My job at the newspaper is to edit a lot of pretty terrible writing into something that roughly resembles a newspaper. We have some good writers, but a lot of the people we work with are just starting out and as such really can’t write (yet). This fall, we ran a style bootcamp with our new newspaper staff staff, and we worked up a long list of common key things that amateur reporters mess up all the time. A lot of them were pertinent to reporters, but several of them bear repeating to anyone who writes. Here’s a few, and a link to the full shebang.
Written sources are a tool, not your work
It is not okay to copy full passages right from a press release, a website, a book…anything, really, unless you cite it. You can use information from the release but you need to do your own work. It is also not okay to use passages from another news article on the same subject. This is plagiarism. And, if you use info from a release, make sure you state it (i.e. “President Huddleston said in a release on Tuesday…”).
Double and triple check the spelling of people’s names
Do what you need to do to be sure that names are correct. Don’t get skittish here—people are happy to be sure that you’re getting their name right. If it’s a positive story, it sucks to get someone’s name wrong because you’re not giving credit where credit is due, and if you’re taking someone to task for something negative…well, you’re not giving credit where credit is due. Get it right.
Talk to as many people as possible
Get as many sources as you possibly can. Stories with 1 or 2 sources are not only less interesting, but less credible as well.
Just say said. Seriously.
If you’re writing something serious, whether it’s a news story, a piece of business writing or whatever else, don’t say “explained” “stated” “laughed” “chuckled” or anything else. Just say said. It’s a good word. Use it.
For a full copy of the TNH style bootcamp, click here.