News Writing Triage (2011)

How unexpected. While cleaning up old files, I found this list created on June 13, 2011, for tech-sector news reporters that I supervised. I wouldn’t make many changes more than eight years later—qualification: for organizations solely focused on breaking news that primarily is original content. Looking ahead to 2020, in a revised list meant for a broader scope of content creators, I would put considerably more emphasis on mainly generating original content—as you will see in a follow-up post closer to the new year.

The original list was supposed to be 25 items, but dumb-butt me made a mistake and wrote two different items for eighteen. I corrected the numbering, and now the list is twenty-six. I also made a change to the second-to-last. 

1. You live for scoops.

2. Scoops come before everything.

3. Breaking news comes before everything else. Postpone that interview or work on other stories.

4. For breaking news, it’s better to have three headlines than one story. Break up around topics.

5. Post fast instead of long. You can update or write new story later.

6. Accuracy trumps speed. It’s better to be right than to be first and wrong.

7. All news should be sourced, originally if possible.

8. Original sourcing trumps secondary sourcing unless you can’t get it. Make the call. Send the email. Do research.

9. Always credit first blog or news site reporting a story, especially scoops, even if you independently confirm. Link back.

10. For big news, posting with reliable secondary sourcing trumps waiting to get your own. Speed matters more.

11. You don’t write for a gossip rag. You should only write rumor stories when there is solid sourcing.

12. Solid sourcing is two independent sources, or more.

13. Give reported subjects opportunity to comment in response to stories.

14. Make the call for comment but don’t wait to get it. Post fast. You can add comment(s) later.

15. If you’re hours late on a story, do a second-day take. Don’t repeat what the rabble wrote. Fresh perspective is better for readers and SEO.

16. When given leaks always ask two questions when evaluating: Why? Who benefits?

17. You write for people not Google’s algorithm.

18. Google News is a drug. Break the habit. Rich, organic, consistent, and long-lasting incoming links are better.

19. Descriptive, traditional news headlines are archaic. Provocative is better.

20. When writing headlines, ask: Would I click on this? Would my father or mother? If answer is no, write it again.

21. People have short attention spans. Get to the point in the first three paragraphs.

22. Photos make stories visually enticing and offer extra SEO kick.

23. Use charts whenever possible for stories with lots of numbers.

24. Engage readers by making them part of the story. Ask them to comment or use their comments from other stories.

25. Use social media to engage readers and to promote stories. Like, Tweet and Slashdot share. Comment and link back.

26. Keep your deadlines.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk