Writing a News Article: Getting the Story Right

Competition, deadlines, and covering multiple stories in a limited amount of time means journalists often have to rush to complete stories. But getting stories right is more important than completing them in a timely fashion.

Assuring information is correct in a story should be the first priority of a journalist. The importance of this is evident in that a journalist would not want to be known as someone who disseminates inaccurate or incomplete information.

But aside from a matter of personal pride, incorrect information in a story can have a far greater impact. At best, errors in a story may lead to a retraction, an embarrassment for both the writer and publication they work for. More serious mistakes often lead to termination of employment and/or legal action.

Below are a few of the questions journalists should ask themselves to assure information is correct:

  • Have sources and information in a story been verified? Someone can claim to be an expert on an issue, but unless that is verified, journalists place themselves at risk. The same holds true for documenting information. Failing to do so opens the door for lawsuits if information is proven to be false or liable.
  • Does a story have more than one source? A news story with only one source often will not include a complete presentation of an event. It is important to have more than one speaker in a story to assure all perspectives of an issue are being shared, along with making the story more interesting.
  • Are both sides of an issue presented? Stories in which a candidate’s opponent is not given an opportunity to respond or a defendant’s attorney is not quoted do not provide a complete picture. In short, such stories amount to a one-sided review because they do not allow all individuals named in a story an opportunity to defend their position.

Along with the above questions that journalists should ask themselves, there are considerations in making sure stories are not only right, but also balanced:

  • A news story should never editorialize. Editorials are reserved for the editorial page. It is not a reporter’s job to share their opinion or bias, only to present the facts and let readers decide what they believe.
  • A journalist should never invent sources, embellish information, or report something as being different from what they know it to be. Creating a source is not the same as giving someone a different name in a story to protect their identity (with the change noted).
  • Anonymous sources are invaluable, but their contributions should always be confirmed by someone who is willing to go on the record. If information provided by an anonymous source cannot be verified by another individual, it should not be included in a news story.

Keeping news stories accurate and balanced is not difficult, and is actually easier than avoiding grammatical errors or unintentional omissions of information. The key is remembering what is involved in creating a story that is balanced and avoids a temptation to editorialize.

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