirty tricks’ used by the Nixon re-election campaign, thus enlarging the scope and impact of the Watergate scandal. When fact-checking, do not take anything at face value. Dig as deep as possible into your sources and, when something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and follow that lead. Because the news cycle moves so quickly, it’s also important to stay flexible and receptive to new details in a story. In the case of Jussie Smollett, journalists had to discard almost everything they had on his story and start over once the allegation was made that Smollett staged the attack.
With these tips, you can now produce captivating, timely pieces on any subject you choose -- be it political, educational, or pop cultural. I’d like to thank the team at KERA for providing me (and, through this article, other young journalists) with tips and insights from industry professionals. As my last piece of advice, I implore you all to reach out to journalists in your area. By doing so, you can better prepare yourself for the frightening yet invigorating world of journalism.
Lillie is now interning for Dallas Morning News as part of their Storytellers Without Borders program, which she found out about through the connections she made during her tour at NPR North Texas.
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