Your first journalistic writing assignment
We’ve covered a lot of multimedia reporting concepts. Now it’s time we venture into our first writing assignment that is web-focused. You can review the assignment instruction here: Blog Post 3 – Journalistic Web Story.
Below are six beats (i.e., topical areas). Story topics are below beats. You can pick a story topic I suggested or come up with your own. Remember that you need a specific, detailed story angle for your final story. Please be sure to run your story by me first.
Arts & Entertainment
- Art shows
- Music performances
- Ballet and dance studio work or performances
- Plays and theater
- Movie openings or screenings
Recreation & Sports
- Adult sports leagues
- Youth sports
- Snowy Range Ski Area
- Vedauwoo cross-country skiing
- Ice rink
- Other winter recreation
Health & Wellness
- Healthy eating and nutrition
- Stress management options and activities (e.g., yoga)
- Wintertime activities to stay healthy
- Counseling and mental-health related issues
- Schools, childhood obesity, exercise, school lunches
- Profile of a particular business
- Downtown Laramie shopping
- Competing with Wal-Mart and chain stores
- Using social media and new media for local businesses
- Profile on a professor
- Profile on an interesting student
- Synergy program
- Outreach program
- Study abroad programs
- Alcohol awareness programs
- Student organizations (e.g., religious student orgs, non-traditional student orgs)
- School and tutoring-related
- Soup kitchens and poverty-related
- Elderly and nursing/retirement home related
- Volunteering overseas
- Religious-motivated volunteering
I want to hear your story ideas and angles now. I’m going to finish going around the room and asking for your ideas. If I’ve already spoken to you and your idea has changed, please let me know.
Back to learning how to write for the web…
The following information is adapted from Ch. 5 and Ch. 6 in the textbook.
What Should I Do When I Interview Someone?
- First, realize that your interviews are essential to the story. Without strong interviews, you got nothing!
- Be prepared: Inform yourself about the topic, source, and/or interviewee. Do some background research on the story and educate yourself. Informed questions are the best questions.
- Practice your interview questions beforehand if you’re nervous or want to feel better-prepared going into the interview. It never hurts to practice. And practice being curious-sounding, professional, and clam rather than accusatory, aggressive, or a know-it-all.
- Make small talk before the interview. It relaxes you and the interviewee. And begin the interview with a softball question that you may not care too much about. This will relax the interviewee and yourself.
- Keep it conversational. Don’t ask one question after another with no casual feedback and discussion. You want to have a give-and-take, turn-taking conversation, rather than a firing-squad style conversation.
- Listen. Really listen to your interviewee talking as you take notes. Think about if you have any follow-up questions about their statements. If you don’t, then move on to the next prepared question.
- Prepare a basic outline of questions, but avoid reading them word-for-word. Again, you want to know your questions enough to ask them in a casual way to your interviewee. And you want to ask them when it’s appropriate to in the conversation.
- Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions and the “do you have anything else to add before we finish” question. You want to understand the interviewee and the story well. You want to clarify things so you can clearly explain things to your audience.
- Allow silence. Silence is awkward. People fill silence with additional banter. It may be helpful banter for your story.
- Make eye contact, smile, and nod to show your interest. Try not to make the “uh huh” and “go on” noises. This is a bad habit and will ruin audio interviews if you engage in those behaviors.
- Also during the interview…Watch, look, and listen to the environment around you –> Reporters and storytellers are excellent observers and listeners. They are socially aware.
- Any other suggestions from you and your classmates?
What Tips Do You Have For Writing A Story?
- Write for the specific story angle, not the general story topic.
- Establish a clear beginning, middle, and end.
- Make it clear why the audience should care early in the story.
- Write a strong lead to pull readers in. Then expand on the lead in the rest of the story.
- Set the scene early in the story. Use anecdotes (short stories from your sources).
- In the middle, thoroughly explain the issues. Keep emphasizing the importance, so what, and impact of the story.
- Stick to facts as much as possible. If opinion is in your story, it should be your sources’ opinions, not your’s.
- Write with active, descriptive verbs whenever possible. Good example: Dr. Landreville teaches tomorrow. Bad example: Dr. Landreville is going to teach tomorrow.
- Save the most interesting and descriptive quotes for direct quotes in your story. Direct quotes that merely state simple facts, that are poorly worded, or that are boring are not helpful. Paraphrase that information.
- Let the subjects speak. We want to hear what the sources, not the reporter, have to say about this story. Facilitate this connection between the subjects and the audience by using a lot of quotes and descriptions (or if a visual presentation, showing the subjects).
- Transition well. Avoid jumping around. Avoid incomplete thoughts and unclear associations of story elements.
- Proofread ! Be your own editor. Cut unnecessary words. Use the active voice. Clean up comma errors. Correct misspellings. Keep an eye out for grammar errors (e.g., its/it’s).
- Close the story with a resolution by saying what’s next or summarizing the outcome or providing an interesting or strong quote.
OK, OK, you now have those tips drilled into your head. What’s next to know about writing for multiple platforms? Well, it’s important to understand reading trends.
What kind of readers are out there?
There are three types of readers. You need to write for all three in a story.
- Comprehensive readers (read the whole story)
- Samplers (read the lead and parts of a story before quickly moving on)
- Scanners (read headlines, labels, captions, fact boxes, graphics, and other quick reads)
How is online reading different than print reading?
- Online reading is 25% slower than print reading.
- We scan more online.
- We construct our own nonlinear reading experience online.
- Thus, you need to use concise, informative headlines, summaries, and hyperlinks to more resources about the story.
- Each paragraph should have no more than 2 or 3 short, simple sentences.
- A direct quote should stand out in its own paragraph. Do not bury direct quotes in the middle of a paragraph!
- Attribution side note. Good Example: “Attribute correctly,” said Dr. Landreville. Bad example: Dr. Landreville said, “Attribute correctly.”
- Use subheadings in your story –> Otherwise known as “chunk” titles.
- Bold the chunk titles.
Examples of web writing from previous students
Let’s look at some examples from my previous COJO 3530 students. What are some positives and negatives about each? Do they follow the tips above? Do they follow the assignment instructions?
Keep an eye for:
- Number of Interviews and Sources
- Story Structure
- Sentence length.
- Paragraph length.
- Reporter presence and voice.
- Use of bolded chunk titles.
- Transitions between ideas.
- Attribution and Quotes
- Paraphrased information vs. directly quoted information.
- Location of direct quotes.
- Frequency of direct quotes