| The Daily’s Guide for News Writers

If you are new to writing news for The Daily, please read this guide in full before writing your story. And be sure to send us your phone number as soon as you pick up your first assignment.

It’s important that you understand our particular approach to news so that we don’t have to radically overhaul your story on production night, which often leads to errors on our part and a news story that is less cohesive and readable than it would have been otherwise.

Writing your first news story can be nerve-wracking. Finding information, figuring out who to trust, conducting interviews, and writing the piece can be an arduous and taxing process, though rewarding.

You are always encouraged to swing by the Daily office (Shatner B-24), or call or email us if you have any questions whatsoever. The office’s number is (514) 398-6784, or you can contact us at news@mcgilldaily.com, as well as our personal email addresses. Also, we meet with our writers at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday in The Daily office.

Below are a few tips to putting your article together, and a summary of what we aim for in a news story.

Structure

The purpose of news is twofold: to report on events as they unfold, and to illuminate the pre-existing discussions and conditions surrounding those events.

Your story should start with the breaking news, i.e. the events that just occurred and prompted you to write the story. Your lead – the first paragraph – should be 1-3 sentences, and should include or make reference to as much of the breaking events as possible.

Don’t worry too much in the lead about introducing the individuals or institutions you make reference to. The rest of the article’s purpose is essentially to provide context to your lead, explain what the individuals and institutions involved are all about, including their history and the history of this particular issue, and to discuss what the political consequences of the recent news might be.

This is what’s known as the Inverted Pyramid: the most important and current info goes first, followed by background.

To wit, your lede is the who, the what, the where, and the when, all in 1-3 sentences. The remainder is the why and the how, i.e. the discussion.

Write in the active and not the passive voice.

Never editorialize. Avoid statements of opinion in your writing and do not include adjectives or adverbs. Such statements should be limited to the dialogue you set up between involved parties, i.e. your interviewees.

We have a mandate to represent political issues from the perspective of social justice; what that means in the context of news is covering contentious issues while allowing the parties involved to represent themselves through their own statements. In other words, don’t pigeon-hole them. If unjust events are part of the story, they should be elucidated clearly, such that they speak for themselves.

Also, check out our Statement of Principles.

Interviews

Your story must have at least three interviews or else we cannot run it. If you are writing one of our shorter 300-word Briefs, then a single interview is acceptable.

Contact people you wish to interview as soon as you choose to write the story and set up a time to meet or talk over the phone. (An interview over the email is also acceptable as a last resort.)

Interviews are often the most stressful part of writing a story. Make sure you have done some research on the issue, taken notes, and written out the questions you want to ask. Recording an interview is the best way to ensure that you don’t misquote somebody.

If you need to borrow a voice recorder, either go to The Daily’s bbusiness office, which is just around the corner from ours, or go to IT Customer Services on the second floor of 688 Sherbrooke and tell them that you need to conduct some interviews for a class project.

There will likely be times when you’re nervous about an interview, even in cases where you are well-prepared. But sometimes you’ve just gotta let your pretensions go and throw caution to the wind. Your interviews will not always go smoothly, which is fine. All you need is to get your subjects to give you their perspective on the issue.

Also, a lot of people you’ll interview in government or at major corporations will be rude or dismissive, especially when talking to the student press. Don’t let it get to you. Just be polite and ask clear questions.

Interviews can also be good in terms of gleaning relevant information that is not readily available online. Make sure that when you are asking questions of a factual nature, they are pointed and specific. Fact-check the info given to you by interviewees whenever possible. For instance, if someone gives you a statistic, ask where it is from and then go find it for yourself.

Remember that you’re often looking for concise quotes that encapsulate an interviewee’s perspective on an issue you’re covering.

When asking questions, make sure they don’t start with a verb. For example, if you ask “Do you believe the administration is acting unfairly?” your answer is going to be something like “Yes, I do.” This isn’t a very good quote. Instead, start your questions with words like how, why, where, when, et cetera. If you ask, “How do you think the administration is acting,” you’re more likely to get a quote like “I think they’re acting unfairly.”

The pitch we send you should include phone numbers for you to call. If nobody is picking up their phone or getting back to you, then look for new people to interview. Be shamelessly persistent; it’s not uncommon for someone to give you an interview just to get you off their back.

If you end up with no interviews the day before the article is due, nobody is getting back to you, and you’re unsure of what to do, give us a call. We are here to help you. Often what you’ll have to do in these situations is find somebody who is not directly tied to the story you’re covering, but will have something interesting to say about it nonetheless. Even pundits, bloggers, or regular students can sometimes fill this role.

Remember that your interviews are your angle. Setting up the dialogue is crucial. Make sure you try to represent both sides of the story.

There are two basic ways to structure the interviews in your story.

If you have two parties on opposing sides of the issue you’re covering, it’s often effective to set up a back-and-forth dialogue. This works well if you’re covering spats between the University administration and student groups, or bickering between two student politicians, et cetera.

If there are more than two parties involved, all with disparate interests – e.g. the provincial government, the University, and student groups – it can be simpler just to cycle through quotes from different groups in blocks. For example, first indicate that students are opposed to the government’s planned tuition hikes, then represent the government’s rationale, and finally include the University administration’s take on the issue.

Play around with these structures as you see fit. The more interviews you have – without the story getting too confusing – the better.

During the interview, it often works well to simply reference the opinions of opposing side – e.g. if the University and SSMU are butting heads, then maybe first interview the VP (University Affairs), then call up Morton Mendelson or someone from the administration and say, “ VP (University Affairs) so-and-so accuses you of trying to surreptitiously shut down student events on campus. How do you respond?” Doing this allows you to avoid antagonizing your interviewees directly and can make it really easy to set up the back-and-forth dialogue in your article.

Remember that the indexation of your quotes is political, and if you want to give student groups more play in the story, for instance, then quote them toward the front of the story.

Try to avoid abuse of the square brackets in cases where someone’s quote is not entirely clear. It often works just as well to paraphrase what your interviewees have said. These paraphrases can easily be followed up by other quotes from the same person, but make sure that there isn’t too much redundancy between the paraphrase and the quote.

If one side is impossible to contact, which will often be government or corporate reps, try to find press releases or statements they’ve made to other media outlets, and reference them in your own story. Any quotes of this nature that you use must be referenced explicitly in your article.

Putting it together

A few more things about Daily style: Try to introduce people before quoting them. Also, we never use titles like Mr., Ms., or Dr. and always introduce people with their first and last names and position, e.g. “Morton Mendelson, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), stated that…” and thereafter refer to them by their last name. Make sure you spell people’s names correctly! It will save you a lot of trouble to have people say and spell their names into your voice recorder before you even begin your interview. Also, make sure to get people’s preferred pronouns, so that you know how to refer to them in the article. If you’ve forgotten to ask, don’t just assign a pronoun, instead use their last name.

Send in suggestions of titles and kickers. (Remember that title space is often very limited so try to keep them as concise as possible. Kickers can be a little longer.)

When you send in your story, please send us the URLs of any web pages you referenced for info in your own story, and try to include the phone numbers of anyone you interviewed whose contact info was not in the pitch. Also send us your phone number if we don’t already have it so that we can call you if we have any questions.

We make mistakes. If we make a factual error in editing your story, notify us of it and we will run an erratum in the subsequent issue. If you have any other grievances with the way your story has been edited, please bring it up with us, no matter how trivial they are. Your name is going on the story, after all.

It’s always ideal for you to come into the office while we edit your story. Mistakes on our part are far less likely to happen during the editing process if the reporter is there in person.

Yours truly,
—The News Editors


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