The ingredients for a powerful news story

Picture of typing on a computer keyboard by Media Helping Media released under Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0

Good stories about any topic generally have some things in common. Here are 12 points to keep in mind when you are planning, researching and producing a news story. 

1: New and interesting information – something that surprises the audience and makes them say, wow, I didn’t know that.

2: Impact – Who does this story affect and how? Why is it important? This is the part that makes the audience care about an issue because they can see how it will affect them, or people they know.

3: Real people – Humanizing a big, complicated issue is one way of making it easier to understand. Putting a face on the story almost always hooks an audience, and gives us characters to tell a story.

4: Background – What’s causing the problem? How long has it been going on? Background tells us where the story has come from, and what has happened before. It offers definition and explanation. It is a reminder for the reader/listener/audience.

5: Context –  The journalist takes an individual example (which we can see and hear and relate to) and puts it into a larger context by telling us how many other people are in a similar situation, or what else is going on that is related to the example. It gives us the big picture.

6: Evidence – Most good stories use specific examples and compelling anecdotes (very short stories within the larger story), a supporting statistic or fact, and perhaps an authoritative quote to convince the reader/listener of the main point.

7: Color, good quotes – Description and dialogue can help the reader see and hear what the story is about. These are necessary for feature stories, but can also help more routine news stories come alive when used appropriately.

8: Clear explanations – The reporter/writer avoids jargon and acronyms (or defines them when they must be used) and uses words the audience will understand.

9: Accuracy and fairness – these are the fundamentals of any story because they give it credibility. A story usually has more than one side, and sometimes several.

10: Comments from experts - (and others involved in the story) for possible solutions to the problem, or explanations of what is going on. Experts or analysts are important for coverage of stories about bilateral relations, because the diplomats and government officials often make announcements or statements that are a vague and open to interpretation. Experts – from think-tanks, universities, etc. – can tell it like it is.

11: Diversity of voices – Including a range of voices makes a story more appealing. If we include enough different viewpoints, provided we have the space or time, it helps the audience understand more fully what is going on.

12: Good organization – Most successful stories have a good structure with these elements: an interesting beginning a main point that tells us clearly what the story is about and why it’s important a middle with good examples and explanations to convince the reader/listener an ending that helps the reader remember the story.

You can read more about producing compelling stories in “Beyond the 5Ws and H” in Beyond Basics, An Advanced Journalism Manual, Ch. 1, pp. 16-24. 

 

Jeff HodsonJeff Hodson is a veteran writer, editor and media trainer who spent more than a dozen years living and working in Southeast Asia. He lives in the U.S. state of Washington, where he is a senior writer/editor at the University of Washington and an independent media trainer and consultant.



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