Writing News Articles, www.EFLsuccess.com
Unit 17 of my book, Successful Writing for the Real World, presents how to write news articles. Today, “the news” is often an attempt to persuade the reader by presenting the author’s (or editor’s) side of a story, but when I studied journalism, the goal was to present unbiased information. I have posted this chapter here, in part, to supplement my Movie Study Guide for the Narnia films, and partially to help students learn how to understand a well-written news article. In the sample article (about the first Narnia film), line numbers were added to make the sample easier to use in class.
Successful Writing for the Real World, 2008, by DeWitt Scott & Michael Krigline; Foreign Language Teaching and Resource Press (外语教学与研究出版社), ISBN: 978-7-5600-7264-7
17.2. Writing News articles
7.2a. Present facts according to their importance
The reader’s need for quick, objective information governs the format of a news article. Start with the most important information, and then organize other things with decreasing importance. Ding Yan-ren calls this the “inverted pyramid” format. Journalists arrange facts from most to least significant because they know readers will only read until their information-needs are met; the writer also knows that editors start cutting from the bottom of an article to make the piece fit whatever space is available. Since there is no way to know how long your article will appear in print, there is no need to write a conclusion. (This is a major difference between news articles and other forms of English writing.)
The title, subtitle (if present) and opening paragraph provide the most important facts and themes about your news item. All of the main ideas should be given in the first two or three paragraphs. The article then flows between these ideas, giving a less important detail each time.
7.2b. Report objectively, and use short, focused paragraphs
Newspaper reporters are supposed to report facts, not tell their impressions or explain anything. Avoid explanatory transitions like “therefore” or “in addition.” Words like “seem” and “ought” also show opinions not facts, as do many adjectives (“hardworking” students) and comments like “now there is no problem” or “it looks like everyone is happy.” A phrase like “It is said” shows that you did not work to verify your facts. When you need to report a subjective idea (like “hardworking students” or “everyone was happy”), do it by quoting a participant or authority.
Present the news objectively. If you are reporting on something controversial, you need to present both sides fairly. Avoid biased words that favor one side or the other, and if you use a strong quote for one side, find a way to balance it. If written well, news articles don’t tell readers how the writer feels about the topic. (A writer’s opinion belongs in editorials or features, which we will examine in later lessons.)
Each paragraph is short and simple. Unlike normal English writing, news paragraphs often have only one or two sentences. These support paragraphs may not have a formal topic sentence, but each paragraph contains a single clear idea. Paragraph-to-paragraph progression must be logical, at least from the perspective of importance. Fluffy paragraphs with stacked prepositional phrases and colorful adjectives (“balmy spring days”) are even less appropriate in the news than they are elsewhere.
17.2c. News article–sample outline
- Headline, giving the topic and enough details to attract interested readers (sometimes followed by a subtitle)
- Introductory paragraph of one to three sentences, presenting the most important information and introducing main sub-points that will be developed later
- One or two short paragraphs containing the most important details or support points
- Additional short paragraphs with brief support or details related to the topics presented in the first three paragraphs (starting with the most important information, and then decreasing in importance)
17.2d. News article: an example and guided learning exercise
To help us examine each type of journalistic writing presented in this book, we will look at articles that mention a popular movie. Each article is “newsworthy,” but each approaches the subject in a different way and for a different purpose. The first one is “straight” news, but you will read a related “feature article” and “editorial” in later lessons.
You will find a series of questions before and after each example. As you work on these exercises, they can guide you into a deeper understanding of journalistic writing.
Before you read the article, tell your partner what it will be about, based only on what the headline says.
(B) Sentences per paragraph
Notice that there are 14 paragraphs (plus the statistics at the end). Quickly look for periods—how many sentences do most paragraphs have?
Read the article, underlining any unknown words. Can you guess the words from the context? Several of this lesson’s vocabulary words appear in this article (listed here with the line they appear in): fantasy (title, 3, 17, 34), box office (title, 9, 37), blockbuster (3), propaganda (14), to boycott (14), protestors (28), to betray (30), disguise (31).
- Narnia fans put fantasy first at box office
- (December 13, 2005)
- 1 A movie about Narnia, where magic brings four children to
- help talking animals fight an evil witch, became the latest
- 3 fantasy blockbuster with a $67 million opening weekend. While
- organizers celebrate, some groups protest that the film carries
- 5 a hidden religious message.
- Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch
- 7 and the Wardrobe, based on a popular book series by British
- author C.S. Lewis, broke onto the charts with $67.1 million,
- 9 taking the weekend’s top spot according to box office trackers.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire slipped to third place
- 11 with $10.3 million for the weekend, after spending two weeks
- at the top.
- 13 But some non-religious groups have attacked Narnia as
- Christian propaganda, and they urge parents to boycott the
- 15 film.
- Ticket sales indicate that many parents aren’t listening.
- 17 Narnia is the third fantasy series to leap from book to
- screen in recent years, following Harry Potter and The Lord of
- 19 the Rings. The seven Narnia books have sold over 85 million
- copies since their introduction in the 1950s.
- 21 The movie opens with bombs dropping on London. Two
- brothers and two sisters escape World War II, but soon cross
- 23 into a magic world to become central figures in a fight between
- a kingly lion (with other beasts) and an icy witch.
- 25 Based on a children’s novel by Oxford University Professor
- C.S. Lewis, the film is full of strong Christian themes—such as
- 27 the symbolic Christ character portrayed by the heroic lion
- Aslan, according to protesters.
- 29 One anti-Narnia website declares, “The lion gives his life
- for someone who betrays others and then comes back to life; if
- 31 that is not Jesus in disguise then I don’t know what is.”
- Pro-Narnia fans say the books have been popular (in 29
- 33 languages) with both religious and non-religious people
- because the fantasy emphasizes family love and the idea that
- 35 everyone should live in harmony.
- Theater owners welcomed The Chronicles of Narnia,
- 37 hoping that it will end a negative box-office trend that has left
- attendance down 7 percent compared to last year.
- 39 Right behind Narnia comes King Kong, Peter Jackson’s
- first movie since The Lord of the Rings.
- 41 “That’s great news for the movie industry,” said Paul
- Degas, president of the National Theater Owners Association.
- 43 “These two films are a badly needed Christmas present.”
- Estimated weekend ticket sales at U.S. and Canadian
- 45 theaters:
- 1. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, $67.1 million
- 2. Syriana, $12 million
- 3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, $10.3 million
- 4. Walk the Line, $5.75 million
- 5. Yours, Mine & Ours, $5.15 million
- 6. Aeon Flux, $4.6 million
- 7. Just Friends, $3.8 million
- 8. Pride & Prejudice, $2.6 million
- (391 words, plus ending statistics)
Note: Box office figures come from Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Author unknown (AP), “’Narnia’ storms into theaters with $65.6 million debut” (Los Angeles: Mercury News website, Dec 12, 2005, visited Dec 13, 2005) http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/states/california/ northern_california/13387707.htm. For additional sources, see “Narnia” in appendix section D2.
(D) Main points
(Work with your partner to write short answers for these questions.)
D1. Is the movie financially successful? How do you know?
D2. What is the complete name of the film?
D3. What is the controversy about?
D4. When the movie opened, what rank did it have at the box office? What had formerly been ranked number one?
D5. How many paragraphs did you need to look at in order to find all of the main points?
(Write short answers for these questions. “L” refers to the “line number” above.)
E1. What was the movie’s total estimated box office intake for its opening weekend? Did any other movie make anywhere near that amount of money? (L8, 11)
E2. What company is behind this movie? (L6)
E3. Who wrote the Narnia story and what do you know about him/her? (L7, 8, 25)
E4. What are some of the features of the Narnia story? (L1, 2, 3, 21-24, 27, 28, 29, 30)
E5. Give some details about the controversy from the perspective of those against the film. (L5, 13-14, 27-31)
E6. Give some words or concepts that put weight on the other side of the controversy. (note: the movie’s success shows that a lot of people have no objection to the movie, and all the answers to E4 could be used to say this is a fantasy, not “religious propaganda”; also look at L16, 19-20, 32-35)
E7. What other movies are mentioned in the article? (L10, 18-19, 39-40)
E8. Toward the end, the author added three paragraphs that are not really about the Narnia film. What was the topic? (L36-43)
(F) Evaluation questions
F1. In question D5 you saw that you only needed to look in three paragraphs in order to find all of the main points? Why is this significant?
F2. In question E4 you noticed that details about the Narnia story are scattered. What does this tell us?
F3. The controversy was minor—that is, not many people objected to the movie, and the author uses only a few paragraphs (out of 14) to give details. What is the value of adding the idea of controversy to the opening paragraph?
F4. In E8, you noticed that three other movies are mentioned. Why is this important?
F5. What is the value or purpose of the “second story” you discovered when answering E8?
(G) Outline and summary
G1. Work with your partner to outline this article. (Use a sheet of paper that can be handed in to your teacher.) Try to reduce each paragraph to a short sentence or phrase. Can any of the paragraphs be combined in your outline?
G2. How does this outline differ from the other writing formats you have studied?
G3. Summarize this article in two sentences or less.
 Ding Yan-ren, English News Writing. (Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language and Education Press, 2004) 12.
(17) Type of Writing: News Articles—Vocabulary
Great online dictionary: https://www.ldoceonline.com/ (Note: my textbook has a glossary section in the back; students are asked to copy the definitions here before class.) Blue terms are in the sample article above.
- news article: ______________________________________________________
- editorial: ________________________________________________________
- feature article: ____________________________________________________
- slant: ___________________________________________________________
- the press: _______________________________________________________
- news release: ____________________________________________________
- libel: ____________________________________________________________
- hallmark: _________________________________________________________
- sentence case: ____________________________________________________
- title case: _______________________________________________________
- fantasy: ________________________________________________________
- box office: ______________________________________________________
- blockbuster: _____________________________________________________
- propaganda: _____________________________________________________
- to boycott: ______________________________________________________
- protesters: ______________________________________________________
- to betray: _______________________________________________________
- disguise: (n or v) __________________________________________________
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