Journalism means more than taking handouts or reporting what’s said in news releases. Good journalism rests on a set of principles. Solid stories require accurate information and balance in reporting it.
Think about answering a story’s basic questions:
Then examine how the story happened.
How do we connect the dots to tell a good story with a beginning, middle and end?
The inverted pyramid.
Traditionally journalists use the model of the inverted pyramid construct a story.
But increasingly, news organizations encourage reporters to use better storytelling techniques, using characters and interesting details to get the reader, viewer or listener interested. Television stories often start with small details, or personal stories and we see that more and more in print, digital and radio.
Only report what you know was said, and by whom. This means attributing statements to specific people:
- The mayor says…
- The district attorney says…
- The neighbor says…
- According to the Associated Press…
- According to The New York Times…
- According to the website….
Wikipedia and many other websites aren’t always reliable sources. If a site quotes another source, it’s important to go to the primary source to make sure that you have accurate information.
Just because somebody says something doesn’t mean it’s true. Even high-ranking public officials may be misinformed, or may have an agenda that obscures the truth. Even when you’re under deadline pressure, try to confirm everything that you’re told with additional sources. It’s a good idea to have at least two sources. Remember: truth is an absolute defense against libel.
Elements of a Good Story
Ancient Greek writers developed a basic storytelling formula and they understood the importance of characters:
You’ll find victims, villains and heroes at the center of every good drama. Audiences recognize the victim’s pain, hiss at the villain, and cheer for the hero. Most of what we cover will not be as dramatic as a classic Greek tale, and news coverage demands that we balance two sides of a story. Until the jury returns a guilty verdict, it’s unfair to characterize the accused as a villain. But if the actions of the accused are villainous, you report the facts and the audience, like the jury decides.
In daily news reporting, we don’t always have the luxury of a developing a story around a character. We do have to report the facts. But where we can, we want to highlight characters.
Often they reveal themselves in what they say, how they act, and through the expressions on their faces.
Readers, viewers and listeners want to engage with the real drama in real people’s lives. We feel their pain, their anger, their frustration and their triumph. We cheer them, get angry, or feel their pain. We’re indignant or inspired.
Characters drive stories and make them memorable.
Whether you begin with just the facts, an engaging character or an interesting detail, you need to let your reader, viewer or listener in on the point of the story pretty quickly.
Journalism uses the nut graf , or paragraph, to explain the heart of the story. The nut graf should come pretty close to the top of the report. It helps to tie everything together. It helps you keep the focus and continue to the ideas in your story.
Once you explain the point of the story, you can move on flesh it out with facts and details.