So You’re Playing a Journalist: Part I—The Basics
As roleplayers, we all know that writing affects how we think and react to situations. We tend to look for details and create backstories for strangers, we find twists and solutions that others would normally overlook. Every writer does this differently because we all have different writing methods. To get into your journalist’s mind, have a look at their basic writing process.
Whether or not you will have to write an article for your rp, knowing this is a great way to get down to business. I like to use this format in my rps on the gossip blog instead of the photo-quote format seen more often. I also use this to write what I call “action updates” which are summaries of events that have happened in the roleplay recently and are posted on the main to catch up new players.
There’s a particular formula that should be utilized when writing a newspaper article, feature story or press release, thereby making for an interesting and easy read. It’s called the inverted pyramid method and it’s actually really easy to use. Basically, when writing a news article, it should always be bottom line up front.
Articles in a newspaper are quick and to the point, not infused with a whole lot of personal opinion or evaluation, and tend towards the facts plain and simple as you can possibly imagine. This style may not seem like a lot of fun to write, but it is one of the most important types of stories and writing skills that you could possibly have.
All good newspaper articles start off with a good headline that will entice the reader to follow up and read the whole article. It has to be short, interesting and to the point. In English speaking countries, headlines are typically written in a grammatical style called Headlinese (I shit you not).
The accepted syntax for Headlinese is as follows:
- "To be" verbs are omitted
- Articles are omitted
- Verbs are in present tense
- Unless they are in future tense. In which case, use “to verb”
- Conjunctions are replaced by a comma
Other things to consider:
- Only surnames, no honorifics
- Organizations and institutions are called by their common names
- Contractions and abbreviations are encouraged
In inverted pyramid style, the lead paragraph is usually only a sentence long and is the broadest statement on the article’s topic. Typically the first paragraph, should provide a clear and concise overview of the main point(s) by answering the questions who, what, when and where, thereby conveying to the reader what he/or she will be learning about in the piece.
There are two different types of leads: hard lead and soft lead. A soft lead is generally more creative and attention seeking as opposed to a hard lead’s outright, almost blunt, statement of the facts. It’s really basic, kinda like writing a thesis, so I’m going to leave leads like this.
The body of a news article expands on the lead by answering how and why. This content should be unbiased and completely factual. The most important information and details should be included near the beginning of the article and the general information and background should be closer to the end. Again, news articles are bottom line up front. Flesh and blood come later.
Rules of thumb:
- Make sentences clear and concise. Have no more than three sentences per paragraph.
- Always cite information. Always make sure that it integrates into the article.
- Only quote reputable sources. This is an article, not a feature or opinion piece. No “I think” or “I believe” etc. as those words convey bias.
Writing for the Newspaper Audience
Always provide background information on any organizations, institutions, events, etc. that you are writing about. Assume that the reader doesn’t know about the topic. I know it goes against what you learned in freshman English, but go with it.
If you are writing a part of a series, like I do with my action updates, summarize the past proceedings and outline the evolution of the story. You never know if someone is picking up your publication for the first time. Or live under a rock because there are so many news sources now.
Tips and Warnings
- Thank anyone you interview and be sure you get the correct spelling of their name and title. No one likes when their name is spelt wrong.
- Do not write in the first person. At all. No. Wrong. Stop.
- Don’t use a lot of flowery descriptive language. Get to the point. News is there to inform me about my day, not take up my day.
If you have difficulty sticking to short sentences or three per paragraph, don’t fret and try these simple steps:
- Write everything like you normally do.
- When you’re finished, take a deep breath and read the first paragraph to yourself.
- Summarize that paragraph with simple and to the point sentences.
- Do the same thing with the rest of the paragraphs.
Remember that this is basic structure and you can tweak it a little to fit your needs. Every journalist is going to approach their story differently and every person has a different opinion on what information is the most important.
This is Part I of an undetermined length series, so check back for more (possibly conflicting because that’s how writing works) information. Send me a message with any questions or requests!
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