Excerpts from the The Weekly Writer's Handbook
This book is written with the understanding that weekly reporters have little time and so it is organized in the form of a cookbook or handbook. Subjects such as covering meetings, writing features, writing roundup stories, and developing story ideas start from scratch. The chapters are designed so they could be read just before an assignment, without having read the other parts of the book.
Weeklies are not daily papers that come out once a week.
Weeklies have different audiences, different purposes, and different timing. The copy flow is different, the angle of the stories should be different from a daily. Just because the daily covered a council meeting in a certain fashion does not mean you should report on it in the same way.
Finding good story ideas is even more difficult than writing the stories. The burden of finding new stories every week is unique to journalism. It is also the one place where reporters can make the most difference in the quality of the paper.
I am amused by reporters who Say”Gee, I learned something new today.” Your job is learning something new and telling others about it. You are probably the only person in town being paid to educate himself or herself every day to help others.
Of all the differences between news writing and other writing, brevity may be the most important. News writers get to the point, add a few details to tell the story, and then get out.
Shoot for no more than two and a half lines per sentence, and that is long. As I write this, in this format, two lines is 20 words, two and a half lines is 25, and both are too long.
Some reporters tend to think of writing stories as finding a magic formula that will send fingers to flying on the keyboard and bright, lively stories to quickly appear on your screen.
There is no magic bullet. Writing is hard work. It is taking ideas and loosely connected thoughts delivered by several people and putting them in a form on paper which everyone can understand.
As a former Associated Press editor said, “Writing is easy, thinking is hard.”
The late New York Times sportswriter Red Smith once said something to the effect of “Writing is very easy. All you do is sit in front of a keyboard until little drops of blood appear on your forehead.”
Headline writing is like this, too. All you do is condense 100 to 500 words into five or six, without changing the meaning, the mood or the magnitude of the story.
Headline writing may be the most difficult part of journalism. But it can be learned, and it can be improved upon week by week.
Nowhere is the difference between dailies and weeklies more obvious than in ethics who and what you cover, how you deal with issues such as arrests and suicides. On a weekly there is a good chance the reporter, the editor and the reader know many of the people in the paper that week, or go to church with them, or do business with them. A daily can serve an entire state and the readers may not know anyone in the news on a given day.