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Writing for Newspapers
by Soren Erickson

Writing for a news publication can be an excellent and enjoyable way for one to polish his or her writing skills and pad their resume. Smaller publications, particularly school papers, are usually very accepting of potential writers and copy editors with strong English and technical writing skills. However, there are many differences in style and organization that potential first-time news writers should keep in mind.

Organization is likely the most challenging thing for new writers to grasp when working for a news publication. Without a doubt, the lead paragraph is the most important ingredient of a successful news article.

There are basically two types of leads:

Both leads should be no more than two sentences long, however one sentence is preferred. Delayed leads generate interest in the story and should be catchy. While delayed leads generally do not tell readers much about the article's topic, they make readers curious enough to read on. Delayed leads should be avoided when writing about serious topics. Most news articles begin with an informative lead. Use the most important point of the story so readers know what happened even if they do not finish the article. Unlike an introduction to a non-fiction paper or technical document, leads should get right to the point.

Another organizational standard for news writing is the inverted pyramid. When writing a news article use the most important information toward the beginning and background information at the end of the story. This is done for two reasons. One, people tend to read only the beginning of news articles and want to get the gist of the news without digging through background information. Secondly, when editors cut stories to fit the amount of space they are budgeted for, they often cut from the bottom up. Keeping this in mind, do not save important information for the end of your article as it may be cut later.

Styles vary from paper to paper but most news publications use Associated Press style. An AP Stylebook can be purchased at any bookstore for a reasonable price ($10-15). If possible, writers should familiarize themselves with AP style. Copy editors, however, must be fluent in AP, and should keep their stylebook by their side at all times. More often than not, questions on style can be found in the stylebook in a short amount of time.

Being aware of things such as whether to indent paragraphs, how many spaces go after a period and other details that vary from publication to publication, are good ideas for writers who want to impress their editors.

Also, from both a reader's and an editor's standpoint, the most important part of news writing is accuracy. Misspelling proper nouns is a cardinal sin and doing so can cause legal as well as ethical problems and should be avoided at all costs.

Working for a news publication is a great way to meet people and improve your editing and writing abilities. Each day is a new learning experience and students, or anyone else looking to work as a writer or editor should strongly consider working for a newspaper.


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