There are a few basics every writer should hone in order to work their way up to bigger and better writing projects. These tips serve as a checklist for outlining a strong news or magazine article.
Before interviewing any of your main sources, you need to do some pre-reporting. Pre-reporting, as many of my journalism professors called it, is simply a way of getting background information, which you can do by reading past documents.
Living in the age of Google means there’s no excuse for not doing your homework on a story.
For example, I’m working on an article about a music producer who is known for a particular style. I researched the music genre, read about its history and made a list of the major record labels that are currently promoting it. All of this information is not directly tied into the story about this music producer, but I need to know it if I am to write about this person in a way that makes sense.
Once you know the background of a story, you need to decide on your angle. In other words, it may be a good idea to write about global warming for an environmental magazine, but that’s just an idea. An angle requires a more specific thought. An example would be, How Global Warming is influencing the U.S. Market. You should be able to tell what your story is about in a single specific sentence. One way to come up with an angle is to map it out. Of course, if you’ve done some solid pre-reporting, you probably won't have to do that.
It’s also quite important to have a good idea of what kind of questions you will ask your main sources. I don’t think you can have a final list of questions for an interview. I do believe that you should go into an interview with a good idea about what you will cover.
Prepare some questions to get your interview going. Similarly, don’t be afraid to delve further, when the situation presents itself.
When you work on a story, remember that you may only have to use three sources, but you should interview more than that, if time permits. Also, don’t stick to easy-access interviews. Find the best possible people who will communicate what the story is about to your readers.
Part of good interviewing is observation. What you observe during an interview can be as important as what the interviewee says or doesn’t say.
Teach yourself to be acutely aware of how the interviewee behaves, dresses, and acts. There are cases, specifically when working on a profile, when this kind of attention to detail is invaluable. Such attention has become the mark of great writers like Gay Talese.
One of the most important parts of writing a story is identifying the main story points. Now, the outline will be different for a news and magazine story. A news story requires the most important information first. A magazine article gives the writer some time to expound.
The one thing that’s constant is the importance of major story points. These are the three or four major details of a story that serve as a framework for the beginning, middle and end.
Don’t tell your reader about how much money a foundation you’re covering raises each year. Instead, find a person that benefits from said foundation and describe how they benefit.
Showing versus telling is the most basic and one of the more difficult tips to follow. Practice is the best way to figure out when to use it, and ledes (the first paragraph of a news story that describes the who, what, where, when, why and how) are always a good place to start. Check some web-magazines like Brainfalls to find inspiration on topic and style.
This is a great way to draw a reader into a story. It also encourages readers to keep reading.