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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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-
• 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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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’ 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.
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
A woman artist was on the run last night after threatening to shoot
three judges in the Royal Courts of Justice.
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.
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.
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
The President-elect also picked a fourth black and a second
Hispanic to join his top team.
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
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.
(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
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.
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.