Well-written news reports are quick, they're hard-hitting and they're filled with facts that matter to the readers, usually in a limited word count. Reporters write news reports by leading with the most important information up front and by dedicating themselves to accuracy. Regardless of media, solid news reports share certain criteria in common. They are well-researched, have a strong lead, contain supporting facts and details, are newsworthy and are organized to give the reader the most important facts first.
Gather the Facts
The writing of a news report begins long before the first word is put to paper. It starts with solid reporting and research. Compile the known facts in an outline form for organization and to make it easier to write, clean, succinct copy later. Take the time to reach out to sources who can corroborate or substantiate the facts and provide first-hand information. The News Manual, an online source for professional journalists, the media and news reporters, recommends contacting other journalists, primary sources -- someone directly involved in the event being covered -- written sources, leaked documents, secondary sources and tip-offs. Choose the article's sources well, and then prepare for the interview by developing insightful questions. Take accurate notes when conducting an interview. Many reporters opt to record their interviews for complete accuracy and quotes.
Writing the Lead
The article's lead must grab and engage the reader immediately. As the first sentence, it should convey the topic of the report. But some leads may pick a particular angle to grab attention or use an anecdote to make the story more relatable to the reader. Write your lead in active voice using strong verbs and vivid language. Use as few words as possible; good leads typically have only 25 to 30 words. The story requires a quick and concise introduction as it sets the stage to deliver the promise created by the lead and headline. Overall, a solid news article answers the questions of who, what, where, when, why and how.
The Correct Facts
Ohlone College teaches that the ABCs of news writing are accuracy, brevity and clarity -- with accuracy at the top of the list. "A story can be creative and compelling, but if it contains errors, it is worthless. Actually, it is worse than worthless; a false news story undercuts the public trust necessary for the survival of a free press." Facts trump everything else -- writing style, narrative or previous reports. Check and double-check each of your facts. Attribute facts accurately, as well as any information that is a matter of someone's opinion. It is especially important that you get names right.
Making it Newsworthy
The key to writing a successful news report beings with knowing why the story is important and who its audience is. When writing a news article, think about what you audience already knows. Figure out why they care about the story you plan to write. If you are writing a sports report, put it in context for fans -- explain why this particular game matters. If you are writing about a debate on a tax increase, explain who is affected by it, its overall impact and the actual amount of the increase. If you are covering a crime story, cite where it occurred and who was involved. Elements that make a story newsworthy include when it occurs, how close it is to the reader, how much it affects people, how prominent it is and whether it has human interest elements. Identify these things in your story to ensure you include them in the article.
Organizing the Copy
News reports have a slightly different format than most other narratives or academic reports. News reports use an inverted pyramid style in which the most important information is given first. Important details follow with supporting and background information given later in the story. At the end, include any contact information the reader may need. Do not bring your personal opinion to bear in a news article, remain objective and let the facts and the participants tell the story. Avoid making statements that may be construed as editorial opinions, overtly negative or in support of or against the issues.
As a professional writer since 1985, Bridgette Redman's career has included journalism, educational writing, book authoring and training. She's worked for daily newspapers, an educational publisher, websites, nonprofit associations and individuals. She is the author of two blogs, reviews live theater and has a weekly column in the "Lansing State Journal." She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University.