This Wiki article is a many-tentacled hydra. It is intended to tell you everything you need to know about journalism to write ICly as a "serious" reporter for OtherSpace's IC news services. It will also eventually include the INN Manual of Style, which will list an index of preferred usages for titles, addresses, locations, grammar and spelling, etc. Don't worry too much about that, though -- your IC editor will handle any necessary wording changes.
By the time you're done reading this brief article, you will be able to 'fake it' as an OtherSpace journalist passably well by knowing:
- The mind of a journalist
- The structure of a journalistic organization
- How to pitch a story to an editor and get the editor to let you write it
- The right way to talk to sources
- How "attribution" works when quoting someone
- How to structure a basic news article using the "inverted pyramid" format
- Some basics about use of language, or style, in a journalistic piece of writing
It isn't as much as it sounds like -- honest! Dig in and enjoy.
You can also check out information on the Intergalactic News Network, a player-managed news organization.
The Journalistic CharacterEdit
Just like in real life, your character does not have to be a career journalist or have to have gone through journalism school -- or even university at all -- to write for INN. Many journalists are actually career experts in a given field, and only write very occasionally, or get their start because of connections and contacts they acquired through a background in their last job, such as politicians or cops who turn to journalism after retiring.
The journalistic character, if he/she/it is a career journalist, has a pretty low-paying job. People are often distrustful of journalists as dishonest or shifty because they think journalists manipulate the facts -- and there are bad journalists who spoil things for the rest. However, journalists get to go exciting places, meet interesting people, travel on their publication's dime and achieve fame. Some even achieve fortune.
The News OrganizationEdit
The hierarchy of the news organization is, in very broad terms, structured thusly:
1. Publisher. The owner of the publication, the publisher has final responsibility for the publication's fiscal well-being, and also reaps the profits (if there are any). The publisher is also the one who will bear most of the liability in the case of a slander or libel suit. On the "other side" of the publisher, separate from the news or content office, is the business office, which recruits advertisers, places ads, and runs the publication's finances.
2. Editor-in-Chief or Executive Editor. To reporters and editors, this is God. The Executive Editor has full responsibility and authority for and over the entire content of the publication. He calls all the shots, determines the focus and style of the publication, and picks the major themes and issues the publication will address. He delegates most of his authority to the managing editor.
3. Managing Editor. The managing editor is the hatchet man of a publication, responsible for the day-to-day operation of the paper. Under the guidance of the executive editor, he picks out which stories run, which are killed, and which reporters do what. He is responsible for the daily production of news, and delegates to "desk editors."
4. Desk Editors. Each "Desk Editor" handles a different section of the publication, such as news, features, entertainment, politics, busines, opinion, investigations, etc. These editors work closely with their reporters to develop leads and make sure the reporters are on track. They also handle the news budget (list of stories to be written) for their individual section of the publication, where applicable.
5. Copy Editors. These editors review reporters' work for grammatical correctness and to make sure the work conforms with the house style, meaning usage of the language. They may also be fact checkers to ensure quotes are used correctly and in context.
Staff Writer/Reporter level
6. Beat reporters. Beat reporters handle a specific "beat," after the old police term: crime/the police, local government, local business, science, and the arts are seminal examples. They have an established position in the publication and have developed contacts in their area of expertise. Their responsibility is to produce stories in their beat on a regular basis.
7. General assignment reporters. The renaissance beings of journalism, general assignment reporters will go anywhere, talk to anyone, and write about anything. They usually do mundane stories (the beat reporters are the ones with the contacts in specific areas to go into depth), but occasionally their varied experience will lead them to a great story.
8. Contributing writers. These reporters are not officially with the paper, but have been approved to write a specific story and are working with an editor who oversees the process. Freelancers, they are paid on a per-article basis. Another name for a contributing writer is a "stringer."
From Pitch to Scoop: Getting the Job and Doing the ReportingEdit
- 1: The Letter. The first step for a freelance article is a query letter. The purpose of a query letter is to convince an editor that they should pay you for your story. Editors don't have a lot of time or money and have to pay by the word, so brevity is key. If you can't convince the editor to run the story with your first sentence, you probably won't convince that editor.
A query letter should be no longer than four paragraphs and explain, briefly:
- The main idea of the story -- what is the topic you want to write about?
- The importance of the story -- why should INN subscribers care about this story?
- How your story will look -- How long a piece are you writing? Who will be quoted in this piece? How will you research it?
- Your expertise for this story -- why should INN let you write this piece?
INN pays a finders' fee for story ideas the publication wishes to use, but would prefer to write in-house. INN pays its contributing writers by the article.
INN Queries should be directed to Darkeye Lockjaw, INN Managing Editor, Mars Bureau.
- 2: The Reporting. The editor's reply to your query should include guidelines for what the editor wants included in the piece.
- For most news, make sure you get the very basic Who, What, When, Where, and Why, as well as reactions from witnesses, constituents, participants, interested parties, or whichever of the four might care to sound off about the facts you've discovered. Try to ask people who already know about what you're reporting on so you get informed opinions.
- When interviewing a subject or informant, always identify yourself as a reporter. If asked, you must tell them that you are reporting for a publication or intend to quote them publicly. They may refuse to allow you to do so, but if you've identified yourself, this refusal is really only valid if they refuse you before saying anything you want to quote.
- Subjects may put conditions on the use of their quotes. Only accept these conditions if they lay them out before speaking, otherwise, whatever they say is fair game:
- On the Record. This means you can quote them and attribute the quote to them, ie: "Nek Wampo sucked," Jane Doe said. In general, you want *everything* to be on the record.
- Not for Attribution, Anonymous, or Background. This means you can quote them, but you must agree on to what degree you can identify the source, if at all. ie: "Nek Wampo sucked," a source at Intergalactic Records said; "Nek Wampo sucked," a source in the music industry said; "Nek Wampo sucked," a source said. INN house policy is that any time a reporter grants a source anonymity, he must explain in the article why he/she/it has done so.
- Deep Background. This means you cannot quote this information directly in this article. INN policy is that such information can only be used when verified by a second source speaking at least on a "Not for Attribution," or anonymous, basis.
- Off the Record. This information cannot enter into your reporting. However, it can be used as a guide to finding other sources of this or juicier information.
- Always get your sources' names and contact information, even when they are speaking on background or off the record. A fact checker may contact these people to verify they spoke with you and said what they said (in the case of anonymous sources, this is very rare, and if anyone gets in touch with them it will be a senior editor).
Basic Newswriting: The Inverted PyramidEdit
The most basic news story structure is called the "inverted pyramid." If the most basic, important information is at the bottom of the pyramid, and the most specific supplementary information which builds on that is at the top, then your story, if diagrammed, would look like an upside-down pyramid.
Begin your story with a _lede_, which is the first sentence or two of your story. In news writing, this should be a strong hook to catch the reader's interest, followed shortly by the one idea you want your reader to get from the article even if he reads nothing else.
As an example, take this lede:
Three thousand are dead following a Nall raid on Ungstir Two, the Ungstiri Militia announced.
At approximately 0200 local time, a Clawed Fist Fleet carrier and several destroyers jumped insystem, approached Ungstir, and bombarded Resilience with conventional weapons. "I hafe read ov such theengs only in history books, da," said Vasily Mazeltov, a local prospector. "Am lucky I surfifed. I think. Most of my family is dead or missing and my ship vas destroyed."
The numbers speak for themselves, right? The first sentence is designed to catch your attention and draw you in. Notice that the second paragraph -- we call them "grafs" for short -- is longer than the first, and includes more information and detail. As the story goes on, each graf moves from detail to detail in order of importance from most to least.
The next section should be a "nut" graf, which puts the event in context. Such as:
Tensions have always been high in Ungstir's Perseverance System. Perseverance rests on the fringe between Orion Arm's core worlds and the Nall state, called the Parallax. Ungstir Two itself is the largest remaining remnant of Perseverance's only habitable planet, Youngster, which was destroyed by a Nall Coreseeker missile in 2257. It separated from what was previously the largest remnant, Ungstir Prime, when another Coreseeker splintered it in 2806. Since then, the Clawed Fist Fleet has used Ungstiri prisoners as slave labor in camps and repeatedly threatened Ungstiri sovereignty, such as during the Boromov reign when the government was accused of abetting the theft of Parallax technology.
Following this is more detail, quotes, et cetera. You get the idea. Just keep your writing succinct and your paragraphs fairly short. Remember that your readers will very rarely read all the way to the end of your article, so get the important stuff in first to keep them reading.
Basic Newswriting Part II: Essential StyleEdit
There are really only a few things you need to know about style, and they concern the use of quotes.
- The quotes you want are the ones that will grab the reader, where a source explains something more dramatically or more efficiently than you ever could yourself. As a reporter, your job is to get your sources to say those things. When you quote someone, always end the quote with, "source said --" for example:
"Nek Wampo is a dirty cheating son of a whore," Billy Fliggin, his former drummer, said.
- Don't mix it up -- no "bubbled," "gushed," "cried," "wailed," and especially no "ejaculated."
Taking the language literally, your source certainly did none of these things. Just stick with "said" as readers don't pay attention to that verb anyway, or shouldn't -- the important thing is the fact you encapsulated in that quote, not the packaging. (If they literally did explain, or add, or said with a laugh, it is OK to write that they did that -- so long as you use the language in its strictest sense).
- Next, when a source explains something in a complicated or longwinded way and you want to use their facts without their words, paraphrase, and attribute the paraphrasing to the source. This is also often the best way to introduce documentary evidence. For example:
Fliggin explained that Wampo was frequently thrown out of card games for stacking the deck or carrying cards in his sleeves. According to Sivadian SHIELD reports, he was also released on his own recognizance on April 22nd, 3004, following an incident involving a hotel bathtub, three tubes of personal lubricant, and five unlicensed pleasure Specialists.
- Quick style notes: give the title and full name on first attribution, and last name without title for each mention afterward. Always attribute facts and especially attribute opinions to your sources.
Don't worry too much about style; it's part of the copy editor's job to make sure your finished work conforms to house style. However, it would be nice to at least try to be close so that the copy editor's job is easier, and you'll also gain the added assurance of knowing your published work will look like what you submitted.
Conclusion: How to Act like a ReporterEdit
Be nosy. Ask questions. You're always on the lookout for story ideas, because every idea means a potential payday. When people make statements of fact, especially when you're reporting, ask them where they got the information or how they know. Be generally skeptical and questioning of what you hear, especially from the media. Be polite and respectful to people wherever you can, and remember that every friend you make is another potential source for ideas and contacts.
Most of all ...
Always talk to strangers.
I hope you enjoyed this guide and found it helpful. I am just a journalism student and by no means is this a gospel to be taken as a be-all and end-all guide to reporting, but hopefully this gains you enough insight to fake it for our game. If you have any questions, please add them to the Talk page, and stay tuned for updates!