Writing Articles for the School Newspaper
Writing articles for the school paper can be fun and interesting. You can be the journalist who covers the school’s basketball game or spring concert. Maybe you will go to school board meetings and report back to your fellow students on the decisions the board made. You might interview the principal about the new classrooms being built because the school is expanding. There are all kinds of stories waiting to be told by you. But writing stories for the newspaper is not the same as writing an English paper or poetry. Journalism has its own guidelines. The following will give you the basic guidelines and some ideas on how to make your stories shine.
The first paragraph. The first paragraph is the most important paragraph in a news article for it gives the most critical information about the story. Space is limited in newspapers so news articles present the most important information first. Subsequent paragraphs contain information in order of descending importance. This allows the editor the option of shortening any story to fit the space available by cutting from the bottom.
Who, what, where, when, and, maybe, why, and how. In the first paragraph include all the basic facts of the news story. Who did what? Where did the event occur? When did it happen? Sometimes explaining why and how helps the reader understand more about the importance of the event or helps the reader connect to the story. For example, pretend you were covering your school’s basketball game last Friday night. Here is how the first paragraph of the story might appear. The comments in parentheses show the basic facts.
In a knuckle-bitingly close (how) game (what), the Cassadaga Cougars (who) topped the Independence 76ers (who) by 1 slim point last Friday night (when) on the 76ers’ home court (where). The final score was 68 to 67. Senior Langston Barnard led the scoring with 22 points.
Make the story interesting. There are several techniques you can use to make your story interesting to your reader which will be covered in the next few paragraphs. The first technique is quotes. People want to know what others have to say about the event. You can quote experts, celebrities, or the ordinary Joe. Following up on our example above, you might interview the coach, some of the players, the school principal, or people in the stands. You could also generate interest by explaining the importance of the event in relation to other things. Continuing on with our example, you could talk about where the team now stands in the rankings or how this game’s performance compared to other games this season.
After the game, Coach Humbart said, “I am proud of the way the team fought through to the very end. They just kept coming back each time the 76ers scored.” The team had struggled earlier in the season with consistency and keeping the pressure on through the entire game. The last three games have been narrow victories. The team still stands a chance to play in the county tournament if it can win three more games this season.
As an alternative you could tell the story from the point of view of a player. This alternative creates what is called a “human interest” story. People are interested in how others feel and what they do. Readers enjoy learning how someone overcame adversity to succeed or survive.
Use clean, crisp English. News writing should be short and to the point. News stories deliver the facts quickly. However, readers get bored when they see the same story with just the facts changed. Choose each word carefully and provide not only information but a sense of urgency and impact. Take another look at the first sentence in the example paragraph. In theory each time the school’s team played a game, the newspaper could use the same sentence and just change the essential facts. What if the newspaper ran a sentence like this each time the team played?
The Cassadaga Cougars played the Independence 76ers last Friday night and won 68 to 67.
Boring! Much better to run the original example sentence.
Add pictures. Find out if the school photographer will be covering the event as well. If not, take a camera with you. Take lots of pictures so your editor can choose the perfect one to accompany your story. Action pictures work best, but they need to be in focus and have good contrast between the lights and darks in the picture. If there is too much gray in a photograph, it will not print distinctly enough for your readers to tell what is happening. Get as close as you can to your subject by “zooming” the camera lens in or moving yourself. Make the subject fill the picture frame. Avoid background distractions. Take pictures in landscape format and in portrait format to allow for different layout options in the newspaper.
Be accurate. A news reporter’s responsibility is to accurately report on event. Double check the spelling of names, addresses, scores, dollar figures, and other factual information you collect for your story. If you have a recording device, record interviews. Write down details on a notepad.
Be fair. Remember to cover all sides of any controversial issue. Contact people who are advocating for different solutions to an issue and give them a chance to explain their stand on the issue. When you report the issue, clearly state the differing points of view. Allow readers to come to their own conclusions about how they view the issue. Journalism is about seeking the truth and giving unbiased reports.
Spell Check. Make a diligent search for errors, including using spell check and grammar check, before sending your story to the editor.
Bylines. A byline is the acknowledgement of who wrote the story. In some newspapers, the byline is simply your name. Other newspapers allow a little more space for lauding the author of the article. Bylines give readers some insight into the article writer’s expertise. Examples are “By Kevin Block, Sports Reporter” or “By Lucy Witt, covering education issues in the Piedmont”. Ask your editor about the newspaper’s policy on bylines.
Apply these guidelines to write quality articles that grip, inform, and entertain your readers.