When You’re Getting Started

Written By: jOakes

1.) Read stories — both journalistic and fictional. Pretend that you have to see what the writer is doing. Ask yourself: Does this piece hold my interest? What do I like/not like about the story? In terms of format, a magazine or newspaper story can be perused and studied as a crash-course in the structure of feature writing. Notice how quotes are interwoven with the body of the article; how sentences are built around quotes. Keep yourself out of the story, meaning you should never use “I” (unless it a first-person narrative [i.e., a travel or biographical/anecdotal piece] or, of course, a work of fiction).

2.) Check facts even when you think you know them. *Believing* or *assuming* aren’t enough. It is only when you are absolutely certain of something (i.e., already checked) that facts can be trusted. Do not make assumptions. Fact-checking includes corroborating all non-editorial content getting the correct spelling for names and getting specific information so that you don’t have to generalize (i.e., being able to say that the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album came out in 1969 instead of the late ’60s). However, when you are uncertain and not able to verify something, you must generalize and never resort to guessing. A generalization is not a guess; it is a fact that is non-specific; it comprises as much information as you can safely impart.

3.) When transcribing an interview, you need not — and should not — use every quote provided. However, the quotes that are used should not be embellished, changed or used in a misleading context (save your interview tapes for at least a week in case there is a problem)

4.) Missing a deadline is missing your chance to continue employment. Being late even once is unforgiveable.

5.) Write as well and as carefully as you can, even if your piece will run for only one day. This is the only way to stand out. Your byline is your chance to shine. Don’t rain on your own parade.

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