Pick and mix: Writing news

A School Reporter from Accrington Academy writing her script at the computer

WRITING AND ASSEMBLING NEWS

This page contains a collection of videos, activities and quizzes about writing scripts and stories and how to assemble your material into great content.

You can choose which resources are the most appropriate for your pupils and classroom. We've called it a pick and mix - so you can read through and select the materials that best fit in with your plans.

Scroll down the page or click on the links to find the individual resources. Please note that all suggested times for activities are approximate and will depend on class size, age, etc.

We also have a special Teacher Essentials section which includes lots of extra information - including Practical Tips and Guides for some of the key skills of journalism - and you can also use our updated Lesson Plans if you prefer a more structured approach.

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Writing

Being able to write clearly is an important skill for every journalist - whether they work in TV, radio, print or online.

The three C's - making sure your writing is Clear, Concise and Correct - are a good starting point, while it is vital to be able to pick a good 'top line' for your story. This means choosing the most interesting or newsworthy angle to start your story.

Similarly, headlines are also a crucial way of drawing people's attention to your story. An enticing headline can be the difference between someone reading, watching or listening to all your great journalism or not.

Equally, good stories can lose their impact if people cannot follow them because the language is confusing or the story drags on for too long, and it goes without saying that your story needs to be factually correct.

And there is also the chance to try your hand at sub-editing, which is double-checking people's work before it gets published or broadcast.

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Assembling

Journalists and editors have to take editorial decisions about how to assemble the material into a report and if you are producing a bulletin made up of several stories, then you need to think about the "running order" - the order you want the stories to appear in.

A good bulletin should have the best story as the lead item to grab people's attention - in the same way that a newspaper puts its top story on the front page - while a light-hearted "and finally" story will often be the final item.

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

Video: Writing news (2 mins 30 secs video + 2-3 mins to recap/discuss)

BBC newsreader Huw Edwards explains the 3 C's of news writing: being Clear, Concise and Correct.

Writing scripts and news stories also means understanding that you need to get straight to the point!

There's no point in having an amazing news story but leaving the most important fact to the last sentence!

You can recap the key points from the video with this accompanying worksheet, or read a transcript of the video:

Key points: Writing news [27.13] Transcript: Writing news  [22.90]

A Welsh language version of the video is also available, together with a transcript.

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Video: Scriptwriting masterclass(3 mins 30 secs video + 4-5 mins to recap/discuss)

PART A:

For BBC Breakfast reporter Tim Muffett, writing engaging and informative scripts is part of his job.

Watch his video in which he gives his hints and tips on scriptwriting for video or audio reports.

There is a real art to writing a good script and a lot of the time less is more: if you have great pictures, let them speak for themselves rather telling viewers what they can already see.

But things are obviously a bit different for radio - then you need to be a bit more descriptive.

You can recap the key points from the video using the accompanying worksheet or read a transcript of the video:

Key points: Scriptwriting masterclass [36.67] Transcript: Scriptwriting masterclass [25.19]

PART B:

Tim's report went out on BBC Breakfast, and you can see how he put all his tips into practice to produce the finished article.

And the worksheet below contains the script that he used for his report. Why not watch the report along with the script to see how it was all put together.

Worksheet: Tim Muffett's script [35.94]

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Activity: Scripting a story (30 mins)

Work in pairs.

For this activity, you will need to print out two copies of this worksheet, one is for a first draft and the other is for a final draft.

Worksheet: Writing and Assembling News [200.42]

Tell each other about the last thing that interested you so much that you couldn't wait to tell someone else. That's what news is essentially about - communicating something of interest.

Between you, decide on a news story you are going to report. It could be either of your stories or it could be something else.

If something else, do some research on the topic to gather the key facts - the 5 W's.

Now, one of you tell your partner about it, just like you did when you were telling your own piece of news.

The reason for doing this is that news is best communicated as though you were telling a friend. That way, the most interesting information, is naturally what you communicate first.

Having spoken your story out loud, write it down on the worksheet.

This will turn your story into a script, and also enable you to calculate how long it will take a presenter to speak it. Newsreaders usually read at three words per second, so a short 10 second story should be about 30 words.

Remember to keep your words clear, concise and correct:

Clear: Write it how you would say it. Get straight to the point at the beginning.

Concise: Don't waffle. Keep your sentences - and the length of your report - short.

Correct: Get your facts, spelling and grammar right.

You will probably need to rewrite your script, using the second worksheet, which is all good news making practice. Most journalists will write and rewrite several times before they are happy with their work.

Once you have completed your script, you can add in notes about any quotes, sound effects, stills, graphics etc on the left-hand side of the worksheet.

If you've finished your script, write a cue - that's the introduction that another presenter gives before they hand to the journalist presenting the report. Remember, the aim is to promote the story that's about to come, not to tell it twice.

So, in your cue, don't repeat the words that are in the opening sentences of the report.

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Activity: Writing news - beginning, middle and end (15 mins)

Work in pairs.

A, print off a news story from the BBC News,BBC Local News or CBBC Newsround websites, other news websites, newspapers and school newsletters.

Cut up the story into sections, with two or three sentences in each section - or individual sentences if you wish to make the task more difficult.

A and B, underline the facts and circle the opinions. A fact is something that it true (often who, what, where, when). An opinion is what someone thinks.

B, try to put the sections in order.

A and B, compare B's order with the original story.

A and B, answer these questions:

1. What did you notice about the beginning, middle and end of the report?

2. Where are most of the 5 'W' facts?

3. Where are most of the opinions?

In many genres of writing, the main event occurs in the middle, or at the end, such as a murder-mystery novel.

But in news, the first sentence should reveal the key occurrence and often includes the key 'W' facts.

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Activity: Picking a top line (10-60 mins, depending on use)

When coming up with a story, it is important to identify the most important or interesting aspect of it - this is known as the "top line".

Whether the report you are creating is in text, audio or video, it is important to consider the "top line" of the story because this is what will draw readers, listeners and viewers in.

Check out School Report's guide to picking a top line and then try your hand at this activity.

On this page are a series of interviews with various high-profile figures from the worlds of sport, politics, science and entertainment taken from the BBC Sport and News websites - but with the headlines removed!

Choose a clip (or clips) to watch and make notes as you watch it. What do you think should be the top line for your clip?

What headline would you use at the top of the story if you were the BBC journalist writing the webpage?

Fill out this worksheet to help you make your judgement about the best top line:

Worksheet: Deciding on your 'top line' [8 KB]

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Activity: Writing captions (15 mins)

The captions on the BBC's picture galleries are a good example of how to write a story in a very concise way - usually just one sentence.

Find a picture gallery on the BBC News' In Pictures section that interests you.

Take off the captions by clicking on the 'hide captions' button at the bottom right of the first picture.

Now write your own captions for the photos.

Then unhide the captions, if you're working online, or look at the captions/story information in the newspapers or newsletter.

Compare your captions with the ones written by the BBC/newspaper journalist and answer these questions:

1. What do you notice about the language they use?

2. Which of the 5W's - and How - are used the in captions?

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Activity: Writing concisely (15 mins)

This activity will help you develop your own concise news writing style by replicating what BBC online journalists have to do every day.

Journalists writing for the BBC News or BBC Sport websites have to be able to write very concisely because their stories also appear on the Red Button text services, which are usually just four paragraphs long.

This is the same story on the BBC Sport website and the Red Button - but the Red Button text service has only four paragraphs to tell the story, while the website goes on to expand on its report

So the stories have to sum up all the important facts - the 5 W's - in four paragraphs (before expanding on them for the websites). That means every word counts.

Find a story that interests you in a newspaper, magazine or other reliable source and try to tell the whole story in four paragraphs, which equates to about 80 words.

What kind of information do you have to cut out? What do you notice about the language you use?

This is a useful discipline to have in journalism. Try sticking to it if you are going to write text-based online reports - it really helps keep your stories engaging for the reader. And you can always go into more detail after telling the key points.

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Activity: Answering the 5 W's (10 mins)

Work in pairs.

Print out a story that interests you from the BBC News, BBC Sport,BBC Local News,Newsbeat or CBBC Newsround websites, or from other reliable news websites, newspapers or school newsletters.

Go through the story and underline or highlight the parts which answer the 5 W's - the Who, What, Where, When and Why. And there is usually a How in there as well.

Virtually every story should be able to answer these questions - is your story missing any of the 5 W's? What questions would you need to ask to find out the answers?

Now discuss your answers with the class.

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Activity: Writing headlines (20 mins)

Headlines are important to grab the reader's attention

Journalists often talk about the job of a headline being to "tell and sell".

Headlines "sell" stories to readers, viewers and listeners by "telling" them what the story is about and grabbing their attention.

Ideally it should tell you enough to attract your attention but leave you wanting to know more so you read, watch or listen on to find out more information.

Writing good headlines is a skill and this activity will help get you thinking about how to promote your stories with great headlines.

Worksheet: Writing headlines  [25.3 KB]

Print out the worksheet, which provides a series of scenarios and then space to write the headline that you think works best to "tell and sell" the story.

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Activity: Try your hand at sub-editing (20 mins)

It's always advisable to have at least two pairs of eyes to look at a piece of work before it hits the web or goes to air.

It means that simple - and sometimes not so simple - mistakes are much more likely to get spotted before it's too late.

In a newsroom, this is normally the the job of the sub-editor. They do the "subbing" of everyone's work to double-check it and ensure it makes sense, tells the story properly and doesn't fall foul of any legal issues such as libel.

Read School Report's guide to sub-editing and then have a go at our activity to try your hand at subbing.

Below are two very badly written stories!

Imagine you are the sub-editor asked to read this before it's published on your School Report website.

STORY A:

Worksheet: Subbing story A [5.68 KB]

STORY B:

Worksheet: Subbing story B [5.74 KB]

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Activity - Spot the deliberate mistakes! (20 mins)

As one of the assistant editors for the BBC News website, Ian Jolly - together with lots of other sub-editors - is responsible for checking stories before they go live on the internet.

He has to check for all sorts of things: Is everything spelt correctly? Is it grammatically and factually correct? Are there any potential legal issues?

But even at the BBC some mistakes sometimes slip through the net... until they are spotted by Ian's eagle eye!

Here is a quiz drawn up by Ian based on genuine examples of mistakes made by real-life BBC journalists.

Subbing quiz [7.46 KB]

Have a look at each example and see if you can work out what is wrong with it.

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Activity: Compiling a running order (20 mins)

You are producing a TV news bulletin for teenagers. The bulletin has to have six stories.

Look at today's news stories on the BBC News, BBC Local News, Newsbeat, or CBBC Newsround websites. You might also like to look at other news websites/newspapers.

Choose six stories to put in this running order worksheet.

Worksheet: Running order [170.72]

You must include a lead story and an "and finally" story.

Think about the appeal of each story to your audience. What other factors will influence where it should go in your order?

You may also want to use a news round-up, in which case, place grouped stories in a single story slot on the worksheet.

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Quiz: Writing news (10 mins)

This multiple-choice quiz is designed to test your knowledge of how to write scripts and stories.

It also provides real-life scenarios to prompt discussions about the issues that can arise during writing news.

Pupils can take the above quiz online, either on this page or on a separate page which is easier to email and distribute at school; a low-tech alternative would be to print out this worksheet:

Quiz: Writing news [23.79]