Copywriter and journalist Matt Chittock shares some practical ways to make your copy count.
Need to hone your news-writing skills, fine-tune your features and craft killer press releases? I’ll be at the Charity Writing and Communications Training Days on 25-26 October to tell you how.
In the meantime, here’s a few tips to get your news stories perfectly on-point.
Get the headline right
In an age where news stories compete for clicks on sites like Facebook, headlines have to grab a reader’s attention. This can be a delicate balancing act: a good headline must accurately describe what the story is about. Yet it also has to be emotive, exciting or intriguing enough to make the audience want to read more.
Stats show that click-bait-style headlines (“You won’t believe what happened when…”) definitely work. But if you choose this route the story has to match the expectations your headline generates or readers will feel cheated.
Put the most interesting stuff first
When’s the last time you made it to the end of a news story? Most readers won’t bother consuming the whole thing from headline to final word: they’ll simply grab the info that they need – and move on. This is why it pays to put the most important bits (the Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?) in the first paragraph.
Make sure you’ve got a quote
A good quote helps inject a human element into a news story and brings it to life in someone else’s words. If the story is about your organisation, get a quote from your researchers, fund-raisers, or best of all, beneficiaries. If none are forthcoming could you create something yourself and then let them edit the copy?
If it’s a more general news story (about a new Bill in parliament, for instance) feel free to lift quotes from other sources, but be honest about attribution, for example: ‘“The Bill is the beginning of a new political age,” the Prime Minister told the BBC’.
Have a plan – and stick to it
News stories aren’t the place to flex your writing muscles and get clever with metaphors: they’re about communicating the facts fast. This means keeping to a tight word count (often 150-400 words) and setting out a plan in bullet points to hone your thinking. Don’t go off on a tangent and make sure the writing is lean, fact-filled and gets your key message across in language your audience will respond to.
Nothing makes readers’ hearts sink like news stories illustrated with arbitrary stock images or a head and shoulders pic of the CEO. Not all charities will be able to send photographers to events – but is there an image you could take from Facebook or Instagram (with permission and attribution)? Work to build up a photo library of pics like this so you’ll have less chance of being caught out in the future.