Making the news

I’ve been learning a lot about writing lately just by working for Jeffrey Ougler, who handles the district news at the Sault Star.

I’ve read newspapers all my life – I remember reading some of the articles when I was ten or eleven – and yet I’d never considered how a newspaper article is constructed. All right, I knew about the “Who, What, When, Where, Why” part, but I think that’s as far as it went.

When you write a piece of fiction, you’re building to a climax and resolution. In other words, the important stuff comes closer to the end. In a newspaper story, the important stuff comes first. Space constraints may require that the story be cut, and if the end goes missing, there’d better not be anything important in it.

Fiction is about showing, not telling. Newspaper articles are about telling. Showing is good, but that’s why you take photographs. It’s interesting to write an illustrated story. I don’t have to describe my characters, partly because I’m usually writing about local people who may be known to my readers, but mainly because they’re almost certainly in the photograph.

Pictures also save words, although perhaps not a thousand words each. That’s good, because word count is important. A feature article can go longer and spill over onto a second page, but most articles have to be short. Jeffrey has limited space, and has to fit whatever news he can into it. I feel like I’ve been well-trained for this in writing flash fiction, where stringent word counts are the rule. (I don’t get to put pictures in flash fiction – bonus points for newspaper stories!)

I got my first assigned piece this week, covering the opening of Algoma Manor’s new building. Up until this point I’ve had to come up with my own stories, which was a learning experience all by itself. Jeffrey also asked if I could write the story up immediately after the opening for inclusion in the next day’s paper.

There was another learning experience, coming home with my notebook and camera still steaming to write the story and turn it in. It’s not how I’ve been used to writing. Most of my fiction stories sit for at least a day before I read them over again and rewrite. Of course, if I did a lot of that for the paper, the “news” would be more like “olds”.

It’s good discipline, learning another way of writing. It’s not the best-paid job in the world (which is, in part, why I need another) but it allows me to flex a different set of writing muscles, and thinking muscles, too. It’s another of those things I never thought I’d be doing, which only goes to show you never know where life will take you.

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6 Responses to Making the news

  1. Father Steve says:

    When I was a student at Washington State University (the Little Harvard of the West), I worked for The Daily Evergreen — the student newspaper. We used, just as you describe, the inverted pyramid style of story composition for just the reasons you suggest. One night, Dan Walsh, the sports editor, could not cover a basketball game and asked me to fill in for him. He said “It’s easy. You hold the first two paragraphs open. Then you write the story as the game happens. At the end, you write the first paragraph — who won — and the second paragraph — the highpoint(s) of the game — and turn in the story. It was weird but it worked.

  2. ecreith says:

    Wow – good tip!

  3. Edith,
    Just found you via Hope for Writers and truly needed this post. I recently began writing for a newspaper and am surprised to find myself doing so. I appreciate your philosophical viewpoint about it, which I need to adopt for myself.
    Also enjoyed the above tip, although I think (hope) I won’t be covering sports. I think that method will work for various town meetings. I was just thinking the other day that I could write some of them using a template, or even a stencil. Now, here I find it’s an old idea.
    Thanks!

  4. Oh, so sorry. On closer inspection, I see I have misread your name. I must apologize, but truly must also explain that my vision is not well this month. Time for another injection. Sighs. The pity about growing old is that the alternative is worse.
    ELIZABETH, I have enjoyed this site and am signing to recieve the rss. Cannot wait to read your next post.

  5. ecreith says:

    Hey, Katharine, “Edith” isn’t so bad when I consider some of the things I could have been called! I’m glad you like the blog!

    • Oh, thanks for understanding. I go to the doctor this Friday, and then won’t be able to see even this well, but gradually will get better over the month. Cannot wait–been making too many mistakes! Thanks, again.

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