Journalism 101 - Introduction to News Writing | Donna DeRosa | Skillshare

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Journalism 101 - Introduction to News Writing

teacher avatar Donna DeRosa, Author / Blogger / Journalist

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Introduction to Journalism


    • 2.

      What Is News?


    • 3.

      Let's Talk Deadlines


    • 4.

      How To Structure a Story


    • 5.

      The Medium


    • 6.

      Types of News Stories


    • 7.

      Getting the Facts


    • 8.

      Writing Style


    • 9.

      Things To Avoid


    • 10.

      Your Project


    • 11.

      Final Words


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About This Class

In this course we’ll cover the basics of news writing in its various forms. While mainly concentrating on newspaper writing, we’ll also touch on news in terms of television, radio, magazines, and the Internet.

We’ll discuss the different types of news articles from hard news, features, columns, reviews, interviews, and social media. Students will learn how to structure a news story in the classic inverted pyramid style, and how this will serve them when writing in all types of media.

Journalistic writing is a specific skill that is produced with competency and speed. Timeliness is key. Students will learn the basics of journalistic style, how to decipher the facts, what makes a good lede, and how to meet deadlines.

At the end of the course, students will be given a project that helps them identify different types of news stories and how to dissect their structure.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Donna DeRosa

Author / Blogger / Journalist


Hello and thank you for checking out my classes on Skillshare.

I’d like to share with you a little about my background and why I decided to teach.

For 15 years I worked as an automotive journalist and managing editor for and I was also editor of Edmunds’ award-winning Long-Term Road Test Blog.

I enjoy helping writers and bloggers discover their voice in the huge world of online content. I’m a firm believer that anyone can learn how to write, and that we all have something worthwhile to say. There are time-tested best practices that can help you on your journey to content creation. That’s what my classes are all about.

Check out my lifestyle blog, DonnaDe... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction to Journalism: Hello. Welcome to journalism one a one where you will learn the basics of news writing. My name is Donna Derosa. For 15 years I worked as an automotive journalists and a managing editor for a large online publication. Throughout this course, I'm going to share with you the things I learned about news writing that can help you in many ways. Whether you want a career as a journalist, a freelance writer, a blogger or you just want to learn to be a better writer, this course will teach you the skills to get to the heart of a story. This class is aimed at students at a beginner level. You don't need any prerequisite skills to take this class except a desire to express yourself clearly. By the end of this course, you learn how to structure a story. Following the inverted pyramid style, you'll learn how to write different types of news stories like hard news features, columns and reviews, and you'll learn how to craft a new story of your own. For your project, you'll find three news stories in different styles and learn how to identify their structural parts and I'll walk you through this exercise later in the course. I hope you enjoy journalism 101 Please feel free to ask any questions in the skill share community section associated with this course, let's get started. 2. What Is News?: What is news? What makes a story newsworthy? A news article is published information about recent important events. The events need to be timely and significant. Journalists also right other types of stories, such as features and columns. But the subject matter still needs to be relevant to today. What makes the story newsworthy. It needs to be a significant interest to the public or to a specific audience. If working on a subject based publication, let's go through what makes a new story newsworthy. Is it new? The important part of the word news is new. Did it just happen? How often do we see in the news that a murder took place overnight or a local store was robbed? If it happened two weeks ago, there is likely another newer, fresher story taking its place. News is about events that just happened or happening at this moment. Breaking news is developing in the moment. Or is there some new information about an older event? A crime that happened 20 years ago is not news, But if new evidence is found in a 20 year old criminal case that is newsworthy, is it interesting? Will anyone care if a new breed of TC flies discovered is ex significant to the general public, probably not to a group of entomologists. It could be significant. Overall would not be considered mainstream news. Is it significant? Does it change things? For example, a new planet is discovered in our solar system, and animal, thought to be extinct, is found on a remote island. The Catholic Church decides to allow women to be ordained as priests thes air big events that could affect society as a whole. Is it unusual? Here's a classic example of the unusual that makes the news dog bites, man, Not news happens all the time. Man bites dog. This is news. It is unusual. You want to know more about the circumstances. If it's out of the ordinary, it could be newsworthy. It may not make the front page, but it can still be interesting to people. Is it about people? Most world events involve people. There are acts of nature, like volcanoes erupting and earthquakes. But we usually discuss them in terms of how many people are affected. Go for the people angle of any story 3. Let's Talk Deadlines: Let's talk deadlines. News is timely. Events happen quickly. Your job is a journalist is to record the facts of the events in a timely manner. This can put a lot of pressure on a writer. How do you get started? The first thing you need to do is write the lead. No, that is not a misspelling. It's the way journalists refer to the lead paragraph in a story led. And also, if you are covering the crime beat to distinguish it from the police following leads on the case. When you're in a hurry and have to file your story by a certain time so that you could make the next edition of the newspaper, you just have to get it done with any writing. The hardest part is always getting started. Once you start committing words to paper, everything else seems to flow naturally. Don't get it right. Get it written, but then go back and get it right. Tidy it up. Give the most important facts in the first paragraph, then at supporting fax in the next paragraphs, and editor will cut your story from the bottom up. If they don't have space in the paper or there is not enough time in a broadcast. So what the reader needs to know should be up front. Most people won't read past the headlines and the first paragraph anyway. Disappointing, isn't it? But it's true when you're covering a beat like the metro section or city desk or crime beat , you'll have a limited amount of space to tell your story. But of course, all journalism isn't about newspapers. In fact, in today's society, many people still get their news from the television. And more than ever from the Internet, they're reading articles on their phones or getting headlines from social media. Sometimes you only have a sentence or two to make your point. Let's talk about errors. The beauty of writing for the Web is that you can make corrections almost instantly. If you have errors in a newspaper or magazine, you're stuck with them in print. Maybe your editor will allow you to print a retraction, but it will likely be buried in the back of the paper somewhere. If you make a mistake on television, you could become a video snippet that goes viral. So get your facts straight the first time around. Even on the Web, someone will have taken a screenshot of your error and posted it for all the world to see. Even though we're writing under a deadline, we have to make sure we get the facts straight. How do you make sure you're free from errors? You do the work no matter how tight your deadline. You could not print facts that you haven't researched yourself. Don't repeat what others have written. There are a lot of bad stories on the Internet and false reports everywhere. A rumor gets started on social media, and suddenly everyone is sharing it and reporting it as news around the world. If you follow this trend, you will get burned by it. You don't always have time to make art news. Writing is a craft you have to learn to be good and quick and concise. Your job is to inform, not to impress. First, inform yourself and then transfer that knowledge to your reader. Sometimes the hardest part is deciding what to leave out of a story. It's your job as a reporter to decide which facts are important and which facts are not newsworthy or disrupt the balance and fairness of the story. How to communicate. Keep your facts simple without insulting your readers. Intelligence. Most newspapers Air written on 1/6 grade level in US schools that is about 11 years old. That doesn't mean the content has to be g rated or PG, but that the words should be easy to read and understand. Clarity is your main objective. Save the embellishments and flowery language for your poetry and short story collection. A good journalist will take a complicated subject and break it down into easily digestible points. Most news is consumed while commuting to work on the subway or in the few minutes while the reader is having their morning coffee. You don't have time for anything but the facts. The trick is to write simply without talking down to the reader. In one of the best and simplest books on writing the elements of style, William Strunk and E. B. White wrote. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph, no one necessary sentences for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine, no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only an outline, but that every word tell but that every word tell 4. How To Structure a Story: how to structure your story. When Ernest Hemingway was just out of school, he started working as a reporter on The Kansas City Star newspaper. Hemingway credited his editor, CG Wellington, with teaching him how to write in the economical and objective style, which would become his trademark. Wellington instilled in him The Stars four. Sent in Style guide you short sentences. You short First paragraphs use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative. Not bad advice at all for writers in any field. Theo Inverted Pyramid This is old school newspaper style where the facts are presented in descending order of importance. Newspaper readers I only have time to read the headline The first paragraph, If you're lucky and possibly the whole thing. If you've managed to hold their interest, newspapers or economical about space and articles, baby cut from the bottom up. As printing deadlines approach, the reader should still be able to get what they need from a story, even if they don't get through the whole piece. The lead. The lead is the 1st 1 or two sentences of your story. It should contain the most important information answering the questions who, what, when, where, Why and how, with practice, you'll be surprised how much information you can pack into a couple of sentences. The reader should be able to stop there and get the gist of the story. But your job is also to make the lead interesting enough to draw the reader into read more the body. The body of the story should contain the evidence that supports your opening statements. What proof do you have? This is where you feel in documentation such as quotes, background information or any supporting facts. This could be several paragraphs, depending on how much space you were allotted for your story. The important fact should be presented in descending order. The tail The tail wraps up the story, providing any interesting fax related information or directions on where the reader can learn more headlines. Headlines are very important. You usually write a headline when you file your article. However, newspaper editors will often rewrite a headline based on experience and space. Sometimes headlines. They're the only part of an article that people will read. If they're not interested in the subject, they move on. Sometimes headlines could be so enticing that a reader can't pass it up. Headline writing is an art, and in the case of newspapers, sometimes they're based on how much print space is available. Here are some examples of some headlines Notice how the different publications handled the news articles differently, and here is one of the most famous examples of a newspaper headline. 5. The Medium: medium. This inverted pyramid style works well for news. Even if the medium is television, radio or the Internet, news is fast paced. Think about how you present a news story on Twitter. You'd only have a limited number of characters, so you'd put the most important info. First, you'd want it to be interesting enough so that people will read your second tweet that contains even more info and someone. Newspapers will often use a wire service to fill a bulk of their content for budgetary reasons. Associated Press and Reuters are popular wire services. Sometimes newspapers are part of a chain which shares content, but usually the local news is written by staff writers. If you want to contribute to your local newspaper, local news and feature stories are usually the best way to get noticed. Bring the paper something that a staffer, a Kent. If you have access to a local celebrity or you can think of a unique angle of a local story , break it to the editor's attention. You may get the job because they wouldn't have the story any other way. They published every day, so they're always looking for good stories on the radio. You only have sound to present your story. If you are writing for the radio, make sure the words you choose are easy to read aloud. They should be easily understandable to the listener. You don't have any visual content to present no pictures, no written words. Information passes by quickly. Sometimes important points are repeated, like telephone numbers or contact information. In television, you can add moving pictures to a story. You should follow the same rules as radio and choose words that are easy to speak. You can cut together footage of the story and talk over the images. You can interview people on the street and cover live events. Presenting information like telephone numbers, names and other important information is easy because you can show them right on the screen . Unless you were writing for a long form program, you will usually only get a minute or two to present your story. Magazines have a long lead time. They usually plan issues out months in advance. If you are pitching stories to a magazine, it's important to know the publication's editorial calendar. Some magazines will have a theme for each issue, and the articles are prepared well in advance of the print date. An article about Christmas, for example, will likely be ready for the printer in October, sometimes as early as July, you can often find out of magazines calendar By requesting its press kit, you can usually get these online. It helps to be a regular reader of a magazine, so you know the writing style of the publication. Many magazines use freelance writers to fill large percentages of the book. Thes freelancers come up with ideas and pitch them to the magazines. If you do a good job and become a favorite of the editors, they may start to assign you stories. But usually it's up to the freelancers to pitch story ideas to get their foot in the door. Look for the magazines submission guidelines on its website. Writing for the Internet is unique. Most Internet content is now consumed on mobile devices that doesn't leave a lot of room for design. It's important to break text up into small, bite sized paragraphs. Bulleted or numbered lists work well on the Web. Readers will visually scan content as they scroll down the page. Most people won't read everything. Most will not make it more than halfway down the page. The most interesting aspect of writing for the Web is that you can link out to other information. In fact, search engines will scan your text for links to other authoritative sites. Keywords. They're also important. Although many talk about keywords falling out of fashion in search engine rankings, they're still the way people use a search engine. They type in keywords. Think about, however you do research for the information they're presenting. Most people type questions into a search engine. What words would they use? You should use the same language. Social media is about sharing and getting shared. It's a freeway to promote your content or be noticed by other authorities in your field. Shared generously, and you will likely see the favor returned. You could also break news on social media, write concisely and use vigorous language and know that social media posts with images or share far more often than text only posts 6. Types of News Stories: There are different types of news stories, hard news. There is hard news, and there is soft news. Hard news is generally the types of stories that you would usually find on the first page of a newspaper. They're big, timely stories that are happening now. Topics include war, crime, politics, economics, international news, big stories that affect everyone, soft news or, generally, stories that are lighter in nature. Things like entertainment news, human interest stories, profile pieces, features, etcetera, reviews. Reviewers write critical evaluations of art, music, live events, movies, products, cars, software, etcetera. The writers offer their expert opinion and in depth knowledge of the subject. So you were writing a product review. For example, your lead should entice the reader by talking about the most important or unique features of the product. Then the story continues with the different components of the product. Here's a real world example. I worked for years as an automotive journalist. I was writing a review of a car that had a compartment in the driver door with an umbrella . It was an interesting feature that you don't find in most cars is not necessary to the chorus functionality, but it was unique. My first paragraph was an antic dotes about the umbrella. I found what was special and different about the car and use that as my lead. Then I went into the actual product review how the car drove its gas mileage, price, safety and entertainment features, performance, comfort and sell on. I wrapped up the review by referencing the umbrella in the final paragraph, tying it back to my lead columns. In most journalistic writing, the writer is not a part of the story in a column, however, the writer can be the story or is at least the driving voice of the story. Columns air usually a recurring piece. They're called columns because the columnist would be allotted a certain amount of column space in a newspaper. Columns offer a point of view, an opinion, a purpose other than to inform. Here are three examples of famous columns written by American journalists. You can find them for free on the Internet. I suggest you give them a read, their each very different and very wonderful in their own way. Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus by Francis Church, published in The New York Sun in 18 97. AMELIA Earhart, by Walter Lippmann. Published in The New York Herald Tribune in 1937. It's an Honor, by Jimmy Breslin, published in The New York Herald Tribune in 1963 Other famous American columnists worth reading R. H L. Mencken, Robert Benchley, Norman Cousins and P. J. O. Rourke Feature Writing feature Articles are a type of soft news. They may deal with the same subject matter. It's hard news, but they take a different approach to the story. Often the tone is what distinguishes soft from hard news. If you're writing a feature article, the breaking news component may not be as important. Feature stories use a casual version of the inverted pyramid. You entice the reader with what is special or most interesting about the topic. You provide supporting facts in descending order of importance and then wrap up the story. Most readers won't make it all the way to the end. It's just a sad fact, So give them as much as you can. Up front. There are many types of feature stories. If you were writing a travel piece, he would follow the same structure. What is interesting about the place, What does it stand out feature, then mawr info, Then wrap it up. It's a basic structure that will serve you well. When I worked as an automotive journalist, most of our articles Reviews of cars. Our feature sections were also about the auto industry, but were side stories about cars, history of car models, stories about gas prices, stunt driving in movies, technical innovations, motor sports? These types of stories were not of interest to the general population. Be geared toward a specific audience. People pieces. If you're writing about a personality, a celebrity or noteworthy person, you could structure your article as a formal question and answer interview. Or, as a feature article or a combination of the two will often see in magazines an article about a celebrity that gives some biographical information some facts about their latest project, whether it be a movie opening or a new book or whatever, and then a formal Q and A. There popular pieces that are easy to read. Readers love to scan text that is broken up into bite size pieces. Q and A. Pieces air easy to digest. A reader can scan the questions and pick and choose which answers that interest them 7. Getting the Facts: getting the facts. Research materials. Whether you go to the library, consult the Internet or right from personal experience. When gathering news and fax. Always consult the source. Get a quote, find the information firsthand, never repeat what another journalist has written, no matter how reliable. You could use it as a starting point, but you must confirm the facts yourself. Get your own quotes from the source. Don't reuse the quote given to another journalist. It's not yours to use. If the source did not say it to you, it's not your quote. Erroneous information gets passed on all the time, especially on fast moving social media sites. People are quick to retweet and share information, but do you really know where the information came from? You also need to learn how to interpret facts. Companies will often issue press releases freely, passing on information in the best possible light for them. It's your job to objectively decipher this information. Every company will talk glowingly about its own product or his own actions. That doesn't mean it's true. Is your job as a journalist to cut through this spin and present the facts? It's also your job to understand the historical context of a product or event. Internet research. Anyone composed information to the Internet? That doesn't make it true. It's easier than ever for people to publish content to the Web. Wikipedia can be a great resource, but you need to know that anyone can post content there. The information may not be correct, or it may be biased. That's why a journalist can only rely on himself or herself. Go to the source, conduct an interview, test the product, look up the public record. In time, you will collect a trusted band of sources. You'll make contacts at city agencies. You'll learn how to look up police records and business transactions. Ah, lot of this content is required to be on the public record. All you have to do is look it up. Court transcripts, police records, corporate filings, real estate transactions. All of these things are accessible to the public. Cultivating sources with experience, you will gather a group of sources that you could rely on for information and quotes. If you get assigned to a specific industry, you'll learn who you can count on for a quick and intelligent response. When something happens in that industry, you'll know who you can call to explain the situation to you and your readers. If you work in the automotive industry, for example, you'll have your go to source that could interpret a rising gas prices and give you a good quote or sound bite. If you work in the beauty industry, you'll have make up artists and editors who could talk about the latest trends. If you're covering the crime beat, you'll make context in the police department and the courts. This all comes with experience. If you treat your sources with respect, value their input and protect them when needed, you'll build a reputation in your field, and the best people will be willing to talk to you. We'll even bring you stories before you find out about them. Hands on investigation. Do your own legwork. If you're writing about a product, test it yourself. If you are following a criminal case, poke around and s questions. That's what journalists do. Get your own story, Take the lead. Don't follow other publications. That's how you build a respectable career. If you're not willing to do this and you're in the wrong field, a journalist needs to be willing to work hard and fast and asked the tough questions 8. Writing Style: writing style. Let's get down to the basics of writing in a journalistic style. If we look back at the style guide from Hemingway's first newspaper job, we learned just about all we need to know when applied correctly. Use short sentences. Keep it simple. Run on sentences will get confusing to your reader. State the facts simply and concisely. That doesn't mean you have to be boring. Just don't be flowery. Stock market dropped 1000 points today. That's a short sentence. It's definitely not boring. It doesn't need any dramatic embellishments on. You'll want to continue reading to learn what was the cause and what it could mean to you if you wrote, admits frenzy. Trading The volatile stock market plummeted 1000 points in a record breaking day. Yes, it's exciting, but it says the same thing with somewheres. It may be unfamiliar to your readers like volatile, frenzied and plummeted. You can add some of this information later in the story. It doesn't all need to be in one sentence. You short first paragraphs. Short paragraphs are easier for the eye to read. If you're Texas broken up into short paragraphs, chances are the reader will read more of them. If everything is clumped into one or two large paragraphs, the human eye confined this overwhelming and will pass on it. Also, new stories will be cut for space or time. It's easier to cut short paragraphs, and it is to rewrite longer ones into short ones. Use vigorous English action. Verbs are exciting. They move the story along, choose the right words, and you'll need fewer of them. It's better to use strong verbs and now owns instead of a lot of adverbs and adjectives. Have you ever heard the quote? I would have written you a shorter letter if I'd had the time learned to edit your own work . With practice, you learn to write concise sentences that pack a wallop. Strong, vigorous language without a lot of filler words is the basis of journalistic writing. It will serve you well in other areas, as it did Ernest Hemingway. Be positive, not negative use, active voice and positive statements. For example, instead of saying he didn't misunderstand the question you could write, he pretended not to understand the question. It's clear it's active. It doesn't use a double negative. It gets the point across without the reader having to think about it. Also, don't be cynical. One writing fact should be presented in a fair and balanced manner. 9. Things To Avoid: things to avoid. Avoid using jargon unless you are writing for a trade journal where the audience is familiar with the terms of its profession. Avoid trendy words and phrases, slang or idioms like kicked the bucket. Not everyone will understand them, and those raises won't stand the test of time. Avoid using too many adverbs and adjectives. If you choose the perfect Berber now you won't need a lot of words to qualify it. Avoid exclamation points. I once had an editor. Tell me you get one exclamation point per career. Use it correctly. If you choose a word or phrase that strong enough, you will not need an exclamation point. 10. Your Project: Now let's discuss your class project. Choose three stories from major news sources like a newspaper, magazine or the Internet. One hard news, one feature and one review. Dissect the stories to see if you can spot the lead, the body of the story and the tail. Notice how these components were handled in each different type of story. Circle any vigorous words you see, and then share it with the class. Feel free to ask me any questions in the skill share community section associated with this class, and I will be happy to get back to you. I have a Sunday newspaper here. That's The Philadelphia Inquirer, and I wanted to show you how the front pages laid up. There's some highlights from different sections of the paper up top here they're Big Main Story is an investigative report certain by a staff writer, And it's not your typical inverted pyramid story. It's more of a feature style, and it's gonna be multiple parts. There's some new stories down the side here, another story down the bottom. There's some weather and then an ad, so you can use a magazine, a newspaper or the Internet. When you find your stories for your homework. Here is a hard news story Inside eight effort is met with tear gas. A border very clear headline. The first paragraph is your lead. So I'm gonna circle that. That's what I want you to dio Everything you need to know about this story is in this one paragraph. You know, there's a lot more to the story, a lot more detail, but you can read on. That would be the body of the story. But if you only had time to find out the facts in a really quick manner, this tells you everything you need to know. Now the end of the story Here it goes back to the beginning and it wraps it up with the same language. Everything in the middle is filler. No, it doesn't mean that it's not important. But if you just want to know the highlights, that's all. You really need to read of this story. You could stop after the first paragraph and everything you need to know. Then I want you to go in and I want you to find the vigorous words. So if you look at the language is to use this is a story about conflict, so they use words like opposition, high risk, barricaded humanitarian aid objections. So that's what I want you to do. Their strong, powerful words. They're not using a lot of words to make a point. They're using powerful words. They don't need modifiers. So that's it. I want to see what your projects are. I can't wait to see them in the project section. Thank you for watching. Here is an example of a review article that I've written several years ago because this is not hard news, and I knew that I had 1400 words that I could play with. I took my time with the lead. As you can see here, I've marked the lead and it's three paragraphs long. I've highlighted the vigorous words that I used in the first paragraph on Ive also clearly marked the tail of the article. The rest of the article is the body, and it's where I provide all of my supporting facts and any documentation and all the results from the tests that I did from physically testing the car. If you read this article, you'll see that I talked about the most interesting feature of the car, which is that it actually came with an umbrella tucked away into the driver door. I use it in my lead as part of the story. And then I also mentioned again in the tail, which creates bookends for the beginning in the end of the story. So I can't wait to see your examples where you mark your vigorous words. You can do it in a pdf document just like this, or you can handwrite it and take a picture and post it up to the project section. Thank you. 11. Final Words: and now for a few final words. But first I want to give you a way that you can practice on your own. Find a topic in the news, read a headline. But don't read the story. And then I want you to do your own research on the article and write a brief news story on it. Then take your article and compare it to the original reading. Other people's work can be an excellent way to learn. How are the lease, different or similar in your story and the original? How did the reporter approach the article? What vigorous words of the author use? How did the reporter inject the fax into the piece? What did the publication choose to leave out? Can you get the gist of the story from the first paragraph? How could your peace be better? How could the reporters peace be better? How did the reporter handle quotes or mentioning the source of his information? I think you'll enjoy this exercise, and it's a great way to learn by comparing what you've written to what you've seen in the newspaper. You can repeat this exercise as many times as you want for more and more practice. And now for those last final words as a journalist, be fair. Be honest. Be timely, be accurate and be respectful. Thes attributes will serve you well in your career. Thank you for taking journalism 101 I can't wait to see your projects in the skill share project section associated with this class. And I hope to see your violin in print very soon. Good luck.