Write news

Take the six Ws, or Rudyard Kipling’s six honest serving men (who, what, where, when, how and why), and put them in order of importance.

Lady Godiva (who) rode (what) naked (how) through the streets of Coventry (where) 900 years ago (when) in a bid to cut taxes (why). (18 words)

But you can rarely get them all in one sentence.

All of them should be included in a story, but you must decide the most important one or two and put them first (often who did what). Place the others next in order of importance, and then any additional background information or context.

The idea with news is that the sub-editors can cut from the bottom of the story and it will still make sense, right up to leaving just the first par, or first sentence.

Deciding importance

Who – important if it is the prime minister, royalty, rock star, sports star and so on. Less important if it is a councillor, the mayor, an official. Conversely, may be important if it is an identifiable nobody – a prostitute, a disabled person, a young person doing something normally done by older people and so on. Who, even if a nobody, can often be the most important angle because it provides human interest. Eleven-year-old Bobby Jones has become the first…. Or, Vice-girl Liz Smith is one of 50 city prostitutes to quit life on the streets under a new scheme….

What –important if it is the first, last, largest, smallest, strangest and so on.

Where – importance may depend on local factors but first, last, largest, smallest and so on all apply.

When – important if it will be on a paper’s publication day (weeklies can say ‘today’, making them seem topical). Important if on a special anniversary or coinciding with something else.

Why – important if the underlying reason adds more to the story than the basic facts. A small investment in an area that has already seen millions more invested may be incredibly important for a specific reason. A standard fundraising event may be important if it is to raise money to take a young child to the US for specialist treatment, for example. Sometimes the Why is the most important factor if the long-term implications will have a bigger impact than the individual event itself (if it will set a precedent or change procedures/legislation).

How – important if it is novel, new, done traditionally, using old or new tools or techniques, done faster, more efficiently or in a madcap way. Remember, how is often how many or how much and these may be particularly important in financial stories. How much is important if it involves large sums of money or large quantities in general (the larger, the better), or unusually small/cheap.

The six Ws can easily have more than one answer for each. A story on town twinning will have at least two towns in two countries and at least two mayors, for example. You could easily have 20 or 30 items in a list when you have answered the six Ws. The trick is to decide which are the most important, which add detail to the story and which to leave until last or leave out.

Writing news

News is written with the most important thing first, the second most important things second and so on. After all the important things comes the background, the related items and anything else you have to add. This is often called the inverted pyramid.

News is written in a series of short sharp sentences. Try to keep the intro shorter than 25 words. Many news stories begin The or A (or An), so if you can avoid these words, do.

If you have a quote from somebody, try to get it in the story early – second or third paragraph. More than one quotable source is good.

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