Report It!

How to write an effective news report

In the Film "The Shipping News" Kevin Spacey plays a rookie journalist.
In this scene he listens to advice from an experienced newspaper writer.

Old Man: "Finding the centre of your story, the beating heart of it, that's what makes a reporter.
You have to start by making up some headlines - short, punchy, dramatic headlines.
Now have a look out there. What d'you see over there?

Rookie: "Horizon Fills With Dark Clouds."

Old Man: "Imminent Storm Threatens Village."

Rookie: "But what if no storm comes?"

Old Man: "Village Spared From Deadly Storm."

In the exercise below collect the facts then create a headline that goes to the beating heart of the story.

 1. Collect the facts in rough. Keep it short. Facts only.

Answer the questions:


 2. Now write a headline.

This should attract the reader's attention and summarise the main points of the story in not more than six words.

Go for the beating heart of the story.
Create a short, punchy, dramatic headline



 3. Write the first paragraph.

This should expand the headline, giving the most important facts in not more than 30 words.

 A MAN who had been drinking at The Red Lion Inn was found dead next morning lying by the towpath which borders Camchester's market place

 4. Now write the rest of the story. Give more detail.

You might have a paragraph for each of the questions above (see 1)

 Who?  The man, named as Brian Marshall, 52, of Station Road, Camchester, was found by a policeman on a routine patrol.
 Why? Regulars at The Red Lion Inn said that he had been drinking heavily throughout the evening and had finally left shortly before 11pm
 What / How?  A pathologist's report read by the coroner gave the cause of death as "inhalation of vomit after excessive consumption of alcohol."
 Where?  The towpath has been the scene of several incidents of drunkenness in recent months but this is the first fatality of the year. Residents have complained of rowdy behaviour by youths collecting in the market place, and brawls have taken place.
 When?  The pathologist estimated the time of death at about 3am on Sunday 14th. Verdict - death by misadventure.

 5. The later paragraphs may give opinion, but make clear what is fact and what is opinion.

The last few paragraphs may be cut short by the sub-editor if space is short, so make sure your really important news is at the top.

  Mr Marshall's garage business had experienced financial difficulties since he was fined for careless driving following an incident in which he collided with a bus in Broadwood Road.
A friend said he had been "very depressed."

* Now write your own article using these ideas.

* Find examples of real newspaper articles which answer the questions in the check list of questions in 1. and 4. above.

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