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Writing for Newspapers

By Cheryl Bolen



This announces an upcoming event with particular emphasis on the 5 W's: Who, What, When, Where, Why? If you were writing an advance for, say, a city council meeting, you would not write The council will meet Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at 123 Main. You would try to take the agenda item with the broadest appeal and use that in the lead. Here's a professional advance lead: City councilmen are expected to hike water bills at Tuesday night's council meeting, set for 7 p.m. at 123 Main St.


A news story reports on an event which has already occurred, again with emphasis on the 5 W's. Be sure to put the most important thing that happened in the lead. A news story of a baseball game, for example, should always start off with the final result--the score, who beat whom, when, where and how. Never use chronological order to artificially build suspense.


Sometimes called the human interest story, the feature is frequently a personality profile, but not always. It can be historical or it can view a current problem or event from a historical perspective. Since the best features are timely ones, the feature writer should try to tie the story to a "news peg." For example, if the Tenneco Marathon is coming up, write a profile of a local runner. Or if a doll collection show is coming to your community, profile a local collector. Remember, local newspapers want to run stories about local people. There is a strong interest in localized features on new trends. Some examples: Recycling efforts in your community. (Give lots of facts and locations.) Programs in your community for senior citizens. (Times and places) Gang activity in your community.


A guest editorial, often called op-ed (short for opinion-editorial), appears in many publications. This usually deals with a controversial subject in which the writer favors one side and backs up his/her stand with a convincing argument documented with supporting, factual evidence. Chances of publication are much greater if you can localize the subject. Some sample topics: commuter rail from Galveston to Houston, revamping the welfare system, gun control.



Trim all unnecessary words. This is a poor lead: The Fan Club will be meeting at 7:00 PM on February 19th, 1994. Edited for journalistic style, the sentence should read: The Fan Club will meet at 7 p.m. Feb. 19.


Most newspapers use a variation of the readily available Associated Press Style Book. Some larger papers have their own style books. These are but a few of the style rules common to most journalistic style books:

When followed by a date, months are abbreviated, except those five letters and less: March through July.

The year is rarely necessary in newspaper stories.

In writing times, omit the 00 which follows a colon and lower case the a.m. and p.m., using periods.

Omit courtesy titles in front of names. Do not use Mr., Miss, Mrs., Dr. (A few very old, traditional papers in the country have continued to use Mrs. in front of a woman's surname in second and subsequent references.)

Spell out numbers below 10; use numerals for all numbers above nine.

After a person's full name is given once, just use the surname in subsequent references.

Cheryl Bolen holds a journalism degree from the University of Texas, where she was a staffer on the Daily Texan. She has written for a variety of newspapers throughout Texas and served for 12 years, non-consecutively, as news editor of the award-winning South Belt-Ellington Leader. She has won writing awards from the Texas Community Press Association and from the Houston Press Club.


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