Journalism Style Guide

Most news organizations have style and ethics handbooks. They expect reporters, editors and producers to follow the guidelines they lay out.

When it comes to writing, this means that reporters use the same abbreviations, punctuation and approach to writing.

Here’s an example from the Reuters Handbook:

adjectives

Use sparingly. Inject color into copy with strong verbs and facts first. If you have more than two adjectives before a noun, rewrite the sentence. A reader struggles with “the one-eyed poverty-stricken Greek house painter.” Avoid adjectives that imply judgment: “a hard-line speech,” “a glowing tribute,” “a staunch conservative.” Depending on where they stand, some people might consider the speech moderate, the tribute fulsome or the conservative a die-hard reactionary.

When using an adjective and a noun together as an adjective, hyphenate them if it helps to avoid a realistic ambiguity: “a sliced egg sandwich” could mean two things; “a happy birthday card” cannot; “a blue-chip share,” “high-caste Hindus.” By extension, adverbs that end in “-ly” paired with adjectives modifying nouns do not need hyphens, since adverbs cannot modify nouns: “a poorly planned operation” cannot be misconstrued to mean an operation that is poorly and that is planned.

The Reuters’ handbook is a great free resource for you to use. If you wonder about capitalizations, abbreviations, or many other writing questions, please look here:

http://handbook.reuters.com/index.php?title=A

 

Our Class Style Guide

  • Write in the active voice. That means the subject does the action. You can find more on this website here.
  • Start your paragraphs at the margin.
  • Write out numbers one through nine.  Use numerals beyond 10.
  • Write out the full name of a person, organization company, country or state before you use an abbreviation or the initials.

You can use initials for well-known names like the FBI or DEA. When the name is unfamiliar write out the full name: The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, before you write ATF.

When you abbreviate the United States always put a period between the letters. U.S. to avoid confusion with us.

Because most of your work will appear on a website, write out the full name of a company or organization followed by the initials in parenthesis. For example The Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

 

  • Link to the company or organization when you mention them. If you site research, link to the page where you found the research. Also mark open a new page or tab when you create the link.
  • Write percent rather than %
  • When you quote someone, punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. For example,

“Being around guns didn’t affect on me, but knowing how to use guns definitely had an impact on me,” Max said.

Use . . . three dots, at the beginning and end when you use only part of a quote.

  • Capitalize job titles only when they come before a name.  For example: City College President Vincent Boudreau.

Use the lower case when you write, “The City College president held a town hall meeting.”

If we talk about the president of the United States, “The president told his supporters that he doesn’t care what other people think.”

“President Trump said he doesn’t care what people think.”

Some words sound alike but have different meanings. People confuse affect and effect frequently.

  • Use affect as an adjective, noun or verb when you want to say that something influences or when something is put on.  “Nicky’s yelling affected everyone in the room.”  Or, “Nicky affected an angry air.”

Use effect when you mean the result.  “They felt the effects of the drug.”

Use italics for the names of books, magazines, newspapers, plays, movies, works of art, TV programs, radio shows, songs, albums.

  • Avoid fussy words that connect ideas:

however

furthermore

nevermore

nevertheless

  • You can find more examples of fussy words and phrases in the How We Write section of this website.
  • We’ll continue to add to our style guide.

 

 

What The Heck?

Barbara Nevins Taylor and Spring 2019 Introduction to Journalism Class at City Hall behind George Washington's desk at New York's City Hall

A Quick Tips for Covering Any Story

Whether you cover the opening of a food pantry, a fire that takes the lives of young children, a city council hearing, or a press conference in the Knicks locker room, you want to take a breath when you arrive at the scene.  Stop, look around and think about what is really going on.

Ask yourself:

  • What’s happening here?
  • What’s important?
  • What’s interesting?
  • How does this affect the people there?
  • How does it affect people in the broader community?
  • Is there something that people aren’t telling me?
  • How can I tell this story?

The best reporters analyze a situation quickly and sum up the essence. Once you understand what’s going on, you can think about a creative and interesting way to tell the story.

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.

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.

 

 

How to Write a Pitch

How to Write a Pitch

A pitch describes the story you want to tell. You need to write a short paragraph that gets attention and explains what you plan to do. So avoid writing, “I want to write about the Churro Lady,” because that’s not a story.  It’s a general idea. You want to look for an angle.

Your Churro Lady pitch might read like this:

“When police arrested the Churro Lady in the subway for selling sweets, they said she was selling without a license. I want to find out what it takes to get a license and if she could have gotten one. I’ll contact the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, and talk to food vendors who have licenses and those who don’t.”

Or, “When police arrested the Churro Lady in the subway for selling sweets, they said it sent a signal to others who sell things or perform in the subway for money. I want to find out how others who sell or perform in the subway will be affected. I’ll talk to sellers and musicians and people who use the subways to find out what they think. I’ll also get a comment from the Mayor’s office.”

Something About That Backpack

by Cynthia Nunes

You see the artic fox on the subway. You see it in college hallways. You can find it in Starbucks. Fjallraven Kanken, the popular backpack with the red and white logo that translates as “The Arctic Fox,” is everywhere.  The Kanken backpack has become popular among college students. It has even gained popularity around the world as an iconic and handy Swedish export.

“They are light and comfy. I have five of them in different colors,” says Anamica, a fellow City College student.  The Swedish manufacturer Fjallraven hit on something in 1978 when it came up with the idea to create a backpack that is described on its website as, “…simple, stylish, and functional.” The lightweight backpack was originally designed for young Swedish school kids after many seemed to develop back problems because of the heavy loads of books they carried.  An old Swedish saying, “Straight backs are happy backs,” inspired the designer.

On the City College campus, students who carry the backpack agree with the saying. Even though the $50-$150 price range makes it a splurge, people will buy them to keep up with a trend. Not only are they trendy but are more practical than other backpacks. When you see them hanging in Urban Outfitters and other retailers, they seem small. But the rectangular shape allows you to stuff a lot in without destroying the shape. 

Brianna, a shopper at Urban Outfitters hesitated before buying a second Artic Fox.  She complained about her first bag. “It looks great, but I wouldn’t have bought it if I knew it got dirty this quickly. It collects dust easily and shows on light colors.” Yet many people like the backpack’s ecofriendly material made of recycled polyester, G-1000 Eco and traceable wool. It’s also made of durable, lightweight Vinylon F. The Kanken has a large main compartment with a wide opening, two side pockets, a zippered pocket in the front, handle at the top, narrow, supple shoulder straps, a sitting pad in the pocket and logo that doubles as a reflector. And that helped propel its popularity. The manufacturer likes to promote its environmental work and that’s one reason that the bag was named after the endangered artic fox. It says it is, “honoring the small highly adaptable predator that lives in the Swedish mountains under the harshest conditions.”

The Fjallraven website states that, “Our core mission and driving force has always been, and always will be, to enable and inspire more people to spend time in nature…we don’t chase short-term goals, follow trends or compromise on quality.” Ironically, many people on campus now wear them because they are trending, not because it has anything to do with nature.

Works Cited:

“Frequently Asked Questions.” Fjällräven, http://www.fjallraven.us/pages/frequently-asked-questions.

“Fjällräven.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Mar. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fjällräven.

Crossing the Border

by Melanie Ramos

“I know what it’s like to have hopes and dreams when coming to the United States and to have them torn down at the border. I lived that experience not once but twice. What they are doing is just inhumane,” Julio A. said. The detention of immigrants, the policy of separating children from parents and the hostility towards immigrants upsets him, “Seeing that on TV had to break my heart,” he told us

The twenty-seven-year-old came to the United States from Mexico seven years ago, and his struggle to get here remains fresh in his mind. He works two jobs, including one as a busboy at a restaurant in lower Manhattan. His fiancée Jessica G. says, “He is honestly a great guy and the most hard-working man I know. He works six days a week, two jobs to be able to live decently.”

The news stories about President Trump’s effort to stop migrants at the U.S. border bring back memories of his own dramatic story, of his failed attempts to enter the U.S., and how he finally made it. He described it as “…the most terrifying experience I have ever lived, the worst part was there was no turning back.”

From the time he was thirteen, it was common to hear people talk about crossing the border with friends and relatives paying “coyotes” to help get them to the U.S. In 2012, when he turned 18, he became curious about the opportunities he could have if he crossed the border. His parents in Pueblo, Mexico, opposed the idea, but it did not stop Julio from pursing his dream. He and a friend found a coyote willing to help them cross for $8,000.

They flew from Puebla to Reynosa, Mexico where they expected to meet a coyote at the airport. “Getting off the airplane, there was already an off feeling. I felt my heart sink and breath getting shorter. Not only because of what I was about to do but because Reynosa is a very dangerous city owned by cartels and drug lords,” Julio recalled.

The coyote did not show up and Julio and his friend rented a motel room. Four days later, the coyote contacted them. He told the young men to go to the neighboring village where he would pick them up. Julio and his friend were taken to a house with about thirty others who hoped to cross. Four or five days later, unaware of how they were going to cross, Julio, his friend and ten others hopped into a van. Three hours later, they were at the Rio Grande, the river between Mexico and the United States.

When it comes to crossing, immigrants describe it two ways: wet and dry. Wet is when one crosses through the river and dry is when one crosses through the desert.

“At this point, I am regretting everything. The only thing I can think of is of what I am leaving behind, which is my family,” Julio said. At the river, Julio and another twenty people were herded on to a boat. He said, “It’s pitch black and around 10 p.m. I can see the moon’s reflection perfectly on the river as we start. It’s like a twenty or thirty minute cross when finally we reach the American side.”

Once they got out of the boat, trouble started. “Not two minutes have passed when suddenly, two, three, four immigration vans from all over start popping up with their sirens. Everybody started running for their life. I ran into a bush but tripped over and the helicopter light spotted me, making the ground guards catch me. Somehow, I managed to escape, ran for two minutes, but tripped over again and got caught again,” he explained in sorrow.

In the span of seven to eight days, Julio was in three different jail facilities until finally U.S. law enforcement officers set him free in Mexicali, Mexico. There he managed to get in contact with a coyote who told him he had no other choice but to try to cross again, if not he would lose the money he paid. Scared and worried, Julio returned to the refugee house where he had stayed before.

Three days later, he and ten other people returned to the Rio Grande. When they arrived on the American side, they walked until they reached a wall.  Julio said he felt excited, “At this point, I had made it much farther than the first time. In my head I said, I am finally going to make it. As we start crossing that damn wall, the migration vans are hiding on the left and right side on the other side of the wall ready to catch you. Sirens go on and I run back to the river but the boat was gone.”

He felt frightened but determined not to get caught again. He managed to hide under a bush. A couple of hours later, he heard two other men from his group talking nearby. Once all three united, one of them called the coyote and asked him to send someone to take them back to Mexico. The coyote did not want to risk sending a boat. So he sent a floating tire instead. Julio and the two men grabbed on and swam back across the river to Mexico.

They swam for an hour and when they reached Reynosa, the coyote’s men took them back to the house where they started. Julio was ready to give up, go home and stay in Mexico. The coyote, again, told him he had no choice but to cross or lose all the money he had paid. Julio decided to try it again rather than lose $8,000.

Julio made his third try to get to the United States at 10 p.m. the next night. He and 15 others huddled on the boat crossing the Rio Grande. When they reached American soil, they did not walk towards the wall. They headed in a different direction. Julio remembered, “It was a two-hour walk, and no signs of migration vans. I felt a sense of relief to know I had made this far this third time.”

They eventually found a fence and had to crawl under the electrified wire to get into McAllen, Texas. “From there on it was all farms and more farms, and just walking for hours until getting to Houston, Texas,” he said. It took two days to get to Houston, and then he got into a van that brought him to New York City

Seven years later, Julio reflected calmly and said, “The experience of crossing, of living on the edge, of starving and failing shapes you differently. You grow into a different person. Not even to mention once you get here, the starting over. Literally starting over, no clothes, no shoes, no knowledge of where you are or whom you are with. Learning a new language, looking for a job and starting in lowest of the lowest position. It’s not easy, but it makes you a much, much stronger person,” he said.

Julio’s Peso, Photo by Melanie Ramos

Julio carries around a Mexican peso he brought with him when he left Mexico. It is the only souvenir from that time. He says it reminds him of the struggle he had to go through and even though he suffered, it made him the man he is today.

Julio is just one of the thousands who have crossed the border. According to Pew Research center, as of 2016 there were 12.0 million immigrants from Mexico living in the United States. Roughly, 45 percent of them are illegal residents.

Genesis M., Julio’s coworker, and close friend, says, “Julio is one of the realest persons I know. I also know he went through a lot to get here, so to hear news stories about Mexicans being criminals and rapists, it boils my blood because not everybody is like that. People sometimes can be so ignorant…”

Kids With Guns

by Mohammed Atif

I remember being eight years old in Pakistan seated on a peeling leather sofa under a slow ceiling fan, rubbing the wooden stock of a Kalashnikov. The weapon was a 7.62 x 39mm fixed stock assault rifle invented by the Soviet Union that eventually became the preferred weapon of the poorly-funded jihadist. The owner of the shiny weapon I took interest in, though, was my uncle,  member of the Peshawar police force. My cousins and I would make Dua, chew paan together and listen to him recount seemingly fantastical stories rife with violence and acts of terror. We’d then go outside to the field behind his modest home and act these scenes out with toy guns.

Pakistan is home to a gun-friendly society.  The number of firearms owned by civilians here is estimated to be at least 18,000,000, which works out to a rate of 11.6 guns per 100 people. This was clear to me from the beginning. Every friend’s house I visited had a gun that belonged to the family inside. Every Eid, bullets were sprayed in the air as celebration, and the same spectacle took place at every wedding. Guns have always been an intrinsic facet of the culture and deeply rooted in tradition, especially in the northwest in villages and small provinces far away from urban centers such as Islamabad and Lahore. Guns provide food, protection from the Mujahadeen, and a potential heirloom for sons and their own sons. But the misuse is apparent; With such easy access to weapons, criminals and militants have liberally stockpiled them to sell or to put to use.

The effect of the many guns is obvious: Pakistan is currently the number one country where the most violent crimes that result in murder occur. This is even more startling once you take into account that reporting and documenting homicide is much less common there compared to the Western world.

Fortunately, there has been a push towards reformation and restriction of gun ownership in the country.  Pakistan’s National Report (2016) under the UN Program of Action (PoA) on Small and Light Weapons (SLAW) shows that Pakistan of late has been a vocal proponent of arms control at the national level, sub-regional and regional as well as the global level. An elaborate legal, administrative and regulatory regime now exists in Pakistan to check the flow of weapons. A very strict criterion for issuance of arms licenses has been established by the 2012 Arms Control Policy. The authority for approval for possessing automatic weapons exists solely with the Prime Minister. Although there are still challenges to overcome and problems to solve, the country is in much better shape than it was a decade ago.

Guns Across America

Young boy holding a rifle. Photo by Jacob Benavides.

Photo by Jacob Benavides

by Jasmine Martin

My friends from around the country have varying opinions on firearms and their views seem to reflect the national debate about gun reform.  Katie Wolfe from Montana said, “I shot my first gun in the backyard when I was probably six. I got my hunter’s license when I was 14 and received a rifle as a gift when I was 16 and a shotgun as a gift when I was 17.”

There have been 288 school shootings in the United States since 2009. That is 57 times as many as other nations such as Canada (2), France (2), and Japan (0). Aside from school shootings, a gunman murdered nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Then in 2016, 49 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and in 2017, 58 people were killed and more than 850 were injured at a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Christopher Delgiorno, who lives in Las Vegas, said he shot his first gun when he was either eight or nine years old. He said “It’s not like everybody is strapped up but you see a lot of people open carrying in the gym, the park, etc.” But he thinks gun laws need to be made stricter to prevent school shootings and he said, “Everyone needs to be involved in prevention throughout the whole process. Instead of just arming teachers or increasing security, we need more mental and social health programs in schools and communities.”

Katie Wolf had a different opinion. She said “I don’t think the gun laws should be made any stricter. I think we could require a class to be taken to teach how to safely use a gun and encourage adults to keep them locked up where kids cannot get to them.”

In order to change some of the gun laws around the country, Americans will have to come to some sort of agreement. As of 2015, eighty-two percent of weapons used during mass shootings were purchased legally. The problem is not handguns or hunting rifles, but in most states people can purchase an AR-15 at the age of 18. This military style weapon can shoot over 100 rounds per minute. Yet because guns play a big role in the lives of millions across the country, it will be difficult to get everyone on the same page. Jacob Benavides of Texas said, “The gun culture runs so deep that people don’t even think about whether they like them or not; guns just exist, and they always will.”

Books Not Bullets

Students Protesting Gun Violence, Hands up Don't Shoot

by Jenna Shefts

Thousands of students and activists found each other on Twitter after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead. Many, including me, felt extremely upset by the shooting and the lack of laws to prevent gun violence in this country. We use Twitter to voice our opinions and spread awareness about the dangers of gun violence. I have met activists from all around the world who belong to different student led gun control organizations that we have turned into a small community of gun control activists.

March For Our Lives brought a lot of us together. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and others formed March For Our Lives which started out as a student led gun control march in Washington DC on March 24, 2018. It got a big boost from Twitter and soon spread into a larger movement.

Students from all over the country formed small March For Our Lives chapters in their communities to try to put a stop to gun violence by organizing local town halls, advocating for gun control candidates, and protesting candidates who take money from the NRA.

Jenna Tweet image

One day, an activist I follow tweeted about wanting to make a group chat with other activists. I responded and said how I would love to  join. All of a sudden, I was in a group chat with 30 others and we activists became close friends. We learned that some have even been affected by gun violence at their schools or in their communities.

Mollie Davis from Great Mills, Maryland, said “I got involved after the Parkland shooting and organized my school’s walkout on March 14th, 2018. But then less than a week later on March 20th, 2018 there was a shooting at my school. I got more intensely involved when the issue became personal. I don’t want other people to go through what I did”. The shooter killed Jaelynn Willey at Great Mills High School. It was one of the 65 schools where a shooting occurred in 2018.

This movement also started to focus on things like gun violence in urban communities. I met Diego Garcia from Chicago online through other activist friends. He said, “I got involved in the movement because gun violence is normalized in the southwest side of Chicago and it shouldn’t be that way. Gang violence isn’t really mentioned in the movement and I want to make sure that it stays in the loop”.

A lot of the time the guns used in these shootings are purchased legally. More than 80 percent of the guns used in mass shootings were obtained legally. “Even though Chicago has one of the strongest gun control laws, other places like Indiana don’t. That makes it very easy for people to drive over to a different state, get a gun, then shoot someone without having to go through a difficult process.” This is why a lot of students are advocating for the extensive background checks bill which House Speaker Paul Ryan says will not pass. Students are holding their local politicians accountable for these shootings. Mollie said, “We need stricter gun control because it’s common sense. Mass and school shootings are a uniquely American epidemic that is preventable. The government isn’t doing enough”.

Some students are so outraged by the lack of action from their government that they are protesting outside of politicians’ offices. Naomi Caplan, a friend from Maryland, who I also met through the movement, was one of four girls arrested for protesting outside of Speaker Ryan’s Office on April 18, 2018. She said her reason for doing it was because “He doesn’t do sh*t when he could, and we needed to send a message.”

“There are no excuses at this point and it’s infuriating to watch politicians continue to be silent.” said Mollie Davis.