Part One of Four:
Understanding the Structure and Rules of Newspaper Articles Edit
Be aware of the two types of newspaper articles. Most newspaper articles break down into two types: news articles and feature articles. You will also find opinion pieces, like editorials and book or movie reviews in the pages of your school newspaper. But generally, you will be working on a news article or a feature article. 
- News articles cover the basics of current events. They answer the five key questions: who, what, where, when, and why.
- Feature articles are longer and more in depth than regular news articles. They cover one subject from multiple angles and written in a more creative format.
- Both types require the same level of research and reporting. If you are writing a feature article, you may have more freedom with the structure of the article. However, news articles always follow the same “triangle” or five part structure.
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Understand the structure of an article. A newspaper article is written in the form of an inverted triangle, with the most important or key information in the first paragraph (the wide part of the triangle), and then the least important information in the last paragraph (the narrow point of the triangle). A basic news article is made up of five parts: 
- The headline: Also referred to as the “hed”, this is a short, attention grabbing statement about the event. It will appear at the top of your article.
- The byline: Tells the reader who wrote the article. If you wrote the article, your name will appear in the byline.
- Lead paragraph: This first paragraph contains the who, what, when, where, and why in as few words as possible. You must find all the answers to these questions and place them in the opening 1-3 sentences of the article.
- Explanation: The second-third paragraphs should include any other facts or details the reader should know. This is where the writer answers any other important questions the reader might have after reading the headline and the lead paragraph. This section can include direct quotes from witnesses or bystanders.
- Additional information: The last paragraph contains the least important information. For example, information about a similar event or occurrence. Your editor may cut this paragraph down if the article is too long for the space it needs to fill in the newspaper.
Learn what a “dek” and a “lede” are. These abbreviations are important in the newspaper world. Most editors will ask you for the “dek” and “lede” of your article after you pitch the story to them. 
- The “dek” is a blurb, usually one to two sentences, that tells the reader what the story is going to be about. It will appear under the “hed” or headline of the article. For example, an article about fiber might have the head: “YOU’RE FIBER-ED!” and the dek might be: “Ten Reasons To Eat More Fiber.” 
- The “lede” is the introduction to the news article, usually in the first paragraph of the article. “Lede” is a deliberate misspelling of “lead” to prevent confusion in the days when printing was done with lead type.
- The “lede” should answer the classic five W’s of journalism. What happened? Who did it? Where did it happen? When did it happen? Why did it happen?  Some articles require a “How” as well, but this can often be covered by answering the others.
Be aware of the tone and point of view of a newspaper article. Most news articles are written from an objective point of view, in the third person. Unlike opinion pieces, or editorials, news articles should not contain any “I” statements, such as “I believe” or “I think”. The main purpose of the article is to inform your readers of all the facts around a story or event. You should maintain a neutral tone throughout the article and cover all sides or perspectives on the story. 
- However, most stories have a particular angle or “slant”. This means the story focuses on a particular aspect or element of the larger story. For example, a story about fireflies could focus on the endangerment of fireflies through the use of pesticides in the air. The “slant” is a valuable way to give the story a clear focus and unique take on an existing topic. 
- Feature articles can use the “I”, or first person point of view. Recently, personal narrative style features, with the “I” and a personal story that colors or informs the news story, have been popular online. 
Read example articles. Now that you are familiar with the structure and terms of a basic news article, read several example articles to get up close and personal with how to write an article:
- “Pandemic Level Increased”, a straightforward news article about swine flu. 
- “Harry Potter Opens July 15”, a creatively written news article about the opening of the film Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. 
- “Fireflies Count!”, an example of a feature article written from the first person point of view. 
- “Pregnant at Harvard?”, an example of a feature article written in the style of a personal narrative for The Harvard Crimson. a university publication. 
Note if the example articles follow the five part structure. Look for the headline, the byline, the lead paragraph, the explanation paragraph(s) and the additional information at the end of the articles.
- For example, the headline for this article, “Pandemic Level Increased”, has the byline: Daniel Wetter. 
- It also has a lead paragraph that begins with key information: “The swine flu outbreak became a phase 6 pandemic on June 11, declared the World Health Organization (WHO). Officially known as the H1N1 virus, the flu is being transmitted community-wide in both North America and Australia. A pandemic is an epidemic (disease outbreak) over a widespread geographical area.”
- It then has a fairly long explanation section, with quotes from two doctors, or medical sources.
- It ends with additional information, or an ending sentence that reinforces the main slant of the article: “Being health conscious and getting vaccinated will make you part of the solution.”
Identify the “hed”, “dek”, and “lede” of the example articles. The “hed” or headline should be pretty obvious by now. The “dek”, or blurb, usually 1-2 sentences, that tells the reader what the story is going to be about, will be underneath the “hed”.
- For example, for the article “Harry Potter Opens July 15”, the “dek” is “Magic and mysteries in the air at Harry Potter’s New York premiere.” 
- The “lede” of the article should answer the four W’s and the H of newspaper writing. The Harry Potter premiere article’s “lede” appears in the second paragraph. “At the premiere of the newest Harry Potter movie in New York City July 9, I stood along the red carpet watching as excited Potter fans crammed together behind metal barriers waiting for the stars to arrive. Some sported sorting hats, the signature round rimmed Potter glasses, and other mystical garments from the world of Hogwarts. Some held up signs. One read: “Honk if you love Harry.” And there was honking—and yelling and cheering and chanting. “Snape! Snape! Sirius! Snape!” It was magical!”
- The “lede” in the article then extends into the third paragraph: “The crowd ignited with screams and cheers as the actors stepped out of their limos and onto West 54th Street in front of the Ziegfeld Theatre. There was so much excitement in the air you could taste it!”
- This “lede” answers the who (Harry Potter fans, including the writer of the article), the what (Premiere of the Harry Potter movie), the where (Ziegfeld Theatre, New York City), the when (July 9), and the how (The premiere happened because the newest Harry Potter movie is out and Harry Potter fans are enthusiastic about the new film).
Look at the point of view and tone of each article. Tone and point of view are important elements of a news article. Most news articles should maintain a neutral or objective tone. But they should also have a “slant” or particular focus in the article, while still discussing all sides of the story.
- For example, the Harry Potter article is written in the first person, by a Harry Potter fan, so it will have a certain slant and point of view. The writer uses statements like: “It was magical!” and “There was so much excitement in the air you could taste it!”  These statements are purely opinion based and serve to give the article some personal color and perspective.
- In contrast, the swine flu article is written in the third person, with no use of the “I” or any personal statements from the writer. It presents the facts and details of the swine flu outbreak and how to prevent spreading the disease to others. It is a more standard news article in tone and voice. 
- In The Harvard Crimson feature story, “Pregnant at Harvard?”, the writer examines her personal struggles with being pregnant at Harvard and uses many personal notes and moments to give the story a unique slant. These types of features are becoming more popular in publications and school newspapers, as they give a story a personal connection or voice. 
Do basic research before you pitch the article. Once you determine your story idea, you should do some basic research to ensure the story is worth pitching to your editor. You also want to confirm someone else hasn’t already written the story, or from the same angle.
- Do a basic google search of keywords of your topic. If you’re writing an article about teaching social justice in high school classes, for example, do a basic search of possible courses in your area, state, or country.
- You should also make a list of potential sources you can contact and interview for the story.
- If you have been assigned a story idea via your editor, you likely will not need to write a pitch letter for the story. But you will still need to do research before you write the article.
Set up interviews early. One of the first things you should do is contact your potential sources and set up in person interviews. You can also conduct phone interviews or email interviews. But if possible, try to talk to your sources in person. Email interview answers tend to be stilted and awkward, as the interview subject is responding by typing, rather than talking. 
- Contact the source via email or by phone. Give the person a brief summary of the article you are writing, the “lede”, and ask them what time works best for an interview. Try to give 45 minutes minimum for the interview, especially if they are a primary source. Confirm the meeting time with the source.
- For a standard news article, you should have one to two sources minimum. Good sources include people with credentials that relate to your topic, such as a medical doctor or a specialist in your topic. Your sources should have strong knowledge about your topic, on a professional or personal level, and be willing to answer questions on tape.
Prepare interview questions. You should come to the interview with a list of at least 10 questions to ask the source, as well as two to three backup questions. 
- Focus on open ended questions that will result in expansive answers, as opposed to a yes or no. Rather than start a question with “Do you think”, begin with “How do you think” or “In what ways does”.
- Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions, such as “How does that work?” or “What do you mean by that term or abbreviation?” This will be useful if you are interviewing experts in a specialized field or about a complex idea and need to simplify it for the general public.
- Ask short questions and then follow up. Most interviewers make the mistake of sticking to the questions on their notepad, rather than having a more free flowing conversation with the source. Start with short, basic questions like “How did you get into teaching social justice at schools?” or “How do you balance athletics with school?” and then build off of the source’s answers. Split up long winded questions into shorter questions so that source does not get overwhelmed or confused by your questions.
- Mix lighthearted questions with pointed questions. A good interview will generate quotes from your sources that address your topic and give your unique angle on the topic some weight. But avoid only asking pointed questions that might cause your source to shut down or clam up. Mix in lighthearted or fun questions so the source feels comfortable and relaxed during the interview.
Use a digital recorder or a recording app during the interview. To get the most accurate quotes possible, use a small digital recorder. Place it on a flat surface and let the interview subject know you are recording the conversation before you turn it on. 
- You can also download a recording app on your phone to record in person interviews or phone interviews. 
- If you are doing a skype interview, you can use a recording app through skype.
Create a pitch letter . If you have already been assigned a story idea by your editor, you will not need to create or send her a pitch letter. But if you are proposing an original idea to the editor of your school newspaper, you will need to create a pitch letter. Keep the letter short and to the point. Follow this format: 
- Address the letter to the editor of the newspaper, by title or by name. For example: “Dear Chronicle Editor in Chief” or “Dear Mrs. Jenna Smith”.
- Create an engaging opening sentence. Avoid telling the editor you have a great story or that you, the writer, will blow their socks off. Lead with what is strong and interesting about your topic, as well as the unique angle you might have on the topic. For example: “The World Health Organization has recently declared swine flu a phase 6 pandemic. Yet there is very little knowledge of how to prevent the spread of this disease in the classroom.”
- Body paragraph: Break down your article in more detail. Let the editor know if you plan to speak to certain sources. If you have any personal connection or experience with the topic, note this in the body of the letter. For example: “As a student at Roosevelt High, I think it’s essential that students are aware of what swine flu ir and how to prevent the spread of swine flu. In my article, I will talk to two medical professionals about the dangers of swine flu and prevention techniques. I plan to also look at how students can practice simple, everyday habits to prevent the spread of this disease. ”
- Closing: Finish the letter by letting the editor know if you have done any initial research on the topic and if you have any other experience writing similar articles. For example: “Based on my initial research, swine flu is a major disease that is not nearly as understood by the general population, or by high school students, as much as it should be.” Provide links to clips, or examples of your writing, in other publications. Then, sign off the letter with “Best regards” or “Thank you for your time.”
Get feedback and a word limit from your editor. Once you submit your pitch letter, give your editor time to review it. Then, ask her if she has any suggestions on other sources or angles for your story. She may also give you a word limit for your story. Most news articles are short, 400-500 words long.
Part Four of Four:
Writing the Article Edit
Create a strong, unique lead. You want to lead with a sentence that grabs the reader’s attention and intrigues them enough to keep reading. Start with the most important information first. 
- For example: “The swine flu outbreak became a phase 6 pandemic on June 11, declared the World Health Organization (WHO).”  or “I was like a seeker in the game of quidditch, but I wasn’t searching for the golden snitch. I was searching for the golden actors who star in the latest Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince .” 
- The first lead is factual, objective, and to the point. It tells the reader that there is a clear medical issue and gets them to pay attention to the outbreak.
- The second lead is more personal and uses the first person. It draws the reader in by using familiar terms from the world of Harry Potter and unique language to keep the reader engaged.
Avoid flowery language or a casual tone. Don’t overuse adverbs or adjectives in your article. Keep the language simple and plain, with strong verbs and nouns. If a word or term is not essential to the story, don’t include it. 
- Using plain language will build trust with your reader, especially if you are discussing a complex medical topic. It will also help your reader follow along with your writing.
- Use sentences that are 25 words or fewer. Focus on plain English, rather than academic or technical jargon.
Write to your audience. Consider who you are writing the article for. If its for the general public, you should assume the reader has no prior knowledge of the topic. Imagine you are explaining the topic or issue to someone who has never heard of the topic. However, if you are writing about a current issue that the general public might be familiar with, such as the latest political scandal, or the big win at the football game on Friday, you can assume some prior knowledge of the events. Your article should then give the reader new information or more information on a major topic from yesterday’s news or the latest hot topics. 
- If you are writing an article for a certain section of the newspaper, like the Arts and Culture section, you may be able to assume your reader will be familiar with certain mainstream artists or current cultural trends.
- You may also be writing about a topic that is very familiar to most readers, such as Harry Potter. In this case, you could use terms or phrases that are known to avid readers of the topic, such as an article about a Harry Potter film.
Use the active voice. Strong verbs will make your article lively and interesting. Focus on using active verbs like “she stands”, “walks” “runs”, “spots her teammate”, “chats to her coach”. Passive verbs can sound dull and boring to readers.
- In most cases, editors advocate for the use of the present tense, rather than the past, to give the article immediacy and an active voice. However, you can use the past tense in your article if your editor says otherwise.
Back up your story with strong quotes. The reporting “voice” of the article should only contain facts. Any opinions or subjective descriptions should be attributed to a named source. Your article should be supported by quotes from at least two sources. Rather than tell you reader they should be concerned about swine flu, for example, use a quote from an expert to back up with claim. 
- For example: ” ‘We need to be appropriately concerned,’ Dr. Trochet said. It cannot be ignored, but it can be prevented with easy measures, she stressed. Dr. Trochet and Dr. Tom Hopkins, the Chief Medical Correspondent on NBC’s Sacramento Station, KCRA, talked recently to the Scholastic Kids Press Corps about swine flu concerns. They also discussed how to prevent getting or spreading the disease.”
- Use “said” or “told me” when attributing a quote to a person, and only use the source’s last name or title and name.
Follow the five part structure. Make sure your article adheres to the five part structure of an article: 
- The headline, or the “hed”.
- The byline.
- The lead paragraph, or the “lede”. Should answer who, what, when, where, and why in as few words as possible.
- Explanation paragraphs, including direct quotes from sources.
- Additional information, last paragraph that contains the least important information.
Revise and format the article. Look over the article for any spelling or grammatical errors. Ensure your article has a strong “lede” and follows the five part news article structure.
- You should also format the article based on the publication you are writing for. If it is an online publication, ask the editor if there is any specific formatting you need to do, such as adding links in text.
- Your school newspaper may also have a style guide with rules of certain phrases or terms in the articles they publish. Ask your editor for these guidelines and adjust your article accordingly.
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