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Writing Centre Resource Guide

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Introduction to Writing for Journalism

At its core, journalism is the “art of telling a story” and telling it well. However, not all stories are told the same way. Radio and television stories are usually made up of short, informative reports: they cover the major details of an event or issue in one or two minutes.  Newspaper or online stories can be short or extended, depending on the issue and details available. Magazine and feature articles, or documentaries, tend to give a more detailed, investigative portrait of the subject of the story.

Despite these differences there are a few guidelines that a journalist must keep in mind, no matter their medium:

  • Be engaging and interesting to the reader, viewer or listener. Use plain, direct language to communicate your story clearly.
  • Tell a popular story in a way that differs from the story other news outlets have been presenting. If the perspective is new, the reader, listener or viewer doesn’t feel that information is being repeated.
  • Explore all sides of an issue, but don’t misrepresent the weight or significance of any side.
  • Be aware of your word choices when writing on potentially sensitive subjects (e.g. race, gender, religion, sexuality, or traumatic events). Avoid bias, unconscious assumptions, and harmful clichés. 
  • Consider your audience: ensure that the story is understood by its intended audience, but is also appealing to those outside of this audience.
  • Stay focused: don’t bury the lede (the introduction) by going off topic. Ensure that a story flows clearly.
  • Use quotations well: ensure what precedes a quotation isn’t made redundant by the quotation itself. (For example: Joe Smith said that he didn’t like the ongoing construction: “I don’t like the ongoing construction,” Smith said.

Last updated: February 26, 2019

General Journalism Terms

  • Feature: A feature is a longer, detailed, more investigative report.
  • Hard News: a story about something that has just happened (i.e. breaking news).
  • Soft News: a story about important, but less time-sensitive news.
  • ​Pitch: a short proposal of a news story idea, summarizing what it is and why it matters.  

Print Journalism Terms

  • Hook: a lede specifically designed to catch the reader’s attention and encourage them to keep reading your story. 
  • Inverted Pyramid: a traditional structure for writing a news story in print, especially hard news stories. The most important information goes at the top (who, what, why, where, when), followed by less vital but still useful content (additional background, context), and finished with interesting but unnecessary information that could be cut later (speculation, reported opinions, etc). 
  • Lede: Pronounced “LEED,” a lede is a brief introduction (under 30 words) to an online or print news story.
  • Nutgraph: a paragraph in a print story, usually located a few paragraphs after the lede, which explains the context or importance of the story (i.e. why it matters).
  • Opinion Piece or Op-Ed: a writer’s opinion, perspective or argument on current events or a noteworthy topic, accompanied by information, additional context, statistics, and/or other evidence to back it up. 

Broadcast Journalism Terms

  • PAC: A PAC is a packaged (pre-recorded) radio report that is longer than one minute and 10 seconds. Like a feature, it is more detailed and utilizes more narration and audio clips.
  • Slug: In broadcast journalism a slug is used as both an identifier and title for a story. It appears on the header of a script and helps the producer, technical team and host organize scripts.
  • Stand-up: This is a term used to describe the scene in a VO/SOT or Field report in which the journalist appears on camera.
  • VO/SOT (Voice Over/Sound on Tape) or Field Report: Field reports or VO/SOTS are similar to PACs. They use a mix of pictures, sounds, voiceovers, interview clips, and a “reporter on-camera” or stand-up clip to tell a story.
  • Voice Report or Voicer: A voice report, or voicer, is a short (one minute, 10 second long) radio report about a current news issue.

Last updated by Georgia Atkin, Dalhousie Writing Centre, February 26, 2019

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Genres of Journalism

Radio and television stories are often accompanied by a collection of images and/or sounds, but this isn’t always the case. In broadcast journalism, copy stories are short reports that tell the main or only details available for a story. See our attached pdf for an annotated example of a copy story that could be used for radio or television.

In addition to copy stories, there are three types of longer stories that are used in broadcast writing and reporting: the Voicer or Voice Report, the PAC and theVO/SOT or Field Report. See our attached pdf for an example of a voice report introduction, as well as an example of a VO/SOT template.

We've used a single sample story, about a bridge replacement in rural Nova Scotia, so that you can see how the same story is presented differently as you move from one form to another -- copy story, voicer, or feature.

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Annotated Journalism Assignments

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Resources for Writing for Journalism

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