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How To Write A Breaking News Story

I did a great two-and-a-half-hour breaking news workshop with Lucy Dyers, (Editorial Development Manager at News Associates). It was really practical and we wrote a breaking news story as she delivered the workshop. I have to say, it was one of the best journalism workshops I have ever done and would recommend it to everyone. The free workshop is running again until February 2023.

Here are some important notes I made:

  • Get as many specific details as possible. Once you know the location of the event, look it up on the map to put it into context of other landmarks, such as a motor way or a school. Does the event affect those places too?

  • Accuracy is the most important aspect of writing a news report and the story must be true at the time of writing. Breaking news stories require a fast turnaround, therefore there is no time to fact check later, so make sure you fact check as you write. If unsure of something, don't include it. This applies to photos too.

  • The structure of a breaking news article is an inverted pyramid (which is different to a feature article). The most important/impactful information comes first, including quotes.

  • Always have a human interest side to your story, (e.g. human subjects and interviewees) so the audience can relate.

  • The style of writing should be like as if you are explaining the story to a friend on the bus.

  • A sentence is a paragraph in news writing. This is so it doesn't look dense on a small screen (e.g. phone). Average sentence length is 25 words.

  • Look for new information or 'sound bite' as the story develops.

  • There is no copyright with news so no need to mention other channels who have covered the same story.

  • Interviewees must be relevant to the story. Always get people's full names and their spelling (even if it is a common name such as Molly, it could be spelt Mollie!). Check your company's style guide - first name or second name? You can adjust the quote a little as long as you don't change the context.

  • If you don't believe something (e.g. it was a bomb!), don’t include someone's quote saying it is. If you're not willing to believe it yourself, don’t put it in the story. Wait until you can trust the quote (e.g. police or emergency service have confirmed it), then put it at the top of your story.

  • Traffic and weather information are relevant online, but not in print.

  • Boring events, such as traffic or speed limit changing, are newsworthy if it affects loads of people.

  • Always specify the law enforcement you are working with/writing about.

  • If you're going to write something that may damage a company's reputation, you have to offer them a right of reply, otherwise it could be legal defamation. (Liable [written] or slander [spoken]). Call up the company, tell them of your story and the info you have about them and give them a time limit to get back to you (e.g. you will print the story in 40 mins). Reasonable time frame varies from story to story.

  • Teeline shorthand is a form of writing that journalists use. It allows you to write around 100 words per minute and will hold up in court.


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