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How to write a news article about an event

how to write a press release for journalists and how to write a good newspaper article headline and how to write a news article outline
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Published Date:03-07-2017
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1 Introduction WHAT THIS BOOK IS This book is about the craft of journalistic writing: putting one word after another so that the reader gets the message – or the joke – goes on read- ing and comes back for more. Good writing is essential to journalism: without it important news, intriguing stories, insight and analysis, gossip and opinion could not reach their potential audience. Writing can also be a pleasure in itself: finding the right word, getting it to fit together with other words in a sentence, constructing a paragraph that conveys meaning and creates delight . . . There is pride in a well- written piece, in the positive feedback from editors, readers, fellow journalists. This book is a practical guide for those who write for publication, whether they are students, trainees or more experienced people. Though aimed at professionals, it should also be useful to those who write as a hobby, for propaganda purposes – or because they have a passionate love of writing. We have revised and updated the book for this second edition. The biggest change is that it now includes a separate chapter on writing online. We have tried to concentrate our advice on online writing in this one chapter rather than making frequent references to it in the other chapters. In revising the book we have kept most of the examples of good and bad practice that were included in the first edition: there seemed little point in replacing material that remains relevant.2 Introduction WHAT THIS BOOK IS NOT This is neither a book about journalism nor a careers guide for would-be journalists. It does not set out to survey the field, to describe the various jobs that journalists do in different media. Nor is it a review of the issues in journalism. It does not discuss privacy or bias or the vexed question of the ownership of the press. It does not try to answer the question: is journalism in decline? Thus it is unlikely to be adopted as a media studies textbook. It does not include broadcast journalism, though many of the points made also apply to TV and radio writing. It does not give detailed guidance on specialised areas such as sport, fashion, consumer and financial journalism. And it does not try to cover what might be called the public relations or propaganda sector of journalism, where getting a particular message across is the key. Magazines published by companies for their employees and customers, by charities for their donors and recipients, by trade unions and other organisations for their members – and all the other publications that are sponsored rather than market-driven – develop their own rules. Journalists who work in this sector learn to adapt to them. Except in passing this book does not tell you how to find stories, do research or interview people. Though subeditors – and trainee subs – should find it useful as a guide to rewriting, it does not pretend to be a sub’s manual. It does not tell you how to cut copy, write headlines or check proofs. It does not cover editing, design, media law . . . We make no apology for this. In our view writing is the key journalistic skill without which everything else would collapse. That is why we think it deserves a book of its own. WHO CARES ABOUT WRITING? This may look like a silly question: surely all journalists, particularly edi- tors, aspire to write well themselves and publish good writing? Alas, apparently not. The experience of some graduates of journalism courses in their first jobs is that much of what they learnt at college is neither valued nor even wanted by their editors and senior colleagues. Of course, this might mean that what was being taught at college, instead of being proper journalism, was some kind of ivory-tower nonsense – butIntroduction 3 the evidence is all the other way. British journalism courses are respon- sive to industry demands, vetted by professional training bodies – and taught by journalists. The problem is that many editors and senior journalists don’t seem to bother very much about whether their publications are well written – or even whether they are in grammatically correct English. As Harry Blamires wrote in his introduction to Correcting your English, a collection of mistakes published in newspapers and magazines: Readers may be shocked, as indeed I was myself, to discover the sheer quantity of error in current journalism. They may be aston- ished to find how large is the proportion of error culled from the quality press and smart magazines. Assembling the bad sentences together en masse brings home to us that we have come to tolerate a shocking degree of slovenliness and illogicality at the level of what is supposed to be educated communication. It’s true that some of what Blamires calls ‘error’ is conscious colloquialism but most of his examples prove his point: many editors don’t seem to bother very much about the quality of the writing they publish. Others, on the other hand, do. There is some excellent writing published in British newspapers and periodicals. And it is clear that it can help to bring commercial success. For example, the Daily Mail outsells the Daily Express, its traditional rival, for all sorts of reasons. One of them certainly is the overall quality and professionalism of the Mail’s writing. But if you’re a trainee journalist in an office where good writing is not valued, do not despair. Do the job you’re doing as well as you can – and get ready for your next one. The future is more likely to be yours than your editor’s. CAN WRITING BE TAUGHT? This is the wrong question – unless you’re a prospective teacher of jour- nalism. The question, if you’re a would-be journalist (or indeed any kind of writer), is: can writing be learnt? And the answer is: of course it can, providing that you have at least some talent and – what is more important – that you have a lot of determi- nation and are prepared to work hard. If you want to succeed as a writer, you must be prepared to read a lot, finding good models and learning from them; you must be prepared to4 Introduction think imaginatively about readers and how they think and feel rather than luxuriate inside your own comfortable world; you must be prepared to take time practising, experimenting, revising. You must be prepared to listen to criticism and take it into account while not letting it get on top of you. You must develop confidence in your own ability but not let it become arrogance. This book makes all sorts of recommendations about how to improve your writing but it cannot tell you how much progress you are likely to make. It tries to be helpful and encouraging but it does not pretend to be diagnostic. And – unlike those gimmicky writing courses advertised to trap the vain, the naive and the unwary – it cannot honestly ‘guarantee success or your money back’. GETTING DOWN TO IT Make a plan before you start Making a plan before you start to write is an excellent idea, even if you keep it in your head. And the longer and more complex the piece, the more there is to be gained from setting the plan down on paper – or on the keyboard. Of course you may well revise the plan as you go, particularly if you start writing before your research is completed. But that is not a reason for doing without a plan. Write straight onto the keyboard Unless you want to spend your whole life writing, which won’t give you much time to find and research stories – never mind going to the pub or practising the cello – don’t bother with a handwritten draft. Why intro- duce an unnecessary stage into the writing process? Don’t use the excuse that your typing is slow and inaccurate. First, obvi- ously, learn to touch-type, so you can write straight onto the keyboard at the speed at which you think. For most people this will be about 25 words a minute – a speed far slower than that of a professional copy typist. (There’s a key distinction here between the skills of typing and short- hand. As far as writing is concerned, there’s not much point in learning to type faster than 25wpm: accuracy is what counts. By contrast, theIntroduction 5 shorthand speeds that most journalism students and trainees reach if they work hard, typically 80–100wpm, are of limited use in getting down extensive quotes of normal speech. Shorthand really comes into its own above 100wpm.) Even if you don’t type very well, you should avoid the handwritten draft stage. After all, the piece is going to end up typed – presumably by you. So get down to it straightaway, however few fingers you use. Write notes to get started Some people find the act of writing difficult. They feel inhibited from starting to write, as though they were on a high diving board or the top of a ski run. Reporters don’t often suffer from this kind of writer’s block because, assuming they have found a story in the first place, the task of writing an intro for it is usually a relatively simple one. Note: not easy but simple, meaning that reporters have a limited range of options; they are not conventionally expected to invent, to be ‘creative’. One reason why journalists should start as reporters is that it’s a great way to get into the habit of writing. However, if you’ve not yet acquired the habit and tend to freeze at the keyboard, don’t just sit there agonising. Having written your basic plan, add further headings, enumerate, list, illustrate. Don’t sweat over the first paragraph: begin somewhere in the middle; begin with something you know you’re going to include, like an anecdote or a quote. You can reposition it later. Get started, knowing that on the keyboard you’re not committed to your first draft. Revise, revise Always leave yourself time to revise what you have written. Even if you’re writing news to a tight deadline, try to spend a minute or two looking over your story. And if you’re a feature writer or reviewer, revision is an essential part of the writing process. If you’re lucky, a competent subeditor will check your copy before it goes to press, but that is no reason to pretend to yourself that you are not responsible for what you write. As well as looking for the obvious – errors6 Introduction of fact, names wrong, spelling and grammar mistakes, confusion caused by bad punctuation – try to read your story from the reader’s point of view. Does it make sense in their terms? Is it clear? Does it really hit the target? Master the basics You can’t start to write well without having a grasp of the basics of English usage such as grammar, spelling and punctuation. To develop a journalistic style you will need to learn how to use quotes, handle reported speech, choose the right word from a variety of different ones. When should you use foreign words and phrases, slang, jargon – and what about clichés? What is ‘house style’? And so on. The basics of English and journalistic language are covered in a com- panion volume, English for Journalists. In this book we have in general tried not to repeat material included there. DIFFERENT KINDS OF PRINT JOURNALISM There are obviously different kinds of print journalism – thus different demands on the journalist as writer. Conventionally, people distinguish in market-sector terms between newspapers and periodicals, between upmarket (previously ‘broadsheet’) and downmarket (previously ‘tabloid’) papers, between consumer and business-to-business (from now on in this book called ‘b2b’) periodicals, and so on. Some of these conventional assumptions can be simplistic when applied to the way journalism is written. For example, a weekly b2b periodical is in fact a newspaper. In its approach to news writing it has as much in common with other weeklies – local newspapers, say, or Sunday newspa- pers – as it does with monthly b2b periodicals. Indeed ‘news’ in monthly publications is not the same thing at all. Second, while everybody goes on about the stylistic differences between the top and bottom ends of the newspaper market, less attention is paid to those between mid-market tabloids, such as the Mail, and the redtops, such as the Sun. Whereas features published by the Guardian are occa- sionally reprinted by the Mail (and vice versa) with no alterations to the text, most Mail features would not fit easily into the Sun. Third, in style terms there are surprising affinities that cross the conven- tional divisions. For example, the Sun and the Guardian both includeIntroduction 7 more jokes in the text and more punning headlines than the Mail does. Fourth, while Guardian stories typically have longer words, sentences and paragraphs than those in the Mail, which are in turn longer than those in the Sun, it does not follow, for example, that students and trainees who want to end up on the Guardian should practise writing at great length. Indeed our advice to students and trainees is not to begin by imitating the style of a particular publication – or even a particular type of publication. Instead we think you should try to develop an effective writing style by learning from the various good models available. We think that – whoever you are – you can learn from good newspapers and periodicals, whether upmarket or downmarket, daily, weekly or monthly. This book does not claim to give detailed guidance on all the possible permutations of journalistic writing. Instead we take the old-fashioned view that journalism students and trainees should gain a basic all-round competence in news and feature writing. Thus we cover the straight news story and a number of variations, but not foreign news as such, since trainees are unlikely to find themselves being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. Also, as has already been said, we do not set out to give detailed guidance on specialist areas such as financial and sports reporting. In features we concentrate on the basic formats used in newspapers, consumer magazines and the b2b press. And we include a chapter on reviewing because it is not a branch of feature writing but a separate skill which is in great demand. Reviews are written by all sorts of journalists including juniors and ‘experts’ who often start with little experience of writing for publication. We have taken examples from a wide range of publications and websites but we repeat: our intention is not to ‘cover the field of journalism’. In newspapers we have often used examples from the nationals rather than regional or local papers because they are more familiar to readers and easier to get hold of. In periodicals, too, we have tended to use the bigger, better-known titles. ONLINE JOURNALISM Does writing online require a brand-new set of techniques or merely the adaptation of traditional ones? Chapter 5 on writing online discusses how the basic writing skills apply – but need to be supplemented by new ones specific to the medium.8 Introduction STYLE In the chapters that follow the different demands of writing news, fea- tures and reviews – and writing online – are discussed separately. In the final chapter we look at style as such. We review what the experts have said about the principles of good journalistic writing and suggest how you can develop an effective style. For whatever divides the different forms of journalism there is such a thing as a distinctive journalistic approach to writing. Journalism – at least in the Anglo-Saxon tradition – is informal rather than formal; active rather than passive; a temporary, inconclusive, ad hoc, interim reaction rather than a definitive, measured statement. Journalists always claim to deliver the latest – but never claim to have said or written the last word. Journalism may be factual or polemical, universal or personal, laconic or ornate, serious or comic, but on top of the obvious mix of information and entertainment its stock in trade is shock, surprise, contrast. That is why journalists are always saying ‘BUT’, often for emphasis at the begin- ning of sentences. All journalists tell stories, whether interesting in themselves or used to grab the reader’s attention or illustrate a point. Journalists almost always prefer analogy (finding another example of the same thing) to analysis (breaking something down to examine it). Journalists – in print as well as broadcasting – use the spoken word all the time. They quote what people say to add strength and colour to obser- vation and they often use speech patterns and idioms in their writing. Journalists are interpreters between specialist sources and the general public, translators of scientific jargon into plain English, scourges of obfuscation, mystification, misinformation. Or they should be. A good journalist can always write a story short even if they would prefer to have the space for an expanded version. Thus the best general writing exercise for a would-be journalist is what English teachers call the precis or summary, in which a prose passage is reduced to a prescribed length. Unlike the simplest form of subediting, in which whole paragraphs are cut from a story so that its style remains unaltered, the precis involves condensing and rewriting as well as cutting. Introduction 9 Journalists have a confused and ambivalent relationship with up-to-date slang, coinages, trendy expressions. They are always looking for new, arresting ways of saying the same old things – but they do more than anybody else to ensure that the new quickly becomes the familiar. Thus good journalists are always trying (and often failing) to avoid clichés. Politicians, academics and other people who take themselves far too seriously sometimes criticise journalism for being superficial. In other words, they seem to be saying, without being deep it is readable. From the writing point of view this suggests that it has hit the target.2 Writing news WHAT IS NEWS? News is easy enough to define. To be news, something must be factual, new and interesting. There must be facts to report – without them there can be no news. The facts must be new – to your readers at least. And these facts must be likely to interest your readers. So if a historian makes a discovery about the eating habits of the ancient Britons, say, somebody can write a news story about it for the periodical History Today. The information will be new to its readers, though the people concerned lived hundreds of years ago. Then, when the story is published, it can be followed up by a national newspaper like the Daily Telegraph or the Sunday Mirror, on the assumption that it would appeal to their readers. Being able to identify what will interest readers is called having a news sense. There are all sorts of dictums about news (some of which con- tradict others): that bad news sells more papers than good news; that news is what somebody wants to suppress; that readers are most interested in events and issues that affect them directly; that news is essentially about people; that readers want to read about people like themselves; that readers are, above all, fascinated by the lives, loves and scandals of the famous . . . It may sound cynical but the most useful guidance for journalism students and trainees is probably that news is what’s now being published on the news pages of newspapers and magazines. In other words, whatever the guides and textbooks may say, what the papers actually say is more important.Writing news 11 Some commentators have distinguished between ‘hard’ news about ‘real’, ‘serious’, ‘important’ events affecting people’s lives and ‘soft’ news about ‘trivial’ incidents (such as a cat getting stuck up a tree and being rescued by the fire brigade). Those analysing the content of newspapers for its own sake may find this distinction useful, but in terms of journalistic style it can be a dead end. The fact is that there is no clear stylistic distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ news writing. It makes more sense to say that there is a mainstream, traditional approach to news writing – with a number of variants. The reporter may use one of these variants – the narrative style, say – to cover the rescue of a cat stuck up a tree or an exchange of fire in Afghanistan. Or they may decide, in either case, to opt for the traditional approach. In fact both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ news can be written either way. Since we’re talking definitions, why is a news report called a ‘story’? Elsewhere, the word means anecdote or narrative, fiction or fib – though only a cynic would say that the last two definitions tell the essential truth about journalism. In fact the word ‘story’ applied to a news report emphasises that it is a construct, something crafted to interest a reader (rather than an unstructured ‘objective’ version of the facts). In some ways the word is misleading since, as we shall see, a traditional news story does not use the narrative style. And, while we’re at it, what is an ‘angle’? As with ‘story’ the dictionary seems to provide ammunition for those hostile to journalism. An angle is ‘a point of view, a way of looking at something (informal); a scheme, a plan devised for profit (slang)’, while to angle is ‘to present (news, etc) in such a way as to serve a particular end’ (Chambers Dictionary, 10th edition, 2006). We can’t blame the dictionary for jumbling things together but there is a key distinction to be made between having a way of looking at something (essential if sense is to be made of it) and presenting news to serve a particular purpose (propaganda). Essentially, a news angle comes from the reporter’s interpretation of events – which they invite the reader to share. McDonald’s won a hollow victory over two Green campaigners yesterday after the longest libel trial in history. Daily Mail12 Writing news The word ‘hollow’, particularly combined with ‘longest’, shows that the reporter has a clear idea of what the story is. Advocates of ‘objective’ journalism may criticise this ‘reporting from a point of view’ – but nowadays all national papers do it. Victims of the world’s worst E coli food poisoning outbreak reacted furiously last night after the Scottish butcher’s shop which sold contaminated meat was fined just £2,250. Guardian That ‘just’ shows clearly what the reporter thinks of the fine. A QUICK WORD BEFORE YOU START It’s not original to point out that news journalism is all about questions: the ones you ask yourself before you leave the office or pick up the phone; the ones you ask when you’re interviewing and gathering material – above all, the ones your reader wants you to answer. Begin with the readers of your publication. You need to know who they are, what they’re interested in, what makes them tick. (For more on this see ‘Writing features’, pages 47–9.) Then what’s the story about? In some cases – a fire, say – the question answers itself. In others – a complicated fraud case – you may have to wrestle with the material to make it make sense. Never be afraid to ask the news editor or a senior colleague if you’re confused about what you’re trying to find out. Better a moment’s embar- rassment before you start than the humiliation of realising, after you’ve written your story, that you’ve been missing the point all along. The same applies when you’re interviewing. Never be afraid to ask apparently obvious questions – if you have to. The trick, though, is to be well briefed – and then ask your questions. Try to know more than a reporter would be expected to know. But don’t parade your knowledge: ask your questions in a straightforward way. Challenge when necessary, probe certainly, interrupt if you have to – but never argue when you’re interviewing. Be polite, firm, controlled, profes- sional. It may sound old-fashioned but you represent your publication and its readers. Routine is vital to news gathering. Always read your own publication – and its rivals – regularly; maintain your contacts book and diary;Writing news 13 remember to ask people their ages if that is what the news editor insists on. Above all, when interviewing, get people’s names right. Factual accuracy is vital to credible news journalism. A bright and clever story is worse than useless if its content is untrue: more people will read it – and more people will be misinformed. NEWS FORMULAS The two most commonly quoted formulas in the traditional approach to news writing are Rudyard Kipling’s six questions (sometimes abbreviated to the five Ws) and the news pyramid (usually described as ‘inverted’). The six questions Kipling’s six questions – who, what, how, where, when, why – provide a useful checklist for news stories, and it’s certainly possible to write an intro that includes them all. The textbook example is: Lady Godiva (WHO) rode (WHAT) naked (HOW) through the streets of Coventry (WHERE) yesterday (WHEN) in a bid to cut taxes (WHY). This is facetiously called the clothesline intro – because you can hang everything on it. There is nothing wrong with this particular example but there is no reason why every news intro should be modelled on it. Indeed some intros would become very unwieldy if they tried to answer all six questions. In general, the six questions should all be answered somewhere in the story – but there are exceptions. For example, in a daily paper a reporter may have uncovered a story several days late. They will try to support it with quotes obtained ‘yesterday’; but there is no point in emphasising to readers that they are getting the story late. So the exact date on which an event took place should not be given unless it is relevant. In weekly papers and periodicals ‘this week’ may be relevant; ‘last week’ as a regular substitute for the daily paper’s ‘yesterday’ is usually pointless. Even worse is ‘recently’, which carries a strong whiff of staleness and amateurism – best left to the club newsletter and the parish magazine. So the six questions should be kept as a checklist. When you’ve written a news story, check whether you’ve failed to answer one of the questions –14 Writing news and so weakened your story. But if there is no point in answering a particular question, don’t bother with it. Two of these questions – who and what – are obviously essential. In all news intros somebody or something must do or experience something. A useful distinction can be made between ‘who’ stories, in which the focus is on the person concerned, and ‘what’ stories, which are dominated by what happens. As we shall see, drawing this distinction can help you decide whether or not to include a person’s name in an intro. The news pyramid This particular pyramid is not quite as old as the ancient Egyptians. But as a formula for analysing, teaching and practising news writing it goes back a long way. And the pyramid is certainly a useful idea (the only mystery is why most commentators insist on ‘inverting’ it – turning it upside down – when it does the job perfectly well the right way up). The purpose of the pyramid is to show that the points in a news story are made in descending order of importance. News is written so that readers can stop reading when they have satisfied their curiosity – without worrying that something important is being held back. To put it another way, news is written so that subeditors can cut stories from the bottom up – again, without losing something important. As we shall see, some stories don’t fit the pyramid idea as well as others – but it remains a useful starting point for news writing. INTROS 1: TRADITIONAL The news intro should be able to stand on its own. Usually one sentence, it conveys the essence of the story in a clear, concise, punchy way: general enough to be understood; precise enough to be distinguished from other stories. It should contain few words – usually fewer than 30, often fewer than 20. First, decide what your story is about: like any other sentence a news intro has a subject. Then ask yourself two questions: why this story now? And how would you start telling your reader the story if you met them in the pub? The intro is your chance to grab your reader’s attention so that they read the story. If you fail, the whole lot goes straight in the bin.Writing news 15 The intro should make sense instantly to your reader. Often it should say how the story will affect them, what it means in practice. And always prefer the concrete to the abstract. • Don’t start with questions or with things that need to be explained – direct quotes, pronouns, abbreviations (except the most com- mon). • Don’t start with things that create typographical problems – figures, italics, direct quotes again. • Don’t start with things that slow the sentence – subordinate clauses, participles, parentheses, long, difficult, foreign words. • Don’t start with when and where, how and why. • Do start with a crisp sentence in clear English that tells the whole story vividly. When you’ve written the whole story, go back and polish your intro; then see if you can use it to write a working news headline. That will tell you whether you’ve still got more work to do. Who or what? If everybody were equal in news terms, all intros might be general and start: ‘A man’, ‘A company’, ‘A football team’. Alternatively, they might all be specific and start: ‘Gordon Brown’/‘John Evans’; ‘ICI’/‘Evans Hairdressing’; ‘Arsenal’/‘Brize Norton Rangers’. Between ‘A man’ and ‘Gordon Brown’/‘John Evans’ there are various steps: ‘A Scottish MP’ is one; ‘A New Labour minister’/‘An Islington hairdresser’ another. Then there’s the explaining prefix that works as a title: ‘New Labour leader Gordon Brown’/‘Islington hairdresser John Evans’ (though some upmarket papers still refuse to use this snappy ‘tabloid’ device). But the point is that people are not equally interesting in news terms. Some are so well known that their name is enough to sell a story, however trivial. Others will only get into the paper by winning the national lottery or dying in a car crash. Here is a typical WHO intro about a celebrity – without his name there would be no national paper story: 16 Writing news Comic Eddie Izzard fought back when he was attacked in the street by an abusive drunk, a court heard yesterday. Daily Mail Note the contrast with: A crown court judge who crashed his Range Rover while five times over the drink-drive limit was jailed for five months yesterday. Daily Telegraph A crown court judge he may be – but not many Telegraph readers would recognise his name: it is his occupation not his name that makes this a front-page story. And finally the anonymous figure ‘A man’ – his moment of infamy is entirely due to what he has done: A man acquitted of murder was convicted yesterday of harassing the family of a police officer who helped investigate him. Guardian So the first question to ask yourself in writing an intro is whether your story is essentially WHO or WHAT: is the focus on the person or on what they’ve done? This helps to answer the question: does the person’s name go in the intro or is their identification delayed to the second or third par? Local papers tend to have stories about ‘an Islington man’ where the nationals prefer ‘a hairdresser’ and b2b papers go straight to ‘top stylist John Evans’. On the sports page both locals and nationals use ‘Arsenal’ and their nickname ‘the Gunners’ (or ‘Gooners’). In their own local paper Brize Norton Rangers may be ‘Rangers’; but when they play Arsenal in the FA Cup, to everybody else they have to become some- thing like ‘the non-League club Brize Norton’ or ‘non-Leaguers Brize Norton’. When? There is an exception to the general rule that you shouldn’t begin by answering the WHEN question: Two years after merchant bank Barings collapsed with £830m losses, it is back in hot water. Daily MailWriting news 17 If starting this way gives the story a strong angle, by all means do it. (And the same argument could apply to WHERE, HOW and WHY – but such occasions are rare.) After ‘After’ is a useful way of linking two stages of a story without having to say ‘because’. Always use ‘after’ rather than ‘following’ to do this: it is shorter, clearer – and not journalistic jargon. A Cambridge student who killed two friends in a drunken car crash left court a free man yesterday after a plea for clemency from one of the victims’ parents. Guardian In this case the judge may have been influenced by the plea for clemency – but even if he was, that would still not enable the reporter to say ‘because’. A woman artist was on the run last night after threatening to shoot three judges in the Royal Courts of Justice. Daily Mail Here the first part of the intro is an update on the second. In some stories the ‘after’ links the problem with its solution: A six-year-old boy was rescued by firemen after he became wedged under a portable building being used as a polling station. Daily Telegraph In others the ‘after’ helps to explain the first part of the intro: An aboriginal man was yesterday speared 14 times in the legs and beaten on the head with a nulla nulla war club in a traditional pun- ishment after Australia’s courts agreed to recognise tribal justice. Guardian Sometimes ‘after’ seems too weak to connect the two parts of an intro: Examiners were accused of imposing a ‘tax on Classics’ yesterday after announcing they would charge sixth formers extra to take A-levels in Latin and Greek. Daily Mail18 Writing news It is certainly true that A happened after B – but it also happened because of B. There should be a stronger link between the two parts of the intro. One point or two? As far as possible, intros should be about one point not two, and certainly not several. The double intro can sometimes work: Bill Clinton has completed his selection of the most diverse Cabinet in US history by appointing the country’s first woman law chief. The President-elect also picked a fourth black and a second Hispanic to join his top team. Daily Mail Here the Mail reporter (or sub) has divided the intro into two separate pars. It’s easier to read this way. Australian Lucas Parsons equalled the course record with a nine- under-par 64, but still could not quite take the spotlight away from Tiger Woods in the first round of the Australian Masters in Melbourne yesterday. Daily Telegraph Yes, it’s a bit long but the reporter just gets away with it. Everybody is expecting to read about current hero Tiger Woods but here’s this sen- sation – a course record by a little-known golfer. In some stories the link between two points is so obvious that a concise double intro is probably the only way to go. In the two examples below ‘both’ makes the point: Battersea’s boxing brothers Howard and Gilbert Eastman both maintained their undefeated professional records at the Elephant and Castle Leisure Centre last Saturday. Wandsworth Borough Guardian Loftus Road – owner of Queens Park Rangers – and Sheffield United both announced full-year operating losses. Guardian (Obvious or not, the link does give problems in developing the story – see ‘Splitting the pyramid,’ pages 33–5.) Writing news 19 The main cause of clutter in news stories is trying to say too much in the intro. This makes the intro itself hard to read – and the story hard to develop clearly. Here is a cluttered intro: Marketing junk food to children has to become socially unaccept- able, a leading obesity expert will say today, warning that the food industry has done too little voluntarily to help avert what a major report this week will show is a ‘far worse scenario than even our gloomiest predictions’. Guardian The problem here is that the reporter wants to link two apparently unconnected statements on the same subject – which is fair enough in the story but certainly not in the intro where it can only confuse. The natural place to end the intro is after ‘will say today’. That would leave it clear and concise. Instead the sentence meanders on with the ‘warning’ followed by the doom-laden ‘major report’. But what’s being asserted is not ‘warning’ at all – ‘warning’ here is journalese for saying/claiming etc. Then there’s the word ‘voluntarily’ – which adds nothing to ‘done too little’; there’s ‘help’ – which is unnecessary; there’s ‘major’ – journalese again (whoever heard of a ‘minor’ report?); and there’s the word ‘show’, which implies endorse- ment of the report’s findings instead of merely describing them. Finally we get to the ‘scenario’ and the gloomy predictions. A sentence that starts with a simple message in clear ordinary language – ‘stop marketing junk food to children’ – degenerates into clumsily expressed, convoluted jargon. As and when ‘As’ is often used in intros to link two events that occur at the same time: A National Lottery millionaire was planning a lavish rerun of her wedding last night as a former colleague claimed she was being denied her rightful share of the jackpot. Daily Telegraph This approach rarely works. Here the main point of the story is not A (the planned second wedding) but B (the dispute) – as is shown by the fact that the next 10 pars develop it; the 11th par covers the wedding plans; and the final four pars return to the dispute.