Feature stories / reporting / structure / style

Class, to those of you who fully reported and carefully wrote the text of your feature stories, bravo!

But to those of you who ran out of time with the reporting, had trouble nailing down central sources, or had problems organizing and structuring your stories: All is not lost.

The reason I edit the text first -- before you build out your projects with visuals and interactives -- is so that you can clean it up before you build it out for the larger grade.

Some common mistakes/problems:

1. Don't make sweeping generalizations that you don't back up with your reporting. Take out statements you can't support. Or continue reporting.

2. Don't rely on other published stories to make your case. This is a reporting and writing assignment; you're not writing literature reviews for research papers. Don't quote the Diamondback, for instance, when you could have just as easily called the source the Diamondback interviewed and done your own interview. I should be seeing multiple sources with different perspectives in your stories -- not one source and references to lots of previously published work by other reporters.

3. Don't use cliches--unless you're turning them on their head. Cliches represent lazy writing. Say it more originally in your own words.

4. Don't lead with an anecdote or scene setter that has nothing to do with the main point of your story. The opening scene or anecdote should exemplify the main point of your story.

5. Don't bury your nut paragraphs (or, worse yet, fail to give them at all). On stories of the length you've been given, I should be seeing a nut graph (or delayed lead) by the third of fourth graph. This nut graph should telegraph the main points of your story -- so I'll know why I should stay with it. If it doesn't, re-work the story.

6. After you've written the opening and nut graphs, elaborate on those main points in the body of your story. This should be done through a combination of declarative statements (telling) and quotes and examples (showing). Alternate long sentences with short, to improve story flow. Use simple words and sentences, when possible. Use active voice and active verbs.

7. Provide readers a transitional phrase or sentence when you're switching speakers or thoughts.

8. Try to come full circle, with a closing that circles back to people or scenes from your opening anecdote.

9. Focus your story. Don't make five points that are thinly reported, when you could make two or three strong points that are well reported and fleshed out.

10. Don't bite off a topic that's too huge to fully report in a couple of weeks. To write a trend story documenting all the restaurant openings and closings on Route 1 might take weeks or even months to fully report and write, but to write about one restaurant's failure and re-birth could be done in the allotted time.

11. Refer to your AP stylebook for print. My best advice is: If you're not sure of how a term should be written, look it up. I will also pass out on Wednesday an AP style crib sheet that I give out to students in JOUR 201. If your 201 teacher didn't stress AP style, the sheet should help now.

12. Leave time to pre-edit your own work. If it doesn't make sense to you, it certainly won't to someone else. Read it out loud. If you trip over your own words, you likely need to keep simplifying.

Hope that helps, Chris