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The purpose of online writing
• To deliver essential information to its users in the most effective, elegant, and efficient manner. • It must inform quickly and simply, that it must be pleasing on the eye and make people want to return to the site time and time again. • It must be fast-loading and free of wasted words and padding.
The online journalist
1. The role is similar to that of any other journalist. 2. The journalistic rules are the same. 3. Platform is different You need web skills to present that information online. 4. You are dealing with facts. 5. Your sentences still need to make sense; they must have a subject, a verb, and an object. 6. You will be presenting the absolute essentials of a story 7. You will be asking the basic questions, who, why, where, when, what, and how 8. The story format will be pyramid journalism (writing that can be cut at any point and still make sense). This is for reasons that will be explained in the multiplatform authoring module.
Is your website a part of another media operation
• If the website you are working on is a stand-alone production (one that is not connected to another media operation) you will be free to present the information as you see fit, within your newsroom's editorial guidelines.
If the website you are working on is part of a larger media concern, you will be expected to reflect that media operation's newsgathering and news production strengths online. In more and more cases, websites function as part of a converged news operation. The aim is to reflect the news brand across all outlets, including online and other interactive platforms. In that case, you will need to come up with a persuasive reason for investing resources in covering different stories online than your news organisation is covering in print or on air. You will be expected to add value with content and functionality aimed at the online audience, but the user should find the same facts, tone and focus online as they do wherever your news organisation is delivering news content.
Role of news on web
• Your role is to include the elements that increase and enhance a user's understanding of a story, or enable that user to engage with you, and others, about the news item in ways that they can't on air or in print.
• There was a time when it was felt that one of the strengths of the internet was that it didn’t limit the journalists to a particular story length; journalists could write as much as they wanted. • All the column-inch restrictions that applied to print journalists, and the news bulletin time limits that applied to TV and radio were not relevant to online journalism. • This was and is true, but if that freedom is not managed properly, it can lead to lazy, indisciplined writing.
• News stories need to have a standard style, layout, and format. There will always be cases where longer, background features are needed in order to explore issues in-depth. However, hard news stories still have to be presented in tight, short-form writing. • The news stories need to follow a standard house style. There needs to be a consistency of presentation format so that the audience feels comfortable with what they are reading. You need to make sure you know your news organisation's house style. If it hasn't got one, volunteer to write one; it's important for consistency of approach.
Example of online news
Story Length and style
It is important that you learn to write as economically as possible with no unnecessary or wasted words.
Story Length and Style
• The ideal online news story will be in the region of 300-500 words. This is not a hard and fast rule, just a guide. Some stories will be a lot less, and some features and in-depth analysis pieces can be longer, but the basic news stories should remain short.
Story Length and Style
The use of CMS • The news operation you work for will probably have a newsroom CMS (or content management system), this is where you write your stories. Content Management System: Introductory Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzjqUHDVd_Y • There are usually boxes for the headline and summary, and another field for the rest of the story. There might be functions for adding images, audio and video, links, and text boxes. Some of the boxes, or fields, might have character limitations so that you can’t write too much. This will usually be because the content you write for the Web is also to be sent to other text-based platforms, such as SMS and WAP.
• The headline needs to make sense standing alone. It must not be a label. It will be a short sentence. This is not only good journalism, but it also means that your news organisation can use the material as a headline ticker on other platforms. For eg : Dozens killed in Afghan explosion • The first paragraph must not repeat the headline, but must add information without duplication. It must also work on its own and with the headline. Your news organisation might want to use this for an SMS service. For eg: A massive car bomb explosion in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar has killed at least 30 people.
• You might find that your news organisation has arranged the CMS so that the headline and summary of your story automatically publishes on the index page of the section you are working in, or the front page of the site.
• The next part of the story will be a series of paragraphs, each adding more and more essential facts to the story. By the time you have written 100 words you should have presented the main elements of the story.
• • Eg of first 100 words Dozens more were hurt as buildings collapsed in the attack in the centre of the city, doctors said. The explosion took place shortly after the first results were announced in the presidential election. Earlier a bomb killed four US soldiers, making 2009 the deadliest year for foreign troops since the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban. Election attacks No-one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack in Kandahar, which is a stronghold of the Taliban. There have been a number of attacks in the city this year.
• The remaining 400 words can be used to add value, including quotes, statistics, and analysis. • Many people choose to write sentence-long paragraphs for the web. There is no hard and fast rule. Some feel the breaks make it easier on the eye; others elect to stick with conventional paragraphs. You will need to adapt to the house style of the site you are working on.
• ‘Once again they've killed children, women, innocent Afghans. They are not human. They are animals. ‘ • Mohammad Sher Shah, deputy provincial police chief
• If you feel your story is worth more than 500 words, and can only be told properly in 1,500, it might be worth laying out all the facts and seeing whether you can deconstruct the story into small, but related, component parts.
• Deconstructing a longer news story is an important technique for the online journalist. • It means that they can still offer the core facts of the story in 500 words, but they can also offer links to separate stories, which offer further explanation of elements within the main story. It also means that the user is not faced with too much text, and it breaks the text into manageable chunks.
• It also makes business sense. If you are working on a commercial news site, and the income is generated from adverts placed on the site, the deconstruction of the story creates more opportunities for the positioning of adverts
Story Deconstruction: A tool for explaing
• Each part of the deconstructed story will have its own headline and these headlines can be flagged up in the main story (and each part of the deconstructed story) as related news items. Story deconstruction enables you to show the basic essential elements of the news item in the main story, while, at the same time, offering you a tool for explaining the more complex issues in what some people call, ‘side bars’.
Facts not padding
• In a media world where many news organisations are creating content once for multiple outlets, the days of producing long unwieldy text for news stories are past. • Features are different, but journalists writing news stories need to keep their writing crisp and tight.
Facts not padding
• For the user, time often costs money. They will not thank you for padding between the facts, or indulging in poetic pros when what they want are the essential details.
• Your job is to deliver facts to users in the most efficient and effective manner, not to obscure those facts with unnecessary verbiage.
Making the most of the web
• The web offers many fascinating ways to tell a story differently. • When the editor hands a story to a journalist there is usually a top line. Something has happened, there are some basic facts already in. The journalist has to make sense of it and deliver a report as quickly as possible.
Take the example of the Bahrain boat tragedy in 2006 . 57 people died (the death toll rose later) after a pleasure boat capsized in the Gulf. For those wanting news of relatives, the list of the nationalities who died or survived was a key fact. However, to draw up the list in text would have meant several paragraphs. This is where the facts can be displayed in a text box so that those who want to scan read can reach the facts faster. It offers the user a quickglance view of the main elements without having to read the whole story. The text box can then also be used in other stories, or on the site’s main page, and it also offers a break in the text in your story page.
Timelines and factfiles
• Using the same technique, you can return to the story at a later stage and produce another text box offering a time line or a fact file. These, in turn, can link to the stories covered at the time, making the text box a valuable tool in helping the user navigate a complex grouping of facts. Again, these text boxes, timelines, and fact files, can be used in all the other stories, offering the user, wherever she or he ends up, all the details they need in one place, with the opportunity to find out more by clicking on the issue or fact they are most interested in. •
MILITANT ATTACKS IN AUGUST 18 Aug: Nine Afghans and a Nato soldier die and more than 50 are injured in Kabul 15 Aug: Suicide bomb outside Nato HQ in Kabul kills seven and injures 90 13 Aug: Twin blasts in Helmand and Kandahar kill 14, including several children 6 Aug: Five American and three UK soldiers, five civilians and five policemen killed by roadside bombs mainly in Helmand 3 Aug: Bomb in city of Herat kills 12 1-2 Aug: Nine foreign soldiers killed over weekend
Graphics and images
One showed the Kursk alongside a jumbo jet.
The other showed it on the seabed alongside the Eiffel tower
Images and Captions
• Images, particularly those used on the front page and the section index pages, should tease a user into the story. Head and shoulder pictures are rarely the best choice, although in some stories, such as political meetings, they are hard to avoid. • However, a powerful image can add enormous value to the impact of stories. The best pictures are those that stop the user in his or her tracks.
Head and shoulder images
Image depicting some action
Images and captions
Image looking the wrong way
• The images also need to be looking into a page. If your Website puts its images to the right of a story, you don’t want the subject looking right. That would mean they are looking out of the page rather than into it. The following image is looking the wrong way.
Images and captions
• Image looking the right way
• Captions need to enhance understanding and stimulate interest. They are not labels. They must not state the obvious. They, and the headline, are often one of the most difficult pieces of text to write.
• Caption for swine flu photo:
• Saviours in white: Over 70 people have now died in India because of swine flu and as the flu continues to spread, doctors in Delhi are putting in 14 hours a day, screening dozens of patients in each shift. (NDTV photo)
• Get it wrong and the credibility of your news brand could suffer. Read them over and over again. Ambiguous headlines and captions are a real danger. Think through how your words might be misinterpreted and misunderstood. If there is any doubt, rewrite it and keep it simple.
• The aim is not to be clever. Being clever can confuse. The aim is to be clear, crisp and capture the reader interest so they will read the story and find out more.
Original content and plagiarism
• With most breaking news stories, the major news operations will be dealing in the same facts. Their sources will usually be the same; they will be feeding off the same wires services and making similar check calls. It is not surprising to find almost identical stories being published on different sites. In all cases, a news operation should try to find out how they can add a value element the other news outlets can’t deliver.
At times like these, the online journalist might want to include a quote from an exclusive report from the scene filed by one of the news organisation’s correspondents. If the website is attached to a newspaper there might be an exclusive photograph taken by one of the paper’s photographers. If there is, this should go at the top and be flagged as such.
• If you are working for a website connected to a radio or TV broadcaster there might be exclusive audio just in, or a clip of some video only your organisation has and which you can add to the story. The key is to look for originality. • Find out what your news operation does that the others can’t match and focus on presenting that rather than worrying about where the opposition is stealing the lead in other areas.
• Never lift content from another site and present it as your own. Not only is it unethical, it is also extremely dangerous. If you can’t verify every fact and detail as either coming from your own sources or from one of your news organisations correspondents, or attributed to recognised sources, don’t include it.
• Plagiarism is all too easy in the cut and paste world of computer screens and the web. There was a saying that the web was all about ‘copy and improve’. In a way that is understandable when it comes to design and layout. However, it is never acceptable when it comes to story detail.
• Despite being dishonest, plagiarism means signing your news brand's reputation up to details you do not know are true. Once you write a sentence and it is published on your site, it is then considered to be verified by your news organisation. It is a massive risk, both personally and professionally. Only publish what you know to be true and what you can stand by.
Get it first, Get it right
• Once a news story has broken and the information is in the public domain, it is often a race to be first with the news. • Trying to beat the competition is a worthy aim, but only if you are sure you have all the facts and that they have been checked and double-checked.
• There is nothing worse than sending out a breaking news alert and then having to retract the story. Your users will realise you got it wrong. They will seldom know when you got it right and beat the opposition. They may not even care.
Don’t deal in rumour. Tempting as it might be to carry vague details of an incident that has taken place, only stick to verifiable facts. You can flag up to the users that something is going on. Breaking news ticker headlines such as ‘reports are coming …’ are acceptable. • However, unless you are a correspondent on the ground and in the know, you must not speculate on the cause until it has been confirmed by a reliable authority.
Comments and Opinion
• As in all journalism, the role of the reporter is to present fact. You are not there to add comment, and you are certainly not there to voice an opinion. • If you are a correspondent, with a particular brief and an expertise, you will be expected to offer analyisis of a situation you are covering, this could include your informed view on how it is likely to develop.
• You might want to add a text box to the story with the most powerful quote. • Use them sparingly. Two in one story might be too much, bearing in mind you might also have an image, a fact box, and a graphic. Don’t over clutter with gimmicks. Only use those that help tell the story properly. Too many and you might start to lose the readers’ interest.
Publishing articles in parts
• In a breaking news situation you often have very little to go on. There might be one fact on which the story is based. The first thing is to knock out the one sentence containing what you know and publish that. You can then continue to add to the story, republishing as you go
When to save and when to overwrite
• As a breaking news story develops, more and more information will be added. Eventually it will be a full story. However, more information will continue to arrive. know when to save a story as an archive of an event in history, and when to start a new version.
Links, the benefits and dangers
• the links we offer on our stories are one of the most important elements. Links should be seen as part of the story. Otherwise there is no pointing including them. • They should also be seen as adding value to the words we write. They are not there to repeat those words, but to offer further information that we are either not able to say, or have not researched.
• Although links can be a valuable tool in helping you tell a story, there are also many dangers lurking in links. You have no control over the content to which you are linking. • You need to be vigilant and only click to trusted sites that share a similar reputation to yours. • There is also the issue of taste and decency.
• Although most sites protect themselves with words such as, “this site takes no responsibility for the content contained on the sites it links to”, you need to take some responsibility as to which sites you feel are appropriate to be associated with.
• It is easy to become so immersed in a story that you become swamped by details and lose site of what is important. Sometimes the journalist writing a piece can be too close to the facts and unable to see the top line.
• Journalists can sometimes make too many calls, look up too many background pieces, and be too involved in the subject to see the real news angle. Their minds, like their desks, become cluttered with data. • There is an art in online journalism of cutting the clutter to reveal the core of a story. Often the duty editor or chief sub will help.
• If you are on your own, you will continually need to keep asking yourself what the story is about, what has happened, why it is important, who it affects, how it affects them, and what is likely to happen next. Leave the complexities aside, go back to basics. • What is the one line that sums up the story? Keep it simple with short, sharp sentences. List what you know. Don’t try to be clever. You are writing to inform ordinary people, not impress your peer group.
• However, most web journalists working on a general news site will not be required to do this. Comments and opinions have to be attributed and not woven into a story as if they are facts.
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