One of the most fundamental differences between journalism and other forms of writing is the way journalists obtain the information they write about. Journalists obtain information through a variety of reporting techniques, which can include interviewing sources, looking through government documents, researching old articles, and observing events firsthand.
Good news writing begins with good, accurate reporting. Journalists perform a public service for citizens by presenting truthful facts in honest, straight-forward articles.
Journalists commonly use six values to determine how newsworthy a story or elements of a story are. Knowing the news values can help a journalist make many decisions, including:
What information to give first in a news article, and in the lede
Which articles to display on a newspaper’s front page
The start of a news story should present the most compelling information. If it’s a report about a meeting, for instance, look for the keynote speaker’s main point, decisions taken, record-breaking attendance, or some other newsworthy information. To start by saying X society held its annual meeting on X date at X isn’t news; that lead could have been written months before the meeting. What is lead material goes something like this: <something significant that happened> at the meeting of X society <when and where>. (And speaking of the when and where, when a newsletter is coming out months after a meeting, it’s not necessary to give the date; just the month or even the season is adequate.)
Newswriting traditionally doesn’t express opinion unless it’s attributed to a source. Of course, we don’t have to be so scrupulous about saying Northwestern is great, but opinions that people might contest should be attributed. Facts (and anything that someone would ask “Says who?” about) should also be attributed if they’re not generally known and accepted.
A person’s full first name or both initials should be used on first reference—not just a single initial. It shouldn’t be assumed that every reader knows who the person is; he or she should be identified in a way that’s relevant to the article. In captions, it’s not necessary to use a middle initial if it’s already been used in the text.
Headlines should be short and preferably snappy. They should come out of information in the body of the text and not present new information. Headlines are usually not in past tense; a headline about a past event is generally in present tense; one about a future event generally includes to (to meet, to decide, etc.) Within a publication section, headlines should be consistent; those that are mere labels shouldn’t be mixed with those that have verbs. Articles (a, an, the) are usually not used in headlines.