Budding journalists and people writing for journalists (that’s you, PR people) could do worse than read the Guardian’s writing guide to journalism out today.
The introduction by columnist and former Times editor, Simon Jenkins, is a must-read for anyone tasked with communicating news via the written word.
He recalls a “ferocious sub editor” at The Times who would – after a reading a draft report – pose the million dollar question: “What is it you are really trying to tell me?”. Exactly what PR people should be thinking before they lay a hand on a keyboard.
Great tips for crafting a great story include:
– make every paragraph a single idea.
– Make nouns and verbs the workhorses of each sentence.
– Delete all adjectives and adverbs unless absolutely essential.
– Never use sloppy words, such as “interesting”.
– Begin every story with who, what, when and where.
But excellent writing – a skill which Jenkins sees as deplorably absent in today’s society – is the lesser part of the journalist’s armoury; the signs of the natural reporter are curiosity, the desire to communicate experiences, cunning and the gift to narrate. As he says, there is “no substitute for the person who saw it happen”, which opens the door for what we now know as citizen journalists.
When I hear colleagues talking about “the press release” or even truncated to “the release”, I shudder. A press release is merely a tool, a medium for the really important element: the story – that is what journalists are looking for.
Maybe that’s pedantic. Maybe I should’ve been a sub editor.
Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR.