Journalism for the Web

Week 5 Plan

  1. Reminder: Submit Blog Post 3 – Photojournalism by 11:59 p.m. today (Mon. Feb. 25)
  2. In-Class Activity Mon. Feb. 25: “Week 5: Your Initial Web Story Idea” — Let’s briefly talk about your ideas, if we haven’t talked already.
  3. In-Class Activity Mon. Feb. 25: When you’re waiting to speak with me, please read these students’ blog posts. Think about what makes these stories strong. Feel free to read the blog post below to get hints about why these are strong stories.
    1. Andrew Wee, “For a Better Tomorrow” (profile on a professor)
    2. Madison Clark, “Poppy’s Plans for Valentine’s Day” (profile on a business)
    3. Priscilla Wigington, “Classical Music in a Modern World” (feature article)
  4. Review of Interviewing
  5. Review of Newswriting
  6. Types of Readers
  7. How Web Writing Is Different
  8. Reminder: No Class on Fri. Mar. 1 — Work on your story.
  9. Next Week: You only need to attend class during your scheduled individual meeting time. Otherwise, there is no need to attend class.

Back to learning how to write for the web…

What Should I Do When I Interview Someone?

Your interview will be very quick if you don’t research the topic. You need to spend at least 1-2 hours researching the story topic in order to write STRONG QUESTIONS for the interview. Consider multiple perspectives of whatever issue you are reporting, too, and find sources of multiple perspectives. Photo courtesy of The Association of Independent Information Professionals.
  1. First, realize that your interviews are essential to the story. Without strong interviews, you got nothing!
  2. 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.
  3. Write your questions by hand: You remember things more when you hand-write vs. type. The questions will stick more if you hand-write them.
  4. 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.
  5. Make small talk before the interview. It relaxes you and the interviewee. Talk about the weather, their office, the location of the interview, etc.
  6. Voice recording. Ask permission to record the interview, if you want to. Check out PC Magazine’s Best Voice Recorder Apps for some suggestions.
  7. But ALWAYS TAKE NOTES! Even if you’re recording the interviewee, you must take notes. You will remember the conversation better and also know where particular points were made in the conversation.

    Always take notes during interviews, even when recording the interview. Listen for the quotes. Mark the recording time when the quote was made. Photo courtesy of journalismresource.org
  8. Begin with a softball. Begin the interview with a softball question that you may not care too much about. This will relax the interviewee and yourself.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions. You want to understand the interviewee and the story well. You want to clarify things so you can clearly explain things to your audience.
  13. Ask the “do you have anything else to add before we finish” question. You never know what helpful information will come out!

    Allow silence when interviewing. Silence is awkward. People fill silence with more talking. Photo courtesy of minutehack.com
  14. Allow silence. Silence is awkward. People fill silence with additional banter. It may be helpful banter for your story.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Any other suggestions from you and your classmates?

What Tips Do You Have For Writing A Story?

— Refer To These Tips As You’re Writing Your Story —

  1. Write for the specific story angle, not the general story topic.
  2. Make it clear why the audience should care early in the story.
  3. Write a strong lead to pull readers in. Then expand on the lead in the rest of the story.
  4. Set the scene early in the story. Use anecdotes (short stories from your sources).
  5. In the middle, thoroughly explain the issues. Keep emphasizing the importance, so what, and impact of the story.
  6. Stick to facts as much as possible. If opinion is in your story, it should be your sources’ opinions, not your’s.
  7. Write with active, descriptive verbs whenever possible. Good example: Dr. Landreville teaches tomorrow. Bad example: Dr. Landreville is going to teach tomorrow.

    Goal: Write in active voice as much as possible.
  8. 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.
  9. 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).
  10. Transition well. Avoid jumping around. Avoid incomplete thoughts and unclear associations of story elements.
  11. 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).
  12. 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.

  1. Comprehensive readers (read the whole story)
  2. Samplers (read the lead and parts of a story before quickly moving on)
  3. Scanners (read headlines, labels, captions, fact boxes, graphics, and other quick reads)

How Should I Write For All Three Types of Online Readers?

— Refer To These Tips As You’re Writing Your Story —

To write stronger news stories, read more news stories. To write stronger press releases, read more press releases AND news stories. To write stronger advertising copy, read and deconstruct more advertising. The point: whatever your media message goals are, you need to invest substantial time in consuming those messages.
  • 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.

Checklist for Blog Post 4 – Journalistic Web Story: Review the Assignment Guidelines!

Keep your mind on these requirements and best practices while reporting and writing:

  1. Number of Interviews (3 minimum, face-to-face, unless otherwise given permission)
  2. Minimum of two relevant photos that you took yourself
  3. Two relevant links (at minimum)
  4. Story Structure
    1. Appropriate headline
    2. Sentence length.
    3. Paragraph length.
    4. Reporter presence and voice.
    5. Use of bolded chunk titles.
    6. Transitions between ideas.
    7. Minimum of 750 words. Maximum of 850 words.
  5. Attribution and Quotes
    1. Paraphrased information vs. directly quoted information.
    2. Location of direct quotes (should be at the beginning of paragraphs)
    3. Frequency of direct quotes (every few paragraphs)

For Next Week: Mon. 3/4 to Fri. 3/8:

We will have individual meetings with the instructor. Please double-check your scheduled time in the assignment: Blog Post 4 – Journalistic Web Story

You are bringing a draft of your story to this meeting to quickly review (in 5 minutes) with the instructor.

Thus, come prepared with your most urgent questions and concerns.

 

About The Author

I'm an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Communication and Journalism Department at the University of Wyoming. In my ninth year at UW, I regularly teach multimedia production, web design, political communication, quantitative research methods, and media, science, and society.