Kind Teacher Gives Advice to Nervous Reporters

First-year journalism student Rashid Reporter finds himself in a predicament familiar to almost anyone who has done the research for his first story and finds himself seated in front of a computer screen: how do I begin?

For Rashid, and others like him, the frenzy of a new school year and the absence of a predictable structure in the journalism class can cause some basic principles to slip from memory. These students sometimes forget that most of the words in their stories are spoken by sources, not written by reporters. They may even think that the process of a story is linear, that they begin writing with the first word and end with the last.

According to journalism teacher Mike McAteer, the simplest way to write a story is to remember how little the reporter’s contribution to the words that comprise the story. “The reporter is responsible for writing the lead, for writing transitions, and for attribution,” he said. “Sometimes the best way to get started is to type your notes, and then arrange the quotes you’re going to use in their sequence in the story.”

Once that is done, he added, the reporter needs only to recall instruction from the first two weeks of class about the types of leads that reporters write. “In a summary lead, which you’ll typically find in event reporting in the news and sports sections, reporters are responsible for placing the 5W’s in priority order,” he said. “Non-summary leads, which are designed to engage the reader in a feature story or time-independent news story, generally take four forms, each of which provides a specific focal point for the reader and concludes in a nutgraf.”

He described those leads as the character lead, the contrast lead, the scene-setting lead and the metaphor/irony lead, and he provided examples in each of his hyperlinked thoughts. Once the lead is written and the quotes sequenced, all that is left for the reporter is to make effective transitions and provide complete attribution in Courant style. He concluded, “If students ever need to be reminded of the principles of excellent journalistic writing, they can always consult the Courant reporting rubric.”

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