News Writing Fundamentals: Breaking Into Journalism | Joshua McGuigan | Skillshare

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News Writing Fundamentals: Breaking Into Journalism

teacher avatar Joshua McGuigan, Take The Road Less Traveled.

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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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.

      Course Introduction


    • 2.

      What Is News?


    • 3.

      Essential English: Be Positive


    • 4.

      Essential English: Be Active


    • 5.

      Essential English: Short And Sweet Sentences


    • 6.

      Essential English: Avoid Repetition, Jargon And Clichés


    • 7.

      The Purpose Of A Headline


    • 8.

      Headline Fundamentals


    • 9.

      The Importance Of The Intro


    • 10.

      Intro Writing Fundamentals


    • 11.

      A Guide To Writing Better Intros


    • 12.

      Quoting Within News Writing


    • 13.

      Quoting Fundamentals


    • 14.

      The Structure Of A News Story


    • 15.

      Structure Fundamentals: The Five Ws


    • 16.

      Course Project


    • 17.

      Course Conclusion


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About This Class

Learn the fundamentals of news writing and how to write to the industry standard.

This course is a step-by-step guide on how to write direct, effective and coherent news stories. For those interested in journalism, this class will equip you with an essential skill. While for those interested in developing their writing ability, you will find that this course will strengthen your writing through insight into how industry standard news stories are constructed. The ability to write directly and efficiently is not just applicable to the world of journalism, but across many professional fields.

The fundamental elements of news writing will be covered in this course; from headlines and intros, to how to incorporate quotations and structure your work. This course features examples throughout in order to help students understand the core concepts of news writing.

Course Overview:

Essential English - A breakdown of the essential principles of the English language that serve to strengthen our writing. 

Writing Headlines - Insight into how to best construct an effective headline in order to grab the attention of as many readers as possible. 

Writing Intros - An in depth dive into how to write news intros; the most important element of your news stories. 

Using Quotation - An overview of how to incorporate quotations into your writing in order to breathe life into your stories and provide validity to your work. 

Structure - A guide on how to bring together all the elements of a news story into a coherent piece of writing. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Joshua McGuigan

Take The Road Less Traveled.


Hello everyone, I'm Josh, a journalism graduate from London.  

I love throwing myself into new challenges and environments, as well as learning new skills. 

I wish to use SkillShare as a platform to share the knowledge and skillsets I've gathered over the past few years, in addition to connecting with like-minded individuals. 

If you'd like to connect, don't hesitate to follow me here (or on Instagram) and drop me a message. Enjoy my classes!

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1. Course Introduction : Hello everyone. My name is Josh and welcome to news writing fundamentals. As a recent graduate of journalism studies. And we've experienced working for major news organizations. I have a wealth of knowledge to share regarding news writing. In this course, you will learn the fundamentals of news writing, which are skills that are not only applicable for journalists, but anyone who wants to strengthen their writing and learn a new skill. Over this course, you will learn essential English principles. How to write a good headline, a strong introduction before going into how to use quotations and how to structure your writing before wrapping things up. By the end of this course, you will have learned a whole new versatile skill set and be able to confidently write new stories to an industry standard level. Let's jump into the course and learn how to write new stories. 2. What Is News?: Before jumping into this course, it is important to gain an understanding of what news actually is. Many people say different things. Harry Evans, the former Sunday Times editor, said, news is people. While the Oxford Dictionary settles for information about important or interesting recent events. Charles Dana and American journalist famously said, when a dog bites a man, that is not news. When a man bites dog. That is. Meanwhile, William Randolph Hearst had a different view. He said, news is something someone somewhere wants to suppress. All the rest is advertising. So what the news stories have in common? Firstly, news is new. Sounds obvious, right? News must tell the audience something they do know already know information that is recent or has only just come to light. The more recent, the more newsworthy The story is. News is revealing something to the reader for the first time. Secondly, news is true. News must be based on fact, truth, and accuracy. At least that is what it should be. Of course, mistakes do get made by news organizations have in their best interest to report the facts as their credibility is on the line. A true news report is an accurate report of an event or what was said with other information being attributed. True means more than just the facts. It means telling a balanced story, showing both sides of an argument. Thirdly, News is a trigger. News should provoke a reaction from the readers. It may surprise, shock, or excite them. This can arrange of reactions from horror and disbelief, laughter and hope. While not every news story will trigger a response from a reader. A story that no one finds engaging is not news. And finally, news is people. People, people, people. As human beings, we are naturally interested and curious about the lives of others and what is going on in the world. We want to know differing opinions about those who don't share our opinions. And we are relieved when things go bad for others, not ourselves. We want to know about conflicts, about our favorite celebrities and about anything out of the ordinary. Terry Pachet said, news all depends. But you'll know it when you see a clear right. Now, go out and find some. To summarize. News is new. News is true. News is a trigger and news is People. Here are some examples of famous news stories. Now that we have an understanding of what news is, let's get into the course. 3. Essential English: Be Positive : We are now getting into the central english section of this course where I'll be going over fundamental rules to improve your writing. First, be positive in your writing. Writing in the positive form is an excellent way to make your sentences short and snappy. Your sentences should assert, as your readers should be told what is, they don't want to be told what is not. Writing into a positive form is not about making your writing upbeat and cheerful. It is about saying what something is, not what something isn't. Here is a simple example. Instead of writing, Jeremy Corbin did not win the election, right? Jeremy Corbin lost the election. The words to look out for include not, isn't and didn't. The main advantage of using positive language, also known as affirmative language, is so you can be more direct in your writing. What should be avoided at all costs in your writing is what is called a double negative. A double negative is a sentence with two negative words. For example, there is no reason to write. That is not to say the cake is not without merit. Instead, you can write the cake is bad. Double negatives, I especially confusing. They force the reader to reread the sentence over and over again until they can understand the meaning. To summarize, we write into positive form in order to be direct and say what something is not, what something is not. And at all costs, avoid using a double negative. Here are some examples of sentences and how they are made better by writing them into positive. The sentence on the right is the better sentence. John Brown, who escaped last night, has still not been caught. The positive reads, John Brown is still free. The project was not successful. It reads better like the project failed. They did not pay attention to their children. Instead, you have, they ignored their children. And there you have a simple way to make your writing more direct onto the next lesson. 4. Essential English: Be Active: Next up, we are going over why it is important to be active in your writing, not passive. News writing requires you to be direct, vigorous, and economical in your writing, which is why sentences written in the active voice are preferred. The active voice describes the sentences where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. Simple example is police arrested Smith. Lets write this sentence in the passive voice, where the receiver of the action becomes the subject rather than the object. Smith was arrested by police by using the passive voice. We have unnecessarily extended this sentence from free words to five. Here you can see that the active voice is more straightforward. The best way to understand this principle is to take a look at a few examples and start writing our active voice and passive voice sentences side-by-side. In the active voice we have majestic lions, Rome, the Savannah. While the passive is, the savanna is roomed by majestic lions. Another example is a hurricane destroys the whole village. And the passive is the whole village was destroyed by the hurricane. Writers often rely on that. There is construction which can easily be avoided. Here are a couple more examples. To summarize. The active voice is a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb and is used to make our writing direct, vigorous and economical. Practice writing out different sentences and changing between the active and passive voice to fully understand this principle. There you have it. Remember to be active in your rising, not passive. 5. Essential English: Short And Sweet Sentences : It is time to go over how to best construct your sentences, which is done for limiting them out of ideas per sentence. The sentences you write are more likely to be clear if they are shorter sentences, communicating one idea or connected range of faults. There are roughly four kinds of sentences you should be using in your news and article writing. The first being simple sentences which have one subject and one predicate or statement. Then you have compound sentences, which are two simple sentences joined together by a conjunction. Up next, you have complex sentences, which have one primary statement and then one or more subordinate statements or clauses which modify the primary statement. And finally, you have compound, complex sentences. Were older statements have one or more modifying statements. All these sentences are clear and using all of them throughout your writing will give variety to your work, as well as a certain rhythm and flow. When trying to limit your ideas per sentence. You shouldn't be afraid to use a full stop when you need to. In order to keep your sentences clear, economical, and readable. The best way to understand the importance of shortening your sentences is to look at bad and good examples side-by-side. On the right, we have the shorter sentences. Not only is the first example a mouthful, but we see here that the second example on the right is already more readable and clearer. To summarize, don't be afraid to use a full stop in order to write more readable, shorter sentences which communicate clear ideas. Here is another example to look over in order to fully understand this principle. When you feel your sentences are getting too long, go back over your story and divide them up in order to keep your sentences short and sweet. 6. Essential English: Avoid Repetition, Jargon And Clichés: When writing, it is important to avoid repetition, jargon, and cliches in order to keep your work very unreadable. Adding variety and avoiding repetition is a sure-fire way to strengthen your writing. This can mean incorporating different sentence structures and avoiding using the same word over and over again. While trying to construct sentences that are active, positive and shorts may sound limiting. You should never underestimate the english language. Sentences can vary in form from simple to complex and varying function. Statements, commands, exclamations and questions. And in style from loose, periodic and balanced. Loose sentences continue on with fact after fact, in a conversational sequence. While periodic sentences, in contrast, leave the climax to the end of the sentence. Balanced sentences, on the other hand, are made up of two parts. The are roughly equal in length, grammatical structure, and importance. Another thing to avoid is jargon. As in special words used by a profession or group that are difficult to understand. News is meant to be clear and concise. So write your stories and the language that people actually speak. Remember, you're writing to the people, so don't overcomplicate things for them. Here are some examples of jargon words that can easily be translated into everyday language. You should also make a habit of avoiding cliches in your writing. Cliches are cliches for a reason because they are overused and therefore limits your imagination. At times, cliches can also be wasteful. For example, to all intents and purposes, does not say much more than virtually tolerate only the best cliches in your work. Here are some examples of cliches to avoid. To summarize, avoid repetition, jargon, and cliches in your writing. Keep these principles in mind. And your writing is short. Improve. 7. The Purpose Of A Headline : The headline is what is going to grab your readers. So getting the right headline and understanding its purpose is essential. The headline is meant to catch the attention of your readers. In about half a dozen words, you have to actually inform your readers of a shocking event or pique their curiosity enough to make them want to read your story. The headline highlights a few words in a both typeface. Therefore, the importance of each word must be weighted. A headline is meant to attract as many people as possible to a story while being both accurate and intelligible and without being confusing, vague, or too wordy. The primary task of a headline is to sum up the news in the story it serves. It must convey the essential information. It must be specific. When coming up with your headline, reflect on what makes your story new and unique. What element of the story is of real significance? Ask yourself what ideas, phrases, and words are at the core of the story. Let's take a look at an example of a hard news story. Groups of royal army commandos came under heavy targets and small arms fire in Goma, Congo today, one commander was wounded as gorillas fired on five posts simultaneously. How do we make a headline out of this section? How about royal army commandos under heavy targets and small arms fire in Goma today. While this captures the news, it is too long for a headline. Royal army commandos can become commandos. The location can be dropped, as we can assume this story has been ongoing. Today can also be dropped as the reader takes it for granted that the news item is current affairs. We are left with commandos under heavy target and small arms fire. This is still too long. By refining it down further, we have commandos under heavy fire. We actually can be more specific and right, commandos under turret fire. This headline meets the requirements as it tells the news, attracts readers and makes immediate sense. To summarize, the purpose of a headline is to grab the attention of your readers by accurately and specifically conveying the essential information of a story. Here are some examples of iconic headlines. Keep this in mind as we continue to dive deeper into crusting headlines. 8. Headline Fundamentals : We are now going to cover what goes into writing an effective headline. We previously covered the importance of being both active and positive in our writing. The same principles apply for writing headlines. For example, coronavirus pandemic is not a threat to meet. This can be changed to meet supply is safe from virus, which carries the headline more actively and positively. Here is another example. Next up, let's discuss keeping to a single idea with your headlines. Trying to keep a headline specific and simple does not just mean using simple language. It means being able to clearly convey a single idea within a simple expression. Overloading a headline with different ideas, mics are hard to follow and not affective. Though stray too far from your key news points. Let's take a look at an overcrowded example. Crucial free mumps. But despite pressure, no deal. Eu president, if we take away an idea, we come up with, EU president resists pressure for Swift deal, which reads much better. Now, the final point to highlight when writing headlines is the importance of verbs within them. A verb describes an action, state, or occurrence. While news is activity, the two go hand in hand. Generally, you should always seek to include a verb in your headlines. Of course, there are exceptions, but when starting out, this is good practice. Avoid weak verbs like to have or to be. The better the verb, the better the headline. Here are some examples. To summarize. An effective headline is a positive, active, and specific single idea expressed with a strong verb using easily understood language. Here are some more examples of good headlines. Remember these principles in order to make your headlines stand out and sell your story. 9. The Importance Of The Intro : We will now cover the importance of intros within your news writing. While a reader may read past the bad intro if the headline is interesting or personally intriguing the majority of the time, the content of your first paragraph is crucial. Like the headline, the intro is about selling the story. And if your opening sentence fails to catch the attention of your reader, they will most likely go elsewhere. The intro is what instantly tells you readers that this is the start of something that must be read on. The intro must be irresistible, exciting, and full of promise. It can potentially make or break your story. Therefore, a significant amount of effort should be put into writing it. To begin thinking about writing your intro picture, this scenario. You have just found out a really fascinating piece of news. You have got to tell it to a friend, but they're leaving town on a train ready to depart. You run alongside the train to tell your friend news. You have time to shout out one-sentence. What do you say? Or picture yourself telling our friends the latest news while grabbing a coffee. What would you say? Kate Italia, a community editor for the North Devin journal. Something similar as a trainee out sometimes struggle to come up with that punchy intro. Particularly if the story was convoluted or complex. The best advice I ever got from our news editor was to tell him the story out loud. It was a revelation because by telling someone, I found it much easier to collect my thoughts and put them in order. And the intro just appeared simple. When writing your intro, try reading it out loud. If you have to even think about stopping for breath, then it is already too long and needs to be rewritten. To summarize, your insurer is vital to wherever your readers read the rest of your story. And when drafting your intro practice by reading out loud. Here are some examples of good intros. Now that we have covered the importance of an intro, let's get into what actually makes a strong introduction. 10. Intro Writing Fundamentals : It is time to start crafting our intros and learn what goes into making a solid starts your news story. It is natural to overwrite, but when crafting intros, it is essential to be short and sharp. Lemmy herself to 25 words and try not to stray too far over this number. The skill, her writing comes from writing with precision while keeping a sentence brief. Filling your intro with just enough detail is where the skill comes in. Otherwise your intro will end up being too vague. On the other hand, too much information leaves it feeling overcrowded. When starting to write your intro, keep the Five W's and mind. You have probably heard about the five W's already. They are. Who, what, why, where, when, and sometimes how. Here is a simple intro of a hard news story using the five W's. A woman was killed in a car crash this evening in Baker Street. While this is good to keep the five W's in mind when writing your intro. It is important not to obsess over them as There'll be answered later on in your story. If you always attempt to answer all of these questions, then your intro will almost always end up overloaded. And the void of any real meaning, use the five W's as a starting point. Let's look at some examples. Like the rest of your news writing. Your interests must be written in the active form. As the active form says, listened to me. And what I have to say, here are some active versus passive examples. The final point to consider in this lesson is that your intro should concentrate around one core undoes idea. They should force you to get straight to the point without being bogged down with unnecessary details. The summarize. Keep your intro short and sharp, and use the five W's as a starting point to concentrate on a core news idea. Here are more examples. At this point, you can already start practicing writing your interests. As the more you practice, the more concise and effective they will become. 11. A Guide To Writing Better Intros : I will now go over free things to be aware of when writing your interests. These are chronology, overloading and source obsession. When writing your intro, keeping to a chronological order is not necessary. That comes later on. An intro is a brief account of the events and result. But by telling a story chronologically, you may be denying your reader of interesting information until the end of the sentence or paragraph. At this stage, the reader may have become impatient or even an interested. Let's look at an example that follows a chronological order. While this tells the story, forcing the chronological order slows it down and makes it imprecise. We can rework it to read. An American military soldier breathed a hail of bullets, Tupelo wounded refugee over the Berlin Wall yesterday. This is instantly more effective as we cut straight to the action and result. A chronological sequence can start to take over after your intro, but don't let it limit the effectiveness of it. We have already mentioned quite a few times of how overloading your intro is detrimental. But it is something worth reiterating again, because of how much of a common problem it is. Making your intro carry too many ideas or details is fatal. That is why it is good to limit yourself to 25 words, force yourself to get to the heart of the story. Here is an example of an overloaded intro and a more concise counterpart. The final point to highlight is the curse known as source obsession. Source obsession gives priority to the place, organization, or person who provided the news while pushing the actual news to one side. Here are some examples of how source obsession gets in the way of the actual news. To summarize, beware of how chronology, overloading and source obsession can diminish the strength of your intro if not kept in check. And with that, we have concluded this section on writing intros. 12. Quoting Within News Writing : Quotes are an integral part of the news writing process as a bring your stories to life. Quotes are the bread and butter of news writing as well chosen accounts for out your story. I'd validity and variety. But what exactly is the quote? A quote is the exact wording of a statement from a source. When writing quotes, you must attribute them to the source by including a name and title or description. For example, heavy Brown students at Cambridge University said or set a Lexus myth doctor at Hammersmith Hospital. At times, you can also attribute their age if it is irrelevant to their respective story. Once you have attributed someone, you don't need to fully attribute them again. Instead reference them in a simpler format. For example, Harry said or said Mrs. Smith. In regards to punctuation, when quoting, always used double quotation marks, a new single quotation marks when quoting something with inner quotation. For example. Let's take a look at another example to explain some more punctuation rules. Notice the use of a comma at the end of the first sentence. However, following sentences should end with a full stop. Also notice the absence of double quotation marks at the end of the second sentence. When the preceding sentence is a direct quote from the same source. Double quotation marks are not required. If there was a fourth direct quote from this source following the third sentence. The quote marks at the end of the third sentence would also not be required. We also see here that quotes should generally be separated by paragraph breaks. Here are some examples of punctuation errors with quotes. Can you spot the mistakes? To summarize, a quote is the exact wording of a statement from a source that has to be attributed. Always quit using double quotation marks and make sure to use the correct punctuation. Here are some examples of great quotes with correct punctuation. Now that we understand the basics of quoting, let's dive into the fundamentals. 13. Quoting Fundamentals : We will now go over the fundamental elements that go into Quoting when writing your news stories. In general, you should use direct quotes to record the opinions and emotions and unique statements of your sources. You shouldn't use direct quotes to state basic facts, as these are generally boring. Also, don't use direct quotes to state the obvious. And don't use direct quotes to repeat information. Let your direct quotes do the hard work and tell the story for you. If there isn't an emotion in your story, don't force it. But on the other hand, if there is a motion, give it adequate room. In general, you should paraphrase facts, but directly quote emotion, opinion, and unique statements expressed by sources. To paraphrase is to express the meaning of something written or spoken using different words to achieve greater clarity. In your writing, use a mixture of both direct quotes and paraphrasing to allow for some variety and flow in your writing. You may have already noticed, but generally, you should only use said when attributing. Never use a verb. The indicates movement, such as smiled or granted as you cannot smile, or grunts or word. Here are the last few rules to keep in mind when quoting. Avoid using a quotation as a lead sentence as it makes the sentence confusing because of the lack of context. You can use brackets if certain information needs to be clarified within a quote. Only use ellipses when the middle part of the quote has been removed. When quoting someone, it is okay to edit out speech fill is people often use such as and like. You can also make small edits to quote in order to correct the grammar as long as the meaning is retained. This works well for both parties as allows you work to read better and for your source to come across more clearly. To summarize, use direct quotes to express opinions, emotions, and unique statements, and paraphrase factual information. A mixture of direct quotes and paraphrasing in your writing. And only you said when attributing quotations. Here are some good quotations. There you have it. Quotes are the building blocks of your news writing. So to understand how to incorporate them into your writing is essential moving forward. 14. The Structure Of A News Story : You have learned how to write a headline, how to write an intro, and how to incorporate quotes into your work. But how do we actually put these elements together? The way news stories are structured is worlds apart from how fiction is written. Novels feature a gradual reveal of actions and characters that follows a detailed chronological order, resulting in a climax. News writing is very different. While new stories may come in parts like a novel, the order is different. First, we have the short and sharp intro, featuring vital and attention grabbing information. Further on the story is elaborated with different angles explored and the most interesting quotes. Then we see a more chronological retelling of events alongside additional details of what was said and what happened. The story is rounded off by tying up loose ends and relevant information. Structured in a descending order of importance. Give readers the most important information and facts first. So you can choose to skip the rest if they're in a rush. The most common way to picture the structure is to imagine an inverted pyramid. You have the essential information at the top, followed by important facts and then the less relevant information. Like I mentioned before, this means even if the reader has only read halfway through the story, they would have fully grasped what it was about. If you don't see this approach working for you, you can also look at a new story as posing a set of questions and answers. Once you write your intro, you'd ask yourself what the reader would like to know next, answer their question, and continue on until everything has been explained. And imagine it like this. To summarize, news stories are structured with the most important information first, with the most relevant information flowing in a descending order of importance. It is worth to take some time to read some news stories on your new side of choice in order to gain a better idea of how news stories are structured. 15. Structure Fundamentals: The Five Ws: We will now go over the five W's of news writing. I don't do cat said who, what, where, when, and why, get the answer to all five. And you have the basis for compiling any story. These are the five W's you need to answer in your story. Who, what, where, when, and why. They are the essential elements of every story and our questions that must be answered for your reader. Let us take the classic example of a car crash story. So what happened? A woman has died in a car crash. Okay. But we need more information. Who is the victim involved? Are they someone well-known or out of the ordinary? Where did this take place? The more relevant is the hierarchy should be placed in the story. When it's more relevant, if the time is unusual or of note. Why can be used when the cause is known? You can sometimes add how to list, but you will not always know the answer to it. Now whatever you do, don't try to answer all of these questions in the first sentence. Identified are important elements and work your way through. You can then ask What next, and who says to continue to build up your story? The end shall Cross said, never be too proud to ask. Don't worry that you will appear ignorant if you ask someone to clarify an issue in layman's terms, there's nothing wrong with making sure you get the facts right. The only silly questions are the ones you don't ask. To summarize, used the five W's and how to guide the structure of your story and to answer the questions that need to be answered. Keep in mind the five W's and you'll be on your way to writing a solid news story. 16. Course Project: It is now time to apply what you have learned over this course by writing your own news story. Attached to the story will be two different press releases which you will use to write your story and source the majority of the information from the first press release is about a Nigerian prince working in London. While the second is about a baker who is fine for food hygiene offenses. Choose either press release or challenge yourself and write up both stories. Also attached to the course will be the story's written up by myself. So I'll go ahead and use them as a reference. So once you have finished the course project, remember to apply everything you have learned over this course when writing your news stories. And even go back to the previous lessons to remind yourself of the key points. Now it is up to you go ahead and put theory into practice. 17. Course Conclusion : We have reached the end of this course on the fundamentals of news writing. Over the course that we have covered essential English principles, what goes into crafting good headlines and intros, and how to incorporate quotes and structure our writing. I hope that this course has given you a glimpse into the world of journalism and that you have gained a new skill and shred fund your writing. In order to supplement this course, I recommend reading content from your favorite news organization in order to understand how the professionals go about news writing. It goes without saying. But if you really want to make something of this skill and improve, it is essential to practice, practice, practice. And we have that we have come to the end of this course on news writing fundamentals.