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Basic steps to be taken in writing a news story

I’d like to lay out the very basic steps that are usually taken when creating a news story. Depending on the type of story and organization they can vary somewhat, but these basic steps tend to happen in some form or another.

1) Getting the idea/tip – These story concepts can come from anywhere, observations, a friend’s experience, other news stories that don’t seem complete, anywhere. Whatever the idea is, it is evaluated by the newsworthiness guidelines from last week to decide if it’s worth pursuing. Alternatively, an editor may get a tip or idea and assign it.

2) Making the pitch – This could be an email or a quick phone call, depending on the story and how quickly it needs to be written. The reporter shares with the editor at whatever publication where they want the story published a quick synopsis of the story, and ask if they’re interested in publishing it. The editor then gives the reporter some criteria about how soon and how long of a story they might want.

3) Gathering sources – This is where the rubber really hits the road, and should be where the bulk of a reporter’s time is spent. Get one interview, but don’t stop there. Any assertion of fact beyond common knowledge should be supported and double-checked. This is true even in fairly fluffy feature stories. If somebody says “Mr. Smith has always lived here” during an interview about a conflict between him and a city government, reporters should ask another person, too. If it’s true, Mr. Smith will be happy for the thoroughness in showing it, if it’s not, everyone else will appreciate digging past the surface. Whatever else is asked, I always recommend ending every interview with two questions – “Is there anything you wish I had asked about?” and “Who else should I talk to?”

4) Many reporters will touch base with their editor again after doing some interviews but before writing or editing. If the story is fast-breaking, the editor may want to get whatever the reporter has published as soon as possible. If it’s a slower investigation, the editor may want the reporter to go back and find more sources before putting together the story.

5) Write (or edit) the story. I still start all of my stories with an outline because I have a hard time organizing them any other way. Then I drop in the important quotes from interviews and fill out the other information into complete sentences, building from my body of notes to the outline like it’s a skeleton. Other people like to simply work from the top down, starting with what is most important. The hardest sentence to write is always the lede (first sentence). That sentence is an introduction, but should also tell the reader what the whole point of the story is (except in some creative feature writing).

6) Turn the story in to the editor. The editor goes through it and, beyond checking for spelling and grammar errors, they should check sources and possibly even kick the story back to the reporter for a more work if it’s absolutely necessary. Most editors are open to some discussion on the value of particular sources or parts of a story, but they’ll have to sign off on each story before it ever gets published. The editor is responsible for the accuracy of the paper, but also protecting it from potential legal action from libel and slander, and insuring the overall quality of the publication and interest to readers, too.

At this point, the reporter is free to move on to the next story or follow-up article while the publishing team works on putting the story in print, on the air, or online.

Again, these are just very basic steps for basic stories. Depending on the story and the publication, things can definitely be different.

Joshua Vissers holds a B.A. in multimedia journalism and is associate editor at the Daily Mining Gazette. Send questions to jvissers@mininggazette.com.

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