College Newswriting 101

One semester of newswriting, six weeks of being a college news reporter, distilled.

When you’re done with an article, check two things: your lead for impact, and your first attributions.

Don’t write a word about something until you substantiate what they said/what happened. (I would not say I learned this the hardest way, but I did learn it in a way that was so hard that over a week later I am still catching up. Not to mention the gross factual error in my WPVM article. Substantiate, friends!)

Don’t get caught up in pre-writing questions for an interview. I am still figuring this one out, but today I noticed that my interview went fine with no questions prepared. We just talked, and I still got lots of the good stuff.

People do not realize what a complex process it is to produce even a college newspaper, much less anything larger. It is a group effort requiring, skill, communication and buttloads of hard work (that is infamous for not paying well). BTW, you’re welcome.

Don’t be shy. You’ll be sorry.

People really will assign shitty motives to you because you write the news. People will on occasion assume you are out to get them when all you want are irrefutable facts.

Even intelligent people with integrity can misunderstand important events and unintentionally mislead the person seeking fact.

Stories change like lives, like children, like traffic, like weather. Stories evolve and grow and disappear and explode. Therefore, have a good and understanding editor.

There are stories the mind wants to tell. You will want to see injustice when there is none, and lies when there are none because your mind wants story to have certain shapes the way your car seems to want to drive to work on a Sunday even when you are really just driving to the dog park. You will need to train yourself with real wisdom and discipline to tell the unknown, revealed story that the facts tell, not the pre-shaped one that your mind wants to tell. This is hard to describe but when you live it, you will know.

There are layers to every story. The more good strong, relevant ones you can process and integrate, the better your story will be. You can’t be perfectly objective but you can sure as shit process perspectives and be wise as to which ones shed light.

2 responses to “College Newswriting 101

  1. You’ve learned lots, J! Nice summary.

    I think the key to being a good interviewer is listening. I was interviewed badly recently by someone who had a prepared list of questions. Instead of listening to my replies and asking following questions, thus initiating dialogue, she waited until I ran out of answer steam, looked at her cheat sheet, and asked the next question. Since I’m used to being the interviewer, she didn’t know how to react when I started asking her questions in an attempt to have an actual conversation! Good interviewing takes practice and patience.

  2. Anne, as you well know and I as I learning, interviewing is really an art. I have definitely not mastered it yet and getting good quotes and sources is still a weakness.

    I’m sad to say I’m probably halfway between good and that poor interviewer who waited until you ran out of “answer steam.” (LOL) Glad to hear that practice and patience makes a difference.

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