Reporting Basics

 

Reporting 

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:

  • who
  • what
  • when
  • where
  • why

 

HOW

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.Inverted Pyramid

 

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.

pyramid
pyramid

Accuracy

Only report what you know was said, and by whom.  This means attributing statements to specific people:

  1. The mayor says…
  2. The district attorney says…
  3. The neighbor says…
  4. According to the Associated Press…
  5. According to The New York Times…
  6. According to the website….

 

Wikipedia

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:

  • villains
  • victims
  • heroes

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.

Highlight Characters

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.

Organization

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.

 

 

Opinion vs. News

Photographers waiting in the rotunda of the Russell Building in the United States Capitol, Washington, DC. Photo by ConsumerMojo.com

What’s the difference between an opinion piece and a news story? 

An opinion piece gives you information from the point of view of the writer, or presenter. It may include facts, and reporting, but it differs from a news story in that it lays out an individual’s ideas and often their biases.  Opinion is, essentially, someone’s argument for a certain point of view about a specific topic.

When we read newspaper editorial pages, we see two types of opinion. We get the collective opinion of the editors and we also read, on the OpEd page — the page opposite the editorials — what individual columnists have to say in their byline pieces.

A news story reports the facts without the opinion of the reporter, writer, producer or presenter. It can contain attributed or quoted opinions of people interviewed. So a news story can contain opinion and tell a compelling story. But it should not include the opinion of the newsgatherer or the news organization.

A Pew Research Center poll, in 2018, found that younger people were better than older people at figuring out what’s factual and what’s opinion.

Pew said, “About a third of 18- to 49-year-olds (32 percent) correctly identified all five of the factual statements as factual, compared with two-in-ten among those ages 50 and older. A similar pattern emerges for the opinion statements. Among 18- to 49-year-olds, 44 percent correctly identified all five opinion statements as opinions, compared with 26 percent among those ages 50 and older.”

Pew Research Poll Opinion vs. Fact.png

You can take the quiz and see how you do.

https://www.pewresearch.org/quiz/news-statements-quiz/

The First Amendment

Protestors in Washington Square Park, Photo by ConsumerMojo.com

The Bill of RightsThe First Amendment to the United States Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, guarantees freedom of religion and speech, the press and the right of people to gather to protest and complain to the government.

In its own words:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to freely assemble, and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

After the founders of the United States wrote the U.S. Constitution, some of them realized they had left out critical guarantees to safeguard the type of nation, free of tyranny, they and others wanted.

The newly minted senators and congressmen debated about whether “checks and balances” would protect the rights of the people, or whether they needed to write amendments to the Constitution.

Freedom of the press was one of the priorities for Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson wrote a letter to another lawmaker saying,

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Some wanted to rewrite the Constitution but worried that people would think that they intended to tear up what they wanted to protect. They turned to U.S. Virginia Representative James Madison, a good thinker and a good writer.

James Madison

Madison argued that, “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

In 1789 Madison drafted amendments and presented them to the House of Representatives. The House approved 17 amendments. The Senate approved 12 and the states ratified 10 in December, 1791 as the Bill of Rights.

Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States and James Madison became the fourth.

Disinformation Vs. Misinformation

CNN Screen shot

Misinformation is information that’s wrong, false or inaccurate. It happens when people make mistakes and write or say something that isn’t true. It could also be incorrect information that is shared to deceive, or maybe not. 

But disinformation is deliberately, false information aimed to mislead you and others. We know now that it is easily spread on social media.

Disinformation is a manipulative tool meant to harm. 

Disinformation we’ve seen recently

30 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of QAnon, according to a YouGov poll. 

45 percent of Republicans say they favor the actions of the rioters at the Capitol according to another YouGov poll.

70 percent of Republicans believe Trump won the election.

40 percent of Americans believe the false notion that COVID-19 was manufactured in a lab in Wuhan China.

Disinformation has a history

Disinformation is not a new phenomenon.  The Russians apparently first used the term dezinformatsiya  in 1923 to describe their effort to manipulate public opinion. It was used by the then KGB, which is now the GRU.  This was basically their term for propaganda, according to Wikipedia. 

English speaking intelligence agencies picked up the term in the 1950’s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  (OED)

Governments used disinformation against each other during World War II and during the Cold War.  

The Russians used disinformation in the run up to the 2016 election, according to the Mueller Report. 

 
This is from an article from Poynter, a news literacy organization. 
Jane Lytvynenko, reporter for BuzzFeed News, whose Twitter posts and reporting are required reading for anyone trying to understand this space:

“There’s a direct connection between disinformation and the insurrection on Capitol Hill. The mob was motivated by the false idea of a stolen election, which has traveled across social media for months, amplified by Mr. Trump and his supporters. Courts and election officials alike have rejected the idea of a stolen election, but their hard evidence was no match for the power of viral memes reinforced by lies and half-truths from elected officials. We’ve seen this scenario play out globally, and now it’s playing out in the U.S.”

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/janelytvynenko/disinformation-broke-us

 

New Yorker Reporter Luke Mogelson followed Trump supporters as they forced their way into the U.S. Capitol, using his phone’s camera as a reporter’s notebook.

 

 

 
 

 

COVID Vaccine Misinformation on Facebook and Social Media

Misinformation – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Misinformation
noun

  1. false or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.”nuclear matters are often entangled in a web of secrecy and misinformation”synonyms:disinformation, false information, misleading information, deception; lie, fib, false rumor, trumped-up story, fake news, alternative fact, gossip, red herring, false trail.
  2. Misinformation is false or inaccurate information. Examples of misinformation include false rumors, insults and pranks, while examples of more deliberate disinformation include malicious content such as hoaxes, spearphishing and propaganda.‎

The Center for Counter Digital (CCD) hate compiled a list of 12 people who spread misinformation on social media. All of them seem like reliable experts and the CCD says they are responsible for spreading almost two-thirds of the anti-vaxxer disinformation on social media. Here are a couple of examples.

Screen shot of article Rizza Islam Vaccinate Conspiracy theorist
Anti-Vaxer Joseph Mercola

Read More

BuzzFeed also tracked so-called experts who spread COVID and vaccine disinformation.

Buzz Feed Fake Experts

Read More

Before COVID, Before the Capitol Insurrection, There was the Mueller Report.

The Mueller Report issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team documented Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

In February 2018, before the report was issued, the Special Counsel indicted 13 foreign nationals and a Russian “troll farm” connected to the Internet Research Agency or IRA. Facebook disclosed in the fall of 2017 that it sold $100,000 worth of ads to the Internet Research Agency.

How did they use the ads on Facebook and on other social media platforms?

This is from the Mueller Report:

 

“Dozens of IRA employees were responsible for operating accounts and personas on
different U.S. social media platforms. The IRA referred to employees assigned to operate the social media accounts as “specialists.”42 Starting as early as 2014, the IRA U.S. operations included social media specialists focusing on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

The IRA later added specialists who operated on Tumblr and Instagram accounts.44
Initially, the IRA created social media accounts that pretended to be the personal accounts of U.S. persons.

By early 2015, the IRA began to create larger social media groups or public
social media pages that claimed (falsely) to be affiliated with U.S. political and grassroots organizations. In certain cases, the IRA created accounts that mimicked real U.S. organizations.

For example, one IRA-controlled Twitter account, @TEN_ GOP, purported to be connected to the Tennessee Republican Party.

More commonly, the IRA created accounts in the names of
fictitious U.S. organizations and grassroots groups and used these accounts to pose as antiimmigration groups, Tea Party activists, Black Lives Matter protestors, and other U.S. social and
political activists.


Groups (with names such as “Being Patriotic,” “Stop All Immigrants,” “Secured Borders,” and
“Tea Party News”), purported Black social justice groups (“Black Matters,” “Blacktivist,” and
“Don’t Shoot Us”), LGBTQ groups (“LGBT United”), and religious groups (“United Muslims of
America”).
Throughout 2016, IRA accounts published an increasing number of materials supporting the Trump Campaign and opposing the Clinton Campaign. For example, on May 31, 2016, the operational account “Matt Skiber” began to privately message dozens of pro-Trump Facebook groups asking them to help plan a “pro-Trump rally near Trump Tower.”55
To reach larger U.S. audiences, the IRA purchased advertisements from Facebook that
promoted the IRA groups on the newsfeeds of U.S. audience members. According to Facebook, the IRA purchased over 3,500 advertisements, and the expenditures totaled approximately $100,000.56.


During the U.S. presidential campaign, many IRA-purchased advertisements explicitly
supported or opposed a presidential candidate or promoted U.S. rallies organized by the IRA ( discussed below). As early as March 2016, the IRA purchased advertisements that overtly opposed the Clinton Campaign. For example, on March 18, 2016, the IRA purchased an advertisement depicting candidate Clinton and a caption that read in part, “If one day God lets this liar enter the White House as a president – that day would be a real national tragedy.”57
Similarly, on April 6, 2016, the IRA purchased advertisements for its account “Black Matters” calling for a “flashmob” of U.S. persons to “take a photo with #HillaryClintonForPrison2016 or nohillary2016.”

Collectively, the IRA’s social media accounts reached tens of millions of U.S. persons.
Individual IRA social media accounts attracted hundreds of thousands of followers. For example, at the time they were deactivated by Facebook in mid-2017, the IRA’s “United Muslims of America”

Facebook group had over 300,000 followers, the “Don’t Shoot Us” Facebook group had over 250,000 followers, the “Being Patriotic” Facebook group had over 200,000 followers, and the “Secured Borders” Facebook group had over 130,000 followers.61 According to Facebook, in total the IRA-controlled accounts made over 80,000 posts before their deactivation in August 2017, and these posts reached at least 29 million U.S persons and “may have reached an estimated 126
million people.”62
pg. 26

https://www.justice.gov/storage/report.p

Easy to Make Mistakes, So Verify

The Parkland shooting shows us how easily you can make a mistake and report things that are untrue in the rush to get a story out quickly.

Two things stand out:

  1. The false report that Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who killed 17 and wounded 14 others at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, was connected to a white supremacist group.
  2. There have been 18 school shootings since January 1st, 2018.

Let’s tackle the first false report.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization that follows hate groups, wrote on its blog the day after the shooting that Cruz was associated with a Jacksonville, Florida, white supremacist group, Republic of Florida (ROF). The ADL had previously been contacted by someone who described himself as the leader of the group.

The ADL told Politico it picked up the information on 4chan, a bulletin board where self-described ROF members claimed Cruz was one of them.  News organizations picked the story up and people on 4chan kept it going. One of the users described it as “prime trolling opportunity,” and the discussions involved fooling reporters and feeding them the story that Cruz was with ROF.

The same kinds of conversations between these trolls about the false connection showed up on Discord, a gamers’ app that attracts neo-Nazis, about a concerted effort to fool reporters.

Politico posted these exchanges from the bulletin boards:

“On the Discord chat, a user called Curbstomp suggested sharing generic photos of ROF and claiming they depicted Cruz.

“I have an idea . . . We can just take a pic of masked ROF members and claim one of them is Cruz,” Curbstomp wrote.

Members of the Discord chat swapped potential photos.

Others joined the chorus on 4chan, interspersing jokes with purported confirmations.

“I can confirm this guy was trying to enact a race war and got kicked out of ROF,” wrote another poster.”

Reporters from AP and ABC contacted the trolls and supposed members of the group and went with the story.

But shortly after the first report, on Thursday, February 15, 2018, the Broward County sheriff said it wasn’t true.

How do you verify a claim that someone is in a hate group?

The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate groups. Contact them and ask.

The FBI monitors hate crimes. Some local law enforcement agencies do too. Contact them and ask.

ProPublica, a non-profit news organization, began Documenting Hate, a project that collects data from journalists from more than 130 news organizations as well as independent journalists, local law enforcement, community groups and civil rights groups to try to get a clear picture of what is happening in America

The Anti-Defamation League has been a reliable source in the past.

The bottom line is that Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter are good sources for leads and ways to connect with people. But you have to be extremely careful, because we know that people in chat rooms, on social media, and trolls are determined to spread false information and use reporters to to do it.  Take your time. Report only what you know.

 

 

2. Mistaken numbers about school shootings.

PolitiFact traced the first error to surface to a tweet from ABC reporter Jeff Greenfield.

In the rest of the world, there have been 18 school shootings in the last twenty years. In the U.S., there have been 18 school shootings since January 1.

It picked up 130,000 likes on Twitter.

Greenfield apparently picked up the statistic from Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The number of 18 does not mean that there were 18 incidents of someone going into a school and shooting students, as Cruz allegedly did.

Instead the number includes a man committing suicide in a school parking lot and a student unintentionally firing an instructor’s gun. You can see the full list here.

If we use careful language, we would not classify many as school shootings.

Checking Facts:

PolitiFact checks claims of politicians, reporters and others in the news.

FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center

Snopes.org was founded in 1994 to research urban legends. It has become a go-to source for checking out internet rumors.

Open Secrets.org, part of The Center for Responsive Politics, follows political contributions and money spent on lobbying. It followed where the National Rifle Association (NRA)  money went in the 2016 election.

 

Sunlight Foundation shines the light on government and government officials using public records, technology and information from civic groups and journalists,

See Through New York, a project of the Empire Center, shows you salaries of every public employee in New York State as well as pension information.

 

The Nut Graf

Nuts by Monofocus

How to write a nut graf, or nut graph

Tell readers what you’re going to tell ’em

If I came to your house and told you to grab your things and follow me, how far would you go? To the front door? The driveway? Would you hop in my car without further explanation?

How to write a nut graf
Put the kernel of your story into a nutshell. That’s your nut graph. Image by kaanates

Home » Ann Wylie’s blog of writing tips » Writing and editing » Story structure » Feature Structure » Feature Leads » How to write a nut graf, or nut graph

No matter how dazzling your scene-setting feature lead, at some point, readers want to know where we’re going with this story. And that’s the job of the nut paragraph, aka the nut graf. (This, by the way, is the nut graph for this story.)

The nut graph is the transition from the lead. In the nut graph, writers and editors:

  • Explain the lead and its connection to the rest of the story
  • Reveal your destination, or the essential theme of the story
  • Set up the supporting material to explain the rest of the story
  • Explain why the story is important to convince your readers to come along for the ride

You don’t need a nut graph in news stories, but they’re essential in feature-style stories.

Let’s pause and ponder that for a minute too.

Here are four ways to crack the nut graph:

1. Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em.

Remember the old writing guideline, “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em; tell ’em; then tell ’em what you told ’em?”

The nut graph is where you tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em.

The nut graph — aka the “billboard” or the “so-what graph” — is where you put the story into a nutshell. It explains why the story is timely and provides the kernel, or central theme, of your piece.

“Once you find that idea or thread, all the other anecdotes, illustrations, and quotes are pearls that hang on this thread,” says Thomas Boswell, a Washington Post sports columnist. “The thread may seem very humble, the pearls may seem very flashy, but it’s still the thread that makes the necklace.”

So the first step to writing a nut graph is to find that thread. In other words, you need to figure out your point, or story angle.

To figure out what your story is about, write a one-sentence walkaway. That’s the one sentence you want your reader to — you got it! — walk away with after reading your piece. Then craft that so tightly that it will fit on the back of a business card:

Your walkaway sentence should answer the readers’ two most burning questions:

  1. What’s your point?
  2. Why should I care?

Stuck? Try telling a friend who knows nothing about the story what it’s about. Then capture that summary for your nut graph.

Language We Use

What do we call people in prison or jail?

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2021/04/12/what-words-we-use-and-avoid-when-covering-people-and-incarceration

http://feeds.wnyc.org/onthemedia

Said and Stated

https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/keep-it-simple-keys-to-realistic-dialogue-part-ii

From the Associated Press Style Guide


Numbers

In general, spell out one through nine: The Yankees finished second. He had nine months to go. Use figures for 10 or above and whenever preceding a unit of measure or referring to ages of people, animals, events or things. Also in all tabular matter, and in statistical and sequential forms.

Use figures for:

ACADEMIC COURSE NUMBERS: History 6, Philosophy 209.

ADDRESSES210 Main St. Spell out numbered streets nine and under: 5 Sixth Ave.3012 50th St.No. 10 Downing St. Use the abbreviations Ave.Blvd. and St. only with a numbered address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Spell them out and capitalize without a number: Pennsylvania Avenue.See addresses.

AGESa 6-year-old girlan 8-year-old lawthe 7-year-old house. Use hyphens for ages expressed as adjectives before a noun or as substitutes for a noun. A 5-year-old boy, but the boy is 5 years oldThe boy, 5, has a sister, 10. The race is for 3-year-olds. The woman is in her 30s. 30-something, but Thirty-something to start a sentence.

CENTURIES: Use figures for numbers 10 or higher: 21st century. Spell out for numbers nine and lower: fifth century. (Note lowercase.) For proper names, follow the organization’s usage.


COURT DECISIONS: The Supreme Court ruled 5-4, a 5-4 decision. The word to is not needed, except in quotations: “The court ruled 5 to 4.”

DATES, YEARS AND DECADES: Feb. 8, 2007, Class of ’66, the 1950s. For the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 9/11 is acceptable in all references. (Note comma to set off the year when the phrase refers to a month, date and year.)

MILLIONS, BILLIONS, TRILLIONS: Use a figure-word combination. 1 million people; $2 billion, NOT one million/two billion. (Also note no hyphen linking numerals and the word millionbillion or trillion.)See millions, billions, trillionsdollars.MONETARY UNITS: 5 cents, $5 bill, 8 euros, 4 pounds.

SCHOOL GRADES: Use figures for grades 10 and above: 10th grade. Spell out for first through ninth grades: fourth grade, fifth grader.

SEQUENTIAL DESIGNATIONS: Page 1, Page 20A. They were out of sizes 4 and 5; magnitude 6 earthquake; Rooms 3 and 4; Chapter 2; line 1 but first line; Act 3, Scene 4, but third act, fourth scene; Game 1, but best of seven.See act numberschaptersearthquakesline numberspage numbersscene numbers.

POLITICAL DISTRICTSWard 9, 9th Precinct, 3rd Congressional District.See congressional districtspolitical divisions.–

Recipes2 tablespoons of sugar to 1 cup of milk.See recipes.SPEEDS: 7 mph, winds of 5 to 10 mph, winds of 7 to 9 knots.

(Read More)

Active Writing Exercise

Active Writing Exercise

This is not a quiz. You will not be graded. Do your best

  1. This paragraph is from the Daily News.  Use the active voice to make it better. You can break it up into more than one or two sentences.

The Empire State is one step closer to approving adult use marijuana after Gov. Cuomo released an amended version of his pot proposal Tuesday that would reduce criminal penalties for illegal sales, outlines how some of the tax revenue would be spent and allows for the delivery of cannabis products.

  •   This is from Vice. Use the active voice to make it better.

         At least 2.3 million women have been forced from the workforce during the pandemic, many due to closed schools and a lack of child care.

So after one Ohio mother was arrested on charges of child endangerment for allegedly leaving her young kids in a motel room while she tried to go to her job at Little Caesars, sympathetic people rallied to support her.

  •  This is from me.  Take out the clunky words and phrases and use the active voice to explain the problem.

Currently my boss won’t give me the extra money he promised and I really need the money and the job due to COVID and due to the fact that there are so few jobs available.

  • From the New York Post. Use the active voice and rewrite the story.

      Ryan Leaf is calling for the NFL to do more for retired players in the wake of Vincent Jackson’s death.

Jackson, 38, was found dead in a Florida hotel room by a housekeeper on Monday morning. There were no apparent signs of trauma, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Police are investigating and a cause of death has yet to be determined by the county medical examiner.

  • This is from the New York Times. Use the active voice to rewrite it.

ALBANY, N.Y. — Admitting a degree of fault for the first time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday that his administration’s lack of transparency about the scope of coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes in New York was a mistake.

How We Write

Videographer at the U.S. open with a live camera shooting the audience.

When you sit down to write make, sure that each sentence reflects what you mean. Use active verbs and write clear concise sentences that convey your ideas.

Active Voice

The subject comes first in an active sentence.

Examples

Senate Republicans proposed a substantially scaled-back stimulus plan.

The city’s police chief and several of his department’s highest ranking officials resigned or were demoted on Tuesday in the aftermath of the death of Daniel Prude.

The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca halted large late-stage global trials of its coronavirus vaccine because of a serious suspected adverse reaction in a participant.

Murals thanking frontline workers  popped up in neighborhoods all over New York during the pandemic.

Always look for an active verb to give your writing more energy.

Example:Avoid the passive “to be” verbs: be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been.

Passive Voice

Murals thanking frontline workers were put up in neighborhoods all over New York during the pandemic.

You can use the passive verbs be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been when the subject of the action becomes the object.

Example:

Many Washington Heights residents are forced to move to other neighborhoods because landlords found tenants willing to pay higher rents.

We use the “to be” verbs to describe a state of being.

Example:

Dayan is a junior in college.

Have

We use variations of the word have when we use it, like must, can or have.

Jorge has to reapply for DACA by October 5, 2017.

We might also use a passive verb when we talk about ongoing action.

Example

The student was reading a textbook when the alarm bell sounded and everyone had to leave the classroom.

Pretentious Language 

Sure, you may think it sounds better to use flowery language and fussy words. But you end up sounding pretentious.

Example

When the scions of the elderly gentleman thought he had a female paramour, they pondered about their fortunes if he were to suddenly become deceased.

Use language that says what you mean.

Example

The children of the older man thought he had a girlfriend and worried about their inheritance if he died suddenly.

Catch phrases, Cliches and Euphemism

You may think you can make a sentence sound important if you use phrases or words that only suggest what you mean. But fussy sentences confuse readers, listeners and viewers.

Fussy                                                  Clear

economically deprived                  poor

youths                                               teenagers, young men, young women, young people,

chemical dependency                  drug addiction

downsize                                          lay off

adult entertainment                      pornography

inner city                                          give the name of the neighborhood

You also want to avoid fussy words that connect ideas

however

furthermore

nevermore

nevertheless

Avoid the Negative

Write sentences that avoid the negative.

Example

President Trump not only picked a fight with NFL players who choose to protest, he ignored the hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

Better

President Trump picked a fight with NFL players who chose to protest and ignored Puerto Rico’s hurricane victims.

Writing Numbers

Write out numbers one through nine.

Write number 10 and up as you would in math.

Writing Percentages

Write percent rather than %.

Full Names and Acronyms

When you write for print, TV or radio, you separate the full name of an organization and its acronym with the word or, or commas.

Example

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACCA.

When you write for the web you put the acronym in parentheses.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Our Style Guide

Pen Susan McQuaid, Courtesy Pixabay
  1. Write your slug- the shorthand for your story at the top.
  2. Put your name and your contact information underneath.
  3. Give us a working title for your story.
  4. Write all your copy flush left.
  5. Leave two spaces between paragraphs.
  6. Give us a dateline rather than inserting a date at the top of your story.
  7. Dateline: Here’s what the AP says about datelines:

Datelines should convey the spirit of the reporting; they are not restricted to cities and towns. Census-designated places, townships, parks, counties, or datelines such as ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE or ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER may be used if appropriate. But do not designate neighborhoods or other places within a better-known jurisdiction as the dateline. For instance, NEW YORK should be the dateline, not BROOKLYN or CENTRAL PARK.For bylined stories, a reporter must be reporting from the dateline on the story. When there are multiple bylines, at least one reporter must have been at the scene, and a note at the end of the story should explain the locations of all bylined reporters. If the story has no dateline, no note is needed at the end of the story explaining the reporters’ locations.

8. How to write a dateline:

Datelines on stories should contain a place name, entirely in capital letters, followed in most cases by the name of the state, country or territory where the city is located.DOMESTIC DATELINES: A list of domestic cities that stand alone in datelines:

QUEENS, September 3, 2021

NEW YORK, September 23, 2021

ROCKLAND COUNTY, September 23, 2021

Stories from all other U.S. cities should have both the city and state name in the dateline, including KANSAS CITY, Mo., and KANSAS CITY, Kan.

Wall Street Journal Ranks City College #1

City College August, 2019

https://www.wsj.com/articles/2022-best-colleges-us-rankings-11632245235?page=1

2022 Best Colleges in the U.S.: Harvard, Stanford, MIT Take Top Rankings

Schools with the resources to deal with the fallout from Covid-19 dominated The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education college rankings this year

The rankings also measure the best value among the top 250 schools by dividing each institution’s overall score by its net price. By this measure, the No. 1 school is the of City College  New York, the flagship of the public City University of New York (CUNY) system. The runner-up is another CUNY school, Bernard M. Baruch College, followed by Berea College, a private liberal-arts school in Kentucky that charges students no tuition. (The U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy, the two service academies on the list, also don’t charge tuition, but because students are obligated to enter active-duty military service upon graduation, these schools aren’t considered for inclusion in the best-value ranking.) Only two of the schools ranked in the top 10 for best value are private universities—Berea and Stanford.

Read more:

Active Writing

New York City Hall and a news conference in front of the steps.

Barbara Nevins Taylor

ACTIVE WRITING

Active writing allows you to say what you mean in a clear concise way with colorful verbs that paint a picture.

In 1946, the writer George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and 1984,  complained about politicians and others who use fuzzy language to hide the truth.

George Orwell.png

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs,” Orwell wrote.

In his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language set out six rules for clear writing.  “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print; Never use a long word where a short one will do; If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out; Never use the passive where you can use the active; Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent; Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.” – George Orwell

Here’s a recent of example of what Orwell talked about.

“As a man of integrity, I will not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character.”

“The mischaracterizations and the politicization of the actions that I took after being informed of Mr. Prude’s death is not base on facts, and is not what I stand for.

Former Rochester Police Chief La’Ron D. Singletary.

How do we write a clear, direct sentence?

We make sure the subject does the action.

What does that mean?

Put the subject before the verb and the object.

Active sentence: Subject-Verb-Object

The verb determines action

Former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster defends President Trump’s discussion with Russian diplomats.

Not So Good

“At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”

Good

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster defended President Trump and denied he leaked classified information to the Russians.

Not So Good

Allegations that President Trump revealed classified information to the Russians were denied by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.

Passive Verbs Drag Down A Sentence

You create a passive verb when you make the subject the object of the action.

Passive Sentence

In the first inning, the three strikeouts were thrown by Mets pitcher Rick Porcello.

Active Sentence

Mets pitcher Rick Porcello threw three  strikeouts in the first inning.

Colorful verbs that tell a story and convey action create strong sentences.

Weak passive verbs make mushy sentences. You want to use action-filled verbs.

The verb to be does not convey action.

So we try avoid using: to be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been

EXAMPLES:

1.

Passive
The roads were destroyed by heavy rains.

Heavy rains were responsible for the destruction of the roads.

Active

Heavy rains destroyed the roads.

2.

Passive

The goalie crouched low, reached out his stick, and sent the rebound away from the mouth of the net.

Active

The goalie swept out his stick, and hooked the rebound away from the mouth of the net.

3.

Passive 

The three-pointer was shot  by the Toronto Raptor’s Fred VanVleet in the game against the Boston Celtics.

Active 

The Toronto Raptor’s Fred VanVleet shot the three-pointer in the game against the Boston Celtics.

4.

Passive

The legislation was sent to Congress by the president.

Active

The president sent the legislation to Congress.

or 

The president sent Congress the legislation.

5.

Passive

The earthquake in Puerto Rico caused victims to be airlifted by helicopter to the hospital.

Active

A helicopter airlifted victims of the earthquake in Puerto Rico and rushed them to the hospital.

or

A helicopter airlifted earthquake victims and rushed them to the hospital.

6.

Passive 

Carolina is responsible for monitoring and balancing the budgets for the journalists.

Carolina monitors and balances the budgets

or

Carolina monitors and balances budgets.

Use the passive voice when you want to emphasize the receiver of an action, not the actor.

Example:

Many Long Beach residents were forced to leave the beautiful beach area to escape the hurricane.

Use strong, colorful verbs

Example:

Violate instead of in violation

Resisted instead of was resistant

Avoid Passive Phrases Like These:

Have been

Had been passive

GERUNDS

A gerund acts like a verb and a noun. You form a gerund by adding –ing to the end of a verb:

Examples:

run, running
play, playing

A gerund describes action or a state of being.
Grammarians consider gerunds a lovely way to write.

But in ACTIVE writing a gerund can slow down a sentence.

Examples:

1.

The Mets are feeling like losers at this point in the season.

Better

The Mets feel like losers at this point in the season.

2.

Fans are wondering if the Jets will be losing games all season.

Better

Fans wonder if the Jets will lose games all season.

3.

Nets players are surprising their new coach with their driving ambition.

Better

Nets players surprised their new coach with their drive and ambition.

4.

We sat up all night reading.

Better

We read all night.

or

We sat up and read all  night.

6.

I like to go jeeping in the woods.

Better

I live to ride my jeep in the woods.

But gerunds can work when you talk about continuous action.

Example:

You might tell someone:

We jumped over puddles last night.

But if it continued to rain:

We spent the week jumping over puddles because of the constant rain.

CLUNKY WORDS AND PHRASES

 Some words and phrases make sentences fuzzy. 

Currently
Due to
Prior to
In an effort to
For the purpose of
In order to
Is of the opinion that
Due to the fact that
In the near future
At this point in time
During my time
Subsequent
Affinity For
Am Willing

The English-Zone.com created this excellent chart.

PRESENT PERFECT, PAST PERFECT and FUTURE PERFECT
Passive form:
have/has been + past participle
had been + past participle
Active: Present Perfect
I have mailed the gift.
Jack has mailed the gifts.
Passive: Present Perfect
The gift has been mailed by me.
The gifts have been mailed by Jack.
Active: Past Perfect
Steven Spielberg had directed the movie.
Penny Marshall had directed those movies.
Passive: Past Perfect
The movie had been directed by Steven Spielberg.
The movies had been directed by Penny Marshall.
Active: Future Perfect
John will have finished the project next month.
They will have finished the projects before then.
Passive: Future Perfect
The project will have been finished by next month.
The projects will have been finished before then.
FUTURE TENSES
Passive forms: will + be + past participle
is/are going to be + past participle
Active: Future with WILL
I will mail the gift.
Jack will mail the gifts.
Passive: Future with WILL
The gift will be mailed by me.
The gifts will be mailed by Jack.
Active: Future with GOING TO
I am going to make the cake.
Sue is going to make two cakes.
Passive: Future with GOING TO
The cake is going to be made by me.
Two cakes are going to be made by Sue.
PRESENT / FUTURE MODALS
The passive form follows this pattern:
modal + be + past participle
Active: WILL / WON’T (WILL NOT)
Sharon will invite Tom to the party.
Sharon won’t invite Jeff to the party.
(Sharon will not invite Jeff to the party.)
Passive: WILL / WON’T (WILL NOT)
Tom will be invited to the party by Sharon.
Jeff won’t be invited to the party by Sharon.
(Jeff will not be invited to the party by Sharon.)
Active: CAN / CAN’T (CAN NOT)
Mai can foretell the future.
Terry can’t foretell the future.
(Terry can not foretell the future.)
Passive: CAN / CAN’T (CAN NOT)
The future can be foretold by Mai.
The future can’t be foretold by Terry.
(The future can not be foretold by Terry.)
Active: MAY / MAY NOT
Her company may give Katya a new office.
The lazy students may not do the homework.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
Her company might give Katya a new office.
The lazy students might not do the homework.
Passive: MAY / MAY NOT
Katya may be given a new office by her company.
The homework may not be done by the lazy students.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
Katya might be given a new office by her company.
The homework might not be done by the lazy students.
Active: SHOULD / SHOULDN’T
Students should memorize English verbs.
Children shouldn’t smoke cigarettes.
Passive: SHOULD / SHOULDN’T
English verbs should be memorized  by students.
Cigarettes shouldn’t be smoked  by children.
Active: OUGHT TO
Students ought to learn English verbs.
(negative ought to is rarely used)
Passive: OUGHT TO
English verbs ought to be memorized by students.
Active: HAD BETTER / HAD BETTER NOT
Students had better practice English every day.
Children had better not drink whiskey.
Passive: HAD BETTER / HAD BETTER NOT
English had better be practiced every day by students.
Whiskey had better not be drunk by children.
Active: MUST / MUST NOT
Tourists must apply for a passport to travel abroad.
Customers must not use that door.
Passive: MUST / MUST NOT
A passport to travel abroad must be applied for.
That door must not be used by customers.
Active: HAS TO / HAVE TO
She has to practice English every day.
Sara and Miho have to wash the dishes every day.
DOESN’T HAVE TO/ DON’T HAVE TO
Maria doesn’t have to clean her bedroom every day.
The children don’t have to clean their bedrooms every day.
Passive: HAS TO / HAVE TO
English has to be practiced every day.
The dishes have to be washed by them every day.
DOESN’T HAVE TO/ DON’T HAVE TO
Her bedroom doesn’t have to be cleaned every day.
Their bedrooms don’t have to be cleaned every day.
Active: BE SUPPOSED TO
I am supposed to type the composition.
I am not supposed to copy the stories in the book.
Janet is supposed to clean the living room.
She isn’t supposed to eat candy and gum.
They are supposed to make dinner for the family.
They aren’t supposed to make dessert.
Passive: BE SUPPOSED TO
The composition is supposed to be typed by me.
The stories in the book are not supposed to be copied.
The living room is supposed to be cleaned by Janet.
Candy and gum aren’t supposed to be eaten by her.
Dinner for the family is supposed to be made by them.
Dessert isn’t supposed to be made by them.
PAST MODALS
The past passive form follows this pattern:
modal + have been + past participle
Active: SHOULD HAVE / SHOULDN’T HAVE
The students should have learned the verbs.
The children shouldn’t have broken the window.
Passive: SHOULD HAVE / SHOULDN’T HAVE
The verbs should have been learned by the students.
The window shouldn’t have been broken by the children.
Active: OUGHT TO
Students ought to have learned the verbs.
(negative ought to is rarely used)
Passive: OUGHT TO
The verbs ought to have been learned by the students.
Active: BE SUPPOSED TO (past time)
I was supposed to type the composition.
I wasn’t supposed to copy the story in the book.
Janet was supposed to clean the living room.
She wasn’t supposed to eat candy and gum.
Frank and Jane were supposed to make dinner.
They weren’t supposed to make dessert.
Passive: BE SUPPOSED TO (past time)
The composition was supposed to be typed  by me.
The story in the book wasn’t supposed to be copied.
The living room was supposed to be cleaned by Janet.
Candy and gum weren’t supposed to be eaten by her.
Dinner was supposed to be made by them.
Dessert wasn’t supposed to be made by them.
Active: MAY / MAY NOT
That firm may have offered Katya a new job.
The students may not have written the paper.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
That firm might have offered Katya a new job.
The students might not have written the paper.
Passive: MAY / MAY NOT
Katya may have been offered a new job by that firm.
The paper may not have been written by the students.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
Katya might have been offered a new job by that firm.
The paper might not have been written by the students.

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Art of the Interview

People smoking marijuana in Washington Square Park

Some people want to talk and others don’t. You must try your best to get people to talk to you and tell you what you want to know.

All interviews require the same basic skills. You need to prepare. You want to research and find out everything you can about the subject before you ask a question.

Breaking News Challenge

NYFD responds to a fire in Manhattan on April 21, 2021

If you head to a breaking news story, you want to find out whatever facts are available before you get there. When you arrive at the scene of the story, you want to quickly assess the situation and decide who can give you the best information.

You want to pause for a minute or two to think about what you learned and decide who you need to interview.

NYFD at the scene of a fire on April 19, 2021

Then you want to calmly approach the person, introduce yourself and try to make a human connection. That will help you talk to the interview subject and get the best answers.

  1. Remember to ask open-ended questions instead of questions that give you a yes or no answer.
  2. Listen to the answers. Look into the interview subjects’ eyes and pay attention to the cues they give you.
  3. Ask follow-up questions based on their answers.
  4. Remember to be a fellow human being instead of a reporter on a mission.
President Biden discusses his 100 days in office interview with Craig Melvin on MSNBC.

Sit-down Interviews

In a sit-down interview preparation is key. You want to make sure that you know everything about your subject. Celebrities, politicians and athletes will tell you what they want to tell you. So you must think about what you and your readers, viewers or listeners want to know. Look for the unusual, something others haven’t covered before.