Writing Archive

How to turn news into a story people will care about

In my journalism classes, I’ve ditched the standard lists of “news values” limited to a handful of items and used to vaguely suggest why certain stories are published and others aren’t. I explained my reasons in two previous posts (News values reconsidered and News judgment with the audience in control). I replaced them with a

News values reconsidered, or, why ‘man bites dog’ matters

How do journalists decide if a story is worth reporting? They consult the list of possible news values — easy-peasy, since everyone agrees there are just 10 … or 12 … or a different 12 … or eight … or nine-ish … or five … or seven … I confronted that confusion when I started

Sketchnoting & the big box of crayons: Lesson for a journalism teacher

Journalism, done right, is storytelling. The upside to the increased demands on reporters — to be proficient in text and on video, with photos and maps and social media and on and on — is that journalists have more and more tools to tell stories well. In other words: a big box of crayons. A

Lesson for a journalism teacher: Meeting them where they are

The assignment for the students — in their first college journalism writing class — was the kind I remembered from my own student days. I gave them facts about a fire: who saw it first, where it happened, when, damages, etc. They had to write a first paragraph, a summary “lede.” The summary lede is

It can’t be said enough: Leave ‘said’ alone

Dear English teachers of North America: Stop it. Stop teaching the repetitive, boring five-paragraph essay. Stop telling yourself that you teach a writing class, not a grammar class. And to this list of sins a new one can be added, according to the Wall Street Journal: Stop telling your students to stop using “said.” ‚ÄúThere

Death to the inverted pyramid; life to alternative story forms

I have a hate/hate relationship with the inverted pyramid. I hate the fact that this artifice, created to deal with ancient mechanical issues, is still being justified to journalism students today based on ex post facto reasoning. And I hate the way alternative forms, often based on actual reader habits, are so often derided as

When bad structure happens to good stories

We experience life chronologically: This happened, then this happened, then that happened next. Organizing a story in the same way makes it easy to follow. This happened, then that happened isn’t the only way to structure a story, or always the best way. But whenever I was working with a writer who had trouble with

4 journalism books that aren’t must-reads

My list of the 100 books every journalist should read includes many works that show up over and over on lists like that. However, there were a few standard choices that I deliberately rejected for quality reasons. I’ll be listening to responses to my list and watching for others to come out; some books may

How to build a better journalism school: Part 5, storytelling

The most common way journalism schools have adapted to a changing industry (at least based on my small survey of about 20 top programs) is the insertion into the curriculum of a course called, most often, “multimedia storytelling.” This course description, from Northwestern, is typical: Introduction to using multimedia skills to create effective web-based journalism.

Most quotes in news stories are needless, and you can quote me on that

Whether formally acknowledged or not, there is a quote quota in mainstream reporting, and I’m here to quash it. The spark for today’s post was an item on Robert Feder’s blog. With the anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination nearing, Feder (a longtime Chicago media columnist) plucked a passage from the autobiography of another Chicago