Angles, accuracy and attribution

Choosing an angle

Once you have returned from your interview(s), it is time to begin collating the information and choosing an angle, or the underlying theme in a story.

Often a reporter has to choose from several possible angles. These may be as simple as whether to pursue the human-interest angle or the hard-news angle, but are often much more complex.

The best way to illustrate different angles is to choose a major news story and see how it has been written up in a variety of publications. Unless a newspaper or news service has an exclusive (they are positive they have new information that has not previously been publicised), writers spend their time searching for a unique angle.

Often a writer can hang the story on the experiences of someone who is personally involved in the issue or event. This is called giving the story a human face. People relate better to other people and a story has more meaning to them if they can see the way its issues affect a fellow human being.

The experience of writing this type of news report is extremely valuable for students. It helps explain why news stories, and often historical documents, can include contradictory information.

The importance of accuracy

Accuracy and balance are paramount to responsible journalism. If a newspaper, knowingly or unknowingly, publishes fiction as fact, how can the public trust that what it reads every day is truthful? It is no good for a report to be interesting and well structured if it is incorrect.

You also have a responsibility to accurately record any quotes from the person you interview. Don’t put words in their mouths. It’s a great iea to tape interviews so you can play it back later to hear what they said. But don’t rely solely on a recorder – technology sometimes fails. It’s best to take a few notes as well. If you miss something important, ask them again to clarify. 

Structuring a news story

News reports are structured like an upside-down pyramid, with the most important and interesting facts in the first paragraph (also known as the intro or lead). News writers want to grab the readers’ attention and encourage them to read on.

Ideally, an intro should be under 25 words.

To emulate a journalist’s style, follow the KISS formula (Keep It Simple, Stupid). This does not mean journalists are dumb or have to write in primitive language to reach their audience, but they should make it as easy as possible for the reader to digest information.

Information should be presented in order of importance, and each paragraph should ‘stand alone’. Every sentence should have some information that adds to the story. There should be no repetition.

A fun exercise for primary-aged children is to have students recount one of their favourite nursery rhymes or childhood tales in a news structure, identifying the who, what, where, when, why and how.

Attribution

Many newspaper stories are based on interviews with news sources who are quoted directly or paraphrased in the story. It is important to carefully attach the sources’ names to their ideas. This is called attribution.

Quotes are an excellent way for journalists to build the tone of an article. While the writers themselves could be considered biased by using descriptive language and straying from the facts, news sources can more concisely describe the tone or attitude surrounding an article.

Direct quotations and paraphrased quotations are extremely important in news writing. Knowing how to punctuate quotations and correctly attribute information is essential.