Journalism

Glen Martin
Secondary Teacher
Governor Mifflin Senior High School

610-775-5089
gmartin@gmsd.k12.pa.us

The Journalism elective course is not active for the 2010-2011 school year, so The Stampede will be produced by the Journalism Club.  Meetings are held every other Wednesday in room 234.  Please email Mr. Martin with questions.

 


 

News Writing in 24 words: A sentence should have a fact in it. If it doesn't, it must be there to explain something, elaborate on something, or substantiate something.

 
·        Read the story out loud to catch awkward sentence constructions.
·        Always double-check the spelling of names.
·        Eliminate the “be” verb. Write “she will resign” instead of “she will be resigning.” Write in future tense (will) instead of future progressive tense (will be “ing”). In addition, rather than writing “his co-workers are starting to see his compulsive lying,” write “his co-workers started to see his compulsive lying.” Another example: “even though he was willing to fabricate them” should be “despite his willingness to fabricate them.” This is more active, and therefore more engaging, prose. Choose verbs that suggest what they mean. “Active” verbs add pace, clarity and vigor to writing. Verbs are a writer's most important tools. Avoid “be” verbs.
·        Use past tense verbs (said vs. says) for attribution in news stories.
·        The optimum number of words to use in a sentence is 14 to 16. The average reader cannot comprehend a sentence with more than 40 words.
·        When writing becomes cumbersome, turn one long sentence into two or three shorter ones.
·        If a long sentence must be used, place a short sentence before and after it.
·        Don't have more than three consecutive prepositional phrases in a sentence. Prepositional phrases start with about, above, against, at, between, by, down, during, for, from, in, like, on, over, through, to, toward, under, up, until, upon, with ...
·        Know when to use "their" (possessive pronoun), "there" (adverb) and "they're" (the contraction for they are). Examples: It is their (possessive pronoun) project. The project is over there (adverb). They're (contraction) working together on the project.
·        When you use a pronoun to refer to a team or a group, the proper pronoun to use is “its,” NOT they. Example: The team wants to improve its record.
·        Use THIRD PERSON (she, he, it, its, her, hers, him, his, they, them, their, theirs) in news stories. Only on rare occasions do you use first person (I, mine, we, our, ours) or second person (you, your, yours) in news stories.
·        Quotation marks go outside commas (,”) and periods (.”). They go inside semicolons (”;) and colons (”:).


Commonly committed errors…
 
“it is easy for a journalistic staff to let their opinions on a reporter cloud their judgment of the actual situation.”
 
 
“Ethics and honesty are a large part of reporting…”
 
 
“Steven Glass of the New Republic failed to abide by the guidelines…”
 
 
“A magazine like The New Republic trusts their employees are telling the truth.”
 
 
“Why ruin your name and humiliate yourself…?”
 
 
“That’s right, one would not want that to happen to them and their career.”
 
 
“Stephen Glass wrote some beautiful pieces during his career, maybe no one will know why he made up these stories.”
 
 
“Glass would tell his colleagues about his next story idea, and then he would be like, ‘I probably won’t do anything with it.’”
 
 
“Yes, people can have good or bad judgment…”
 
 
“It is The New Republic’s fault that they did not catch all these things…”
 
 
“Things like this could happen at any time. … Fact check as much as you can and be on your toes.”
 
 
“creativity plays an essential role in the ability of a writer to portray their story to their readers…”
 
 
“However, it’s in his creation of his sources and such that created cause for suspicion.”


SVO<24
 
What's that mean? Subject-verb-object sentences of generally less than 24 words.
 
Good writing starts with good sentence structure, and that means simple construction: subject-verb-object. Not blah, blah, blah, S-V-O. All that does is delay meaning.
 
This also is called the right-branching sentence: Think of S-V-O as the engine of a train. A short train.
 
Problem writers use a lot of commas and other punctuation. A good remedial exercise is to try writing a story with no commas. That, of course, means sentences should be short. Research shows that 20-word sentences are fairly clear to most readers. Thirty-word sentences are not.
 
Here's an even easier test: If you can't read a sentence aloud without taking a breath, it's too long.
 
Ten guidelines to clearer writing
 
1. One idea per sentence.
No: Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., experienced the largest of recent high school murder rampages last week, and DeKalb schools, along with police, are reacting to a rumor of violence at DeKalb High School.
Yes: School officials and police are reacting quickly to a rumored threat of violence at DeKalb High School.
The response follows last week's high school massacre in Littleton, Colo.
 
2. Limit sentence length to 23-25 words. If you can't read a sentence aloud without a breath, it's too long.
No: After the announcement was made by President John La Tourette that he will be retiring early next year, Boey, under his board authority, created an ad hoc committee that will find representatives to sit on the actual search committee. (38 words)
Yes: President John La Tourette announced last month he will retire early next year. (12 words) Boey has since created a temporary committee to choose a search committee. (12 words)
 
3. S-V-O: Subject-Verb-Object. Right-branching sentences (think of a train engine). Don't delay meaning. Don't use a lot of commas.
No: Mauger, who worked as a bursar at DePaul University in Chicago prior to working at Beloit, said she missed the university environment.
Yes: Mauger was a bursar at Chicago's DePaul University before her Beloit job. She missed the university environment.
4. Use strong verbs and an active voice.
No: The poem will be read by La Tourette.
Yes: La Tourette will read the poem.
 
5. Reduce difficult words to their simplest terms. Don't let bureaucrats dictate your word choices.
No: The search committee will be constructed in accordance with Article 8 of the NIU constitution.
Yes: NIU's constitution dictates the search committee's makeup.
 
6. Don't back into a sentence.
No: The end of the academic year and the end of the legislative session were two reasons La Tourette cited.
Yes: La Tourette cited two reasons: the end of the academic year and the end of the legislative session.
 
7. Don't use more than three numbers in any one sentence.
No: Wednesday, the NIU baseball team's winless streak hit 22 as NIU (4-37-1) dropped a twin bill to Miami (21-18-1), 8-2 and 10-5, at Oxford, Ohio.
Yes: Oxford, Ohio NIU's baseball losing streak reached 22 as the Huskies dropped a doubleheader Wednesday to Miami, 8-2 and 10-5.
 
8. Use no more than three prepositional phrases per sentence.
No: Students who will be graduating from NIU will be honored at a senior luncheon from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday in the Regency Room of the Holmes Student Center.
Yes: Friday's senior luncheon will honor students about to graduate. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Holmes Student Center's Regency Room.
 
9. Choose the precise word.
No: This will increase the number of participants from 55 students a week to 200 students a week, and in that extra 145 students the age for attendance also will change. The present center is only equipped to handle children ages 2-6, but the new center will have the capacity to serve infants, too. (2 sentences, 53 words total)
Yes: This will increase the center's weekly capacity, from 55 children to 200. And, while the current center takes children ages 2-6, the new center will take infants, too. (2 sentences, 28 words total)
 
10. KISS (keep it simple, stupid).

No: Biological sciences professor Karl Johnson passed away Tuesday at the age of 55, following a long, courageous battle with cancer.
Yes: Biology professor Karl Johnson died of cancer Tuesday. He was 55.

 

 

 

 


 

 

The following documents may be of us to students of the Journalism elective course:

 

All the President's Men packet

 

Every good article must have...

 

Headlines packet

 

Interviewing

 

Journalism grammar exercises

 

Journalism terminology project

 

Shattered Glass

 

Writing Movie Reviews

 


 

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