We asked, you delivered: Your writing tips — and one reporting tip
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Before we go into today's news headlines, I wanted to pass along some of the best writing tips you've received or given. Here are a few early responses.
From Paul Janensch:
As an editor at four newspapers and an associate professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University, these were among the writing tips I bestowed on reporters and students:
- Think first. What is the story? Do I have all the information I need?
- Jot down an outline. Just a few words: the opening, bases to touch, kicker at end.
- Don't start at the beginning. Start with what's important. With a feature, the top can be an anecdote or surprising statement. But then get to the point.
- KISS: Keep it short and simple. Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs, short piece.
- When you have finished, you are not finished. Go over it carefully. Is it accurate? Is it crystal clear? What's missing? What can be deleted? What should be rephrased?
From Tom Stites, president of the Banyan Project:
The best tip I ever got came from Ray Lyle, my first city editor, when I was a summer intern at The Kansas City Star: “News is what happened; talk is cheap.”
That was a long time ago, before not only the internet but also before cable news, and now we live in a world of information that's miles deep in talk. This makes Lyle’s adage even more important now than it was when I first heard it.
From former NPR ombud Alicia "Lisa" Shepard:
- Write like you speak; write conversationally.
- Put me there, make me see = show, don't tell.
- White space is your friend. Vary sentence length. MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) happens with huge blocks of type.
- Create some mystery in the lead that makes the reader want to move on. String pearls throughout the piece. Don't give everything away at the beginning.
- Include the name of the dog, or the type of car a person drives; they both tell you something about the person.
- If you read something you like, pull it apart, analyze it. Why is it so good. Why do you want to keep reading?
- Read your copy out loud. Always. If it's difficult for you, the writer, you can bet it will be for the reader.
From Pete Skiba:
OK. I know it isn't about writing, but without reporting, one can't write non-fiction. My Rutgers journalism teacher Jim Moffatt, from The Philadelphia Inquirer, always said, "Leave the truth to philosophers; Give me the facts."
From John Robinson, former editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina:
- The best writing is in rewriting.
- The key to good writing is better, deeper reporting.
Robinson says many of the best writing tips have come from Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark, particularly his “Fifty Writing Tools.” My favorites from this list include “Activate your verbs” (No. 3), “Watch those adverbs” (No. 5) and “Build your work around a key question” (No. 31).
From Steve Padilla, veteran editor at the Los Angeles Times (whose Twitter feed is dedicated to this subject):
Mark Twain once said: “Don’t say the lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”
Let us know your favorite writing tips; email me at email@example.com and I’ll share a few more in coming days.
Now, onto the stories that may affect you today:
COX TO MERGE? PARTNER? SELL?: Cox Enterprises says it is considering strategic options for its 14 TV stations, which reach 31 million people in nine states. The news comes as the FCC has asked for a review of one big merger — Sinclair Broadcasting with Tribune’s broadcasting properties.
THE LITTLE THINGS: Those are what's helping Capital Gazette survivors in their new temporary office. Reporter Danielle Ohl describes one of these moments, which might seem banal to others. But these days, four weeks after the mass shooting, "It’s so comforting for people to step out of the kitchen area and be like, ‘I’m going to make a pot, will everyone drink it?’” By Poynter’s Kristen Hare.
THE MOGUL OF MAINE: Reade Brower, who owns six of the state’s seven dailies, will have 19 weeklies with the purchase, announced Wednesday, of The Ellsworth American and the Mount Desert Islander. Terms of the sale, which closes Aug. 31, were not disclosed. Here’s my look at Brower from May.
DIGITAL LEAD: Troy Young, who has run Hearst Magazine’s digital operation for five years, has been named to run Hearst Magazines. That branch of the company has more than 300 print editions and 240 digital brands, Adweek reports.
NOT SELLING: Billionaire John Henry says he’s not selling The Boston Globe, despite continuing losses. That said, he expressed real frustration in an email to WGBH’s Dan Kennedy: “The Globe cannot ever seem to meet budgets — on either the revenue side or the expense side and I am not going to continue that. This has always been about sustainability rather than sizable, endless, annual losses. That is frustrating and due to a combination of mismanagement and a tough industry.”
NAMED: Gerry Shih of The Associated Press joins The Washington Post as its new China correspondent. ... WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti and NPR’s media reporter David Folkenflik will share hosting duties for NPR’s two-hour weekday talk show On Point; Chakrabarti will host Mondays through Thursdays, and Folkenflik on Fridays. … Sue Morrow, the Sacramento Bee’s assistant director of multimedia, will become editor of NPPA’s News Photographer magazine.
NEW MEDIA, NEW RULES?: TheSkimm has launched a campaign to get 100,000 women to vote this November. The digital and newsletter giant says it was prompted by polling it commissioned indicating 73 percent of female millennials are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, but only 46 percent are "absolutely certain" they’ll vote in November.
What we’re reading
ABANDONED ON THE BATTLEFIELD: They fought alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, battling terrorists. They were promised U.S. visas for their work. The Trump administration is not delivering, writes Priscilla Alvarez of The Atlantic.
WHAT HOMICIDE CASES ARE GETTING SOLVED?: In Boston, cases involving white victims have been solved at twice the rate of black victims, The Washington Post reports. It’s the biggest racial disparity found in data from 52 of America’s biggest cities. Here’s the story.
- Lessons in reaching new people, from a sold-out storytelling series. By Kristen Hare.
- The misleading photo carried by a TV station — and the lesson for all of us. By Al Tompkins.
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Have a great Thursday.