Reporting and writing news stories: A checklist

REPORTING

Newsworthiness:
This attribute explains why one should read your story. It should answer the question: Why should the reader care? Does the story have proximity? Does it have an impact on Oxford/Ole Miss? Does the story have immediacy? Is it important/interesting/worthy of coverage? Is it news?

Quote Quality
Does the quote back up the lead? Does it add important information? Does it reveal strong feelings or reactions? Or, are the quotes repetitive and boring? Are quotes relevant to the story? Do they add to the story or are they merely filler? Do quotes add unique perspective or are they simply stating the obvious? Could you have paraphrased the info better?

Source Quality
How are the sources relevant to the story? Can the reader trust them? Do they have official, social or cultural authority to talk about the issue? Are your sources “in the know”?

Source Quantity
You should have adequate number of sources to substantiate information given in your story. Three is the minimum. But if all the three sources have the same voice, I will count them as two. This will vary from story to story but the more people you talk to the better your story will be. For most stories in this class three sources is adequate, four is good, five is excellent.

Source Diversity
Have you covered all the important opinions on the issue? You need quotes from people who support the issue, those who are against the issue and those who are independent of the issue. If you have three sources covering the three different standpoints, you will get a check. You will get a minus if you have less than three sources. You can get a plus if your story has adequate number of sources, covering all the important standpoints. Quotes from sources should be placed at appropriate places in the story. Are your sources of diverse age/race/gender/income level? Do you have a mix of officials/spokespersons and regular citizens?

Source Placement
Did the placement of your sources make sense? Did you group sources on the same side of an issue together or are they interspersed in the story to the point of diffusing their point? Did you lead with strong official sources?

Idea Creativity
Tips for creative ideas: Do leg work. Walk the streets. Meet people. Know the important people in your beat / story/ idea. Read the newspaper. There may be a great idea tucked in a boring, long story in the newspaper. Do a follow-up with a new angle and new information. Check bulletin boards. Talk to reporters who covered the same beat / area before you. Cultivate sources. Go to the library. Read. Listen. Walk. Is your story interesting and original? Is your angle unique from other coverage of the topic?

Attribution Fitness
You must attribute quotes to people. No free-floating quotes, please. You can use the word said to attribute your quotes. Said is preferred in hard news stories.

You also need to attribute information you paraphrase.

Timeliness
Is your story fresh? At the time of your deadline could your story still be published in a daily newspaper?

Detail
Does your story have the necessary details? Don’t just say, “They were angry.” Tell me, what they did because they were angry. How do you know they were angry? I want to visualize the scene. Help the reader visualize what you saw.

Details make a story interesting. Give me specifics. If Ole Miss is facing a shortage of funds, tell me exactly how much money they need. What was it like last year? What are the projections? Do not give half-baked information. I want it well-baked, nice and tasty.
Do you cover all of your bases and go beyond the obvious aspects of the story? Do you give specific examples and explain why the story is important?

Impact
Does your story have an impact on the lives of people in Oxford? Does your story make an impression on the reader? Is it memorable? This will be greatly influenced by the overall quality of writing and reporting.

Find out what are the problems in a community. Your story will involve the reader if it deals with something that concerns him. But don’t just limit yourself to Ole Miss.

Libel
Are you on firm legal ground? Do not make any baseless or slanderous statements in your reporting. “`Libel’ is a publication of a falsity that causes injury to someone’s reputation” (Rich, 2005, p.306).

Take care of the following:
• Are you publishing something that may be false?
• Are you publishing something that is inaccurate?
• Are you accusing someone without doing a thorough check on facts?

Fairness/Balance
All sides to an issue deserve mention in your story. Do not quote one party and ignore the other. If you keep a balance in terms of the number of quotes and facts, you’ll get plus(es) based on the degree of fairness. Do you consider multiple points of view in your story? Are those points of view represented by quoted and unquoted sources? Do you have an editorial tone in your writing?

Legwork / Enterprise
You will get a plus if you have met the relevant people, done an in-depth interview with them, and got some good points for your story. You must show enterprise. If you constantly complain that sources aren’t talking to you, nobody answers your call etc, you are not an enterprising reporter.

Are you just scraping by or putting in extra effort to produce quality work? Did you track down that hard to reach source? Did you make the extra phone call? Did you take time to rewrite your story to make it better?

Take the extra step. Walk that extra mile. You will always come up with something new, important and interesting. Call back at least 3 times before you give up. Leave messages. Leave your name and number on a piece of paper if someone shuts the door at your face. That person might change his or her mind and call you back.

WRITING

Lead/Nut Graph
What’s the main point of the story? This graph should include the “what, why, when, so what, impact and background” of your story. This graph should answer the question: Why should the reader care? Why should I bother to read your story? Does the lead grab the reader/express the importance of the story/make them want to keep reading? Does the nut graph clearly express the purpose/importance/intent of your story?

Focus/Organization
Your story should be organized. It should flow. Information in your notes that do not relate to your story have no place in your story. Rich talks about the FORK method of organizing. F= FOCUS, O= ORDER, R= REPETITION OF KEY WORDS, K= KISS OFF. Do you present the information in a logical sequence? Do you have a sharp/specific angle? Do you include unnecessary information to pad your word count? For more, we will talk in the individual conferences.

Quote Placement
You should put the right quote at the right place. Does the placement of your sources make sense? Did you group sources on the same side of an issue together? Did you lead with strong official sources? If the quality of the quote is excellent and it’s positioned in the right place, you will get a plus. Other than that, you’ll get check (٧۷) or minus (-).

Flow/Transition
Does your story flow naturally? Is it easy to read? Do transitions seem forced or mechanical? Each paragraph should relate to the one before and after it. So should the thought, the point you’re trying to make. You must introduce every new idea / point/ argument, not throw it in suddenly.

Grammar/Punctuation/Spelling
Are there any grammar, spelling or punctuation mistakes? PROOFREAD!

AP Style
Look it up. Always. Answer this one: What’s the correct spelling? Is it advisor or adviser? Are you following AP style? When in doubt, look it up.

Clarity
Your story should be clear. Write short and simple sentences. Don’t make your graphs wordy. Avoid convoluted sentences. Are your ideas clearly stated? Does your story make sense? Are you writing in clear and straightforward language?

Support/Backup
Support the main point / argument / issue in your story with adequate information. Don’t give irrelevant information just because you happen to have it in your notes. Give examples. Give details. Do you support your claims with evidence? Do you have credible sources backing you up? Are there numbers or other data that support your story?

Active Voice
Use active voice. Keep it clear and simple. Use action words. Add some energy into your writing. Don’t put me / reader to sleep. Use the active voice. It sounds much better than when the passive voice is used!

[Copyright: Dr. George Sylvie, University of Texas]

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