Student Media Training

If you are a member of Washburn's Student Media, you will find all sorts of useful information on this site. Here is a quick writing/editing sheet to study from a fellow College Media Adviser, Mathew Cantore

WRITING NEWS

-Mathew Cantore, 10/3/2008, Hudson Valley Community College (The Hudsonian)
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There’s no “I” in NEWS
“I” and “you” are two words that should NEVER appear in a newspaper, except within in a quote from a source. In a news story, anything outside of a quote MUST be fact, or supported by a statement actually made by a source (it goes without saying we do NOT fabricate quotes).

Example:
John Q. Interview says, “I think education is worthless, and all funding should be cut.”

INCORRECT WRITEUP:
While John Q. Interview says he thinks education is worthless, I disagree completely, and so should you.

CORRECT WRITEUP:
John Q. Interview is against funding education. “I think education is worthless, and all funding should be stopped.”

INCORRECT WRITEUP:
John Q. Interview is strongly against education. “I think education is worthless, and all funding should be cut.” Why is this incorrect? It uses the word “strongly,” which is a judgment that cannot be directly supported by his statement. Had he said “I am strongly against education..” that would have been acceptable.

News is purely about fact
News stories can be given an angle, however, resist the temptation to inject personal opinion. Instead, find sources to give quotes that support (or oppose) a specific position and print THOSE as fact. A truly GOOD news story attempts to present BOTH sides.

Example:
Reporter Sally Scoop decides to cover a story on the decision to put additional parking on campus. However, she herself thinks the location is inconvenient, and a bad idea.

INCORRECT APPROACH:
The new parking lot proposed by the administration is a poor solution to the parking shortage. There are many students against the proposal. The new parking lot proposal is just a bad idea all around. This is rife with judgment without justification. Even if there were interviews that support it, this is the reporter’s opinion until quotes are used to support positions.

CORRECT APPROACH:
Students oppose the proposed parking lot as a solution to the parking shortage on campus. “It’s too far away, and won’t have enough spots,” said Jim Student, representing the sentiments of several other students. However, not all students agreed with that. “It’s better than what we have now, and it attempts to address the issue,” said John Parker. “It was the most inexpensive, viable solution we could find,” said Anne Murray, Vice President for Student Affairs. Note: This implies I actually talked to Jim, John, and Anne, and found the students’ opinions represented by their quotes based on other students I talked to.

News cannot be investigated and written from the Internet
It’s altogether too easy to sit in front of a computer screen, or even with copies of local/national papers, and piece together a story based on the facts contained within. It’s also very poor journalism. A real news story attempts to report on events that affect the readership directly. This means capturing stories in such a way as to be relevant to your readership.

Example:
A story is needed on the Presidential candidates, and their views on education. The story is assigned to Marvin Martian, who promptly pulls up the candidates’ websites, CNN, the New York Times, and reads several articles, stories, and ideas.

INCORRECT APPROACH:
Alexander Hamilton, Democratic Candidate for President, is in favor of increasing taxes slightly and increasing funding for education. “Without schooling, we cannot compete in a global market,” Hamilton says in a key statement on his website. Thomas Jefferson, Republican Candidate for President, offers a different approach. Jefferson supports increased privatization of education, saying it would reduce the overall load on public school, thereby freeing up resources and making for a more effective system. Why is this incorrect? There’s nothing in here that can’t be read on a website. My readers won’t read this in my paper; if they do; they’ll simply see it as a cheap repackage worth nothing.

CORRECT APPROACH:
Several students reacted Thursday to Democratic Presidential Candidate Alexander Hamilton’s stance on education. “I think he’s right on, public schools are in dire need of more funding,” said Jeremy Irons, 18 year old HVCC freshman. Local public school officials also agreed. “There’s no way we can move forward without increasing resources, and protecting these kids,” said Charles Barkley, Principal of Lansingburgh Elementary. “Right here at home, we’re not getting what we need, and Hamilton would fix that.” Not everyone agreed. “I’d rather see [Republican Preisdential Candidate] Thomas Jefferson’s approach, because it takes away the burden from poor schools trying to raise rich kids,” said Preston Peeper, 21 year old HVCC senior, and political science major. Again. Balanced. Both sides are represented. The story is relevant because local people react, and demonstrate the local impact of a federal story.

News means getting out there and asking questions
We can’t theorize on what people think and feel, or hope we will find out what’s going on. We only know what WE think and feel, but when we’re writing a new story, our opinion doesn’t count. News happens everywhere BUT the newsroom, so get out there!

Example:
Four staff writers are sitting in the office, when suddenly 5 public safety officers drive up in 3 vehicles, jump out of the vehicles, and race into the building directly across the campus quad.

INCORRECT ACTION:
“Wow, I wonder what just happened,” says one student. “I don’t know, maybe we’ll hear something about it later,” says another. “Yeah, we can call Public Safety tomorrow if we don’t hear anything. What are we doing for lunch, I’m hungry?” says a third.

CORRECT ACTION:
One student grabs a camera, another student grabs a notebook, and all four immediately race over to the building. They clearly identify themselves as members of the student press, and start asking questions of anyone they can find – public safety officers, nearby witnesses (students, staff, and faculty). They write down everything they can, take pictures of everything they can see, and after things quiet down, return to the newsroom.

News reporting requires valid information, and lots of it, and reporters can’t be shy.
One of the most critical things to do when interviewing someone for a story is get their vital information. Name, age, address, contact information, and position that makes them “qualified” to speak on a subject. This could mean they are a Vice President of a college, a witness to an event, an expert on a specific subject, or even just a neighbor who knew a person.

Example:
A story is done on a fire on campus, and three people are interviewed as witnesses to what happened.

INCORRECT ACTION:
Only first names are recorded, along with quotes regarding the fire. Why is this a problem? What if later on, follow-up questions need to be asked about the event? There is no way to get in contact with the people.

CORRECT ACTION:
The first questions should always be: “What is your full name, and how do you spell it? How old are you? What is your official title? What is your current address?” Some of these pieces do change a little depending on the story. For some type of official (elected, appointed, corporate, etc.) Age and address is not necessary, but always helpful. Official title may mean neighbor, or friend, too, but then age and address are required.

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