February 11, 2016

Blowing the Beat: More Secrets of Pro Journalists Revealed

Oops! They did it again…more writing secrets revealed by FWD Dream Team

Part II

Yours truly conducting a remote interview with 2 radio shock jocks.

Why would you care about the techniques and activities professional news journalists go through to write news pieces? An ambitious freelance writer wants to move into discomfort with his or her craft. Stretching your writing muscles will help you grow your expertise and make more money as a freelance writer.

Tempt Me, Hook Me, Lead Me – into Reading Your Story 

Once you find a high value news story, the next step involves focusing on the lead. The lead typically includes a summary of the core substance of the story using just a couple of sentences; sometimes even one cleverly crafted sentence suffices.

Ask yourself – who, what, when, where, why, and how – regarding your topic. The lead, or opening sentences, contains the answers to the most important of these questions as they pertain to the story. Learn more about leads and headlines in part III.

Too Hot for an Outline 

Journalists usually don’t have the time to fuss with an outline and mapping exercises before actually writing their first drafts. If it’s truly a hot news story with potential to cause a flurry of activity in the reading audience, you need to write it, check it, and submit it — quickly. Frequently, news stories aren’t as complex as the other types of assignments that could make their way to a busy freelancer’s desk, making an outline unnecessary.

An Editor Is Not Your Personal Stylist – Check Your Work 

Although you’ll submit your finished news story to a copy editor for review, check it over for obvious errors in spelling and grammar, overused words, clichés, and other careless mistakes. What seems like a minor oversight to you will look like an epic FAIL to your copy editor. When I landed my first several assignments for the Houston Chronicle, my editor offered this pearl of wisdom to me: “What you think is a publishable piece, I see at a first draft.”

Shoot for These Traits When Writing News Stories 

  1. Main Body – Use short, direct sentences and paragraphs. Shoot for a maximum of three to five sentences per paragraph. Each paragraph should stand on its own. A news story can end after any paragraph without seeming incomplete.
  2. Accuracy – State all facts accurately. Never misquote a source or flub up dates and times. Readers have long memories and they all hold a grudge, except, maybe, your mama. Verify all facts before submitting to your copy editor.
  3. Brevity – Trim all unnecessary information, superfluous words, and rework passive phrasing to active wherever possible.
  4. Clarity – Clearly indicate the facts of who did what, why, when, where, and how they did it in the proper order of occurrence.
  5. Objectivity – When reporting the news, the writer must present the facts objectively without overtly or covertly interjecting his or her own opinion. A story about a presidential election should not contain any language implying support of one candidate over another.
  6. Quotes – Add quotes from sources you interviewed for the story. This lends authority and adds color to the piece. Most journalists utilize both direct and indirect quotes. Direct quotes contain the source’s exact words; indirect quotes include information obtained from the source, but in the journalist’s words.
  7. Details – A good news story includes numerous details about circumstances surrounding the facts. Descriptive details about people, places, exact quantities, exact times, etc., should provide supporting information.
  8. Attribution – All writers, whether journalists, freelance writers, pro bloggers, and hobby bloggers, should clearly identify sources of reported facts that fall out of the realm of common knowledge.
  9. Names – Use the full name, along with titles, when first mentioning someone in the story. Subsequent references to the person simply refer to his or her last name.
  10. Titles, Numbers, Abbreviations – Pay close attention to the format required by the publisher’s preferred style book, such as the AP Stylebook or Chicago Manual of Style.

Remember, check your work a couple of times before submitting to your copy editor. Get a copy of the preferred style book and follow it exactly. While your editor may not compliment you for following these guidelines, he or she will certainly notice, and mention it, if you do not.

Got ideas to share? What types of articles and news or magazine stories might not call for many of these techniques? Can you name one or two?

Photo credit: Mackenzie Media, LLP, Houston, TX

About Samantha Gluck

Not only am I the chief editor of this multi-author online magazine, I'm a content creator and social media marketing strategist with a background in journalism, finance, & healthcare. I began my content marketing agency, All Media Freelance, LLC, in 2010 and lead a well-rounded, talented team of multi-channel content strategists and niche writers. I've developed and managed print and digital content projects for health care, fitness, financial services, mental health, non-profit, and automotive publishers, as well as for biotechnology brands.


  1. Thanks for sharing these hard-won truths of professional journalism. Many would choose to keep such knowledge and insight for themselves. Attribution is a challenge I continually face. Some websites want it in-line (sentence) as a link, but not at the bottom, so want it at the bottom only, and some want both. Is there not some general standard or rule?

    The other is writing in active voice all the time. Practice makes perfect, so they say lol. Yet another excellent article!
    Aaron N. recently posted..What Does The Bible Say About Electing Candidates?My Profile

    • Thanks, Aaron! I love to share what I know as well as learn from others. It’s so important to stay in tune with what works and what doesn’t work for others in order to grow as a writer. Sharing with others enriches me and I’m so thankful that you got something helpful out of what I shared. I look forward to seeing more of you here.


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