On the surface, defining news is a simple task. News is an account of what is happening around us. It may involve current events, new initiatives or ongoing projects or issues. But a newspaper does not only print news of the day. It also prints background analysis, opinions, and human interest stories.
Choosing what's news can be harder. The reporter chooses stories from the flood of information and events happening in the world and in their community. Stories are normally selected because of their importance, emotion, impact, timeliness and interest. All these factors do NOT have to coincide in each and every story!
Hard news (+/- 600 words): This is how journalists refer to news of the day. It is a chronicle of current events/incidents and is the most common news style on the front page of your typical newspaper.
It starts with a summary lead. What happened? Where? When? To/by whom? Why? (The journalist's 5 W's). It must be kept brief and simple, because the purpose of the rest of the story will be to elaborate on this lead.
Keep the writing clean and uncluttered. Most important, give the readers the information they need. If the federal government announced a new major youth initiative yesterday, that's today's hard news.
Soft news (+/-600 words): This is a term for all the news that isn't time-sensitive. Soft news includes profiles of people, programs or organizations.
Feature (+/-1500 words): A news feature explores an issue. News features are less time-sensitive than hard news but no less newsworthy. They can be an effective way to write about complex issues too large for the terse style of a hard news item. Street kids are a perfect example. The stories of their individual lives are full of complexities which can be reflected in a longer piece.
Features are full of interesting people, ideas, color, lights, action and energy. A good feature is about the people in your community and their struggles, victories and defeats. A feature takes a certain angle (i.e. Black youth returning to church) and explores it by interviewing the people involved and drawing conclusions from that information. The writer takes an important issue of the day and explains it to the reader through comments from people involved in the story.
Remember to "balance" your story. Present the opinions of people on both sides of an issue and let the readers make their own decision on who to believe. No personal opinions are allowed. The quotes from the people you interview make up the story. You are the narrator.
Editorial: The editorial expresses an opinion. The editorial page of the newspaper lets the writer comment on issues in the news. All editorials are personal but the topics must still be relevant to the reader.
Structure of a news story
The structure of a news story (hard & soft news & features) is simple: a lead and the body.
The lead One of the most important elements of news writing is the opening paragraph or two of the story. Journalists refer to this as the "lead," and its function is to summarize the story and/or to draw the reader in.
The body The body of the story involves combining the opinions of the people you interview, some factual data, and a narrative which helps the story flow. In this style of writing, you are not allowed to "editorialize" (state your own opinion) in any way.
Remember: the role of a reporter is to find out what people are thinking of an issue and to report the opinions of different stakeholders of an issue. These comments make up the bulk of the story. The narrative helps to weave the comments into a coherent whole.