News writing can appear to be a restrictive discipline in that you are limited to writing what other people do or say. However, within this scope there are plenty of ways in which you can tell your story.
When learning how to write like a journalist, a good reporter could take a simple piece of information and spin into different angles, depending o the kind of publication he or she is working for.
For instance, take the following made-up quote from a make believe world-famous architect who is commenting on a city’s council building that is undergoing reconstruction.
“I think it needs a lot of work. It looks amateur in a few places but if your architects put their minds to it, they can make it into a world-class facility. "
One publication could take a negative view of the comments by writing: “World famous architect John Smith criticized the city’s council building, saying it looks like the work of amateurs".
Another news outlet may look on the bright side: “The city’s new council building could become a world-class structure if planners put their minds to it, according to leading architect John Smith. "
The ethics of how to angle a news story could be debated forever, but the fact is that there are may ways to skin a cat when it comes to news writing. And the function of this article is to provide budding journalists with ideas on how they could align stories to various situations.
Positive or negative – most editors would tell you to write positive stories. However, always look for a negative side as well, because it may be more important. A new shipping port would be great for the economy, but what about he environment?
No news is still news – Sometimes, you can push authorities into making a decision. If you want information on whether the new highway is on or not, and no one wants to help, you could write: “The government is still dragging its feet on the proposed new highway…"
Neither confirmed nor denied – these articles may be a tad tabloid in nature, but they are stories nonetheless. For example: “John Rapper refused to comment on accusations he stole songs from his former partner. " How does this kind of article make John Rapper look? However, in these stories, it is only ethical to make sure there was an allegation in the first place.
Stick to your guns – sometimes, the helpless newsmaker has no choice about what he says on the press the next day. That is because whether he likes it or not, the journalist has already decided on an angle. Is Tiger Woods still upset about his Masters failure? Yes or no, it is still a story. “Tiger Woods has vowed to make up for his Masters failure. " or “Tiger Woods will not be haunted by his Masters failure when he tees up again. "
These are just four examples of how news writing can be expanded using only the tiniest of angles. Of course, these tricks are open to abuse, as you may find in many of the sensationalist publications. However, they are import news writing tools and, if used properly, can serve you well in your journalism career.
Nazvi Careem is an experienced journalist, writer and writing coach who has written for newspapers, magazines and global news agencies such as Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse. To download a free chapter of his book on news writing secrets, check out his website dedicated to the art of news writing.