By Bob McClory, Medill School of Journalism
(ACP Convention 2014)
- Thou shalt think small. Zero in on a very narrow topic or a tiny slice of a big one. Concentrate on one blade of grass, not the whole lawn, on one soldier, not the army.
- Outline before thou writest. Create a structure or framework on which to hang the pieces. Divide the information into bite-sized nuggets and carefully nurture your transitions.
- Thou shalt be consistent. Maintain the same voice, perspective, mood and tense all the way through. Do not change costumes in the middle of the play, or your audience will depart.
- Honor thy leads. Construct a lead that arouses interest and gives some idea as to the direction and tone of the story. Seek a central contrast or comparison that can unify your tale.
- Thou shalt fashion classy word images. Eschew abstract articulations. Learn to describe people and places. Paint a word picture and look for the telling details: the little memorable word or phrase that nicely sums up what you’re talking about. Seek metaphors and similes.
- Use quotes respectfully. Avoid long rambling quotes. As with inverted pyramid stories, quotes are the raisins in your bread and the cream in your coffee. Use them judiciously and accurately.
- Cleave unto anecdotes. If you can tell a story, do so. Do not tell what the lawyer thinks; show how her thinking affected the way she argued her case in court last week.
- Be ye prepared to suffer. Quality feature articles require a dedication to the subject and a persistence that the hard news reporter hath never dreamed of. Care.
- Thou shalt not cheat. Resist the temptation to manufacture dialogue or invent anonymous sources to make interesting and amusing points. The truth is not in them.
- Just do it. Wait not for the muse, for she is in far-off Samaria. Delayed, overresearched writing is as dangerous as what comes from hasty, superficial reporting. Learn to deliver on time.