News Writing and Copy Editing

Elizabeth French Truesdell
English teacher/newspaper adviser
Kamehameha High School
Honolulu, Hawaii

Unit Overview and Rationale

In preparation to make story assignments, we will have a brief unit covering the highlights of reporting and assembling information into a story. Basic interviewing techniques, inverted pyramid story structure, the Dow Jones Newswire “spot story” format, The Wall Street Journal general feature model, and editorial/opinion model will be introduced. We also will discuss journalistic writing style of subject-verb-object and how to attribute quotes. This nuts-and-bolts unit will provide basic skills for the new staff members and serve as a review for returning staffers.

Unit Objectives

  • Via handouts and the study of examples, students will be introduced to different story structures.
  • Students will prepare for and conduct an interview with a classmate in order to write an appropriately organized personality profile.
  • Students will practice crafting sentences in journalistic syntax.
  • Students will know the how to attribute direct and indirect quotes to a source.

Understanding Goals

  • Essential Questions
    • What types of questions should be answered in a story?
    • How are various types of stories organized?
    • How is journalistic writing distinguished from writing an essay or a report?
    • How are quotes used in a news or feature story?
    • What leads to balanced, thorough reporting?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • How can the traditional 5Ws and H be expanded to provide more sophisticated coverage of an event or a person?
    • When are various types of story organization (inverted pyramid, spot news, feature, profile, op/ed) appropriate to present the information available?
    • What makes good journalistic reporting and writing?


  • Activity 1 (may take more than one class day)
    • Introduce various story structures with defining handouts and story examples that will be discussed in small groups facilitated by experienced staffers. In a wrap-up discussion, the staff will explore various types of stories that we likely would be covering during the year and what structures might work best for them.
    • Homework: Students must find examples of an inverted pyramid news story and at least one other organizational pattern in the newspapers available to them at school and home. For each story, the student must write a brief discussion of its organizational structure.
  • Activity 2
    • Review handout on “10 Easy Steps to Improve Interviewing and Observational Skills” in class.
    • Orchestrate a disruption by visitor unknown to the students, then ask them to write a description of the person to test their powers of observation. Share descriptions, then debrief the exercise as a way of illustrating the importance of noticing details and using them in writing.
    • Homework: Prepare for the interview with staff colleague by doing background research about the individual and preparing questions for the interview.
  • Activity 3
    • Day 1:
      • Conduct classmate interviews during class.
      • With any remaining time, organize notes, fill out a Pre-write Story Planning sheet, and Select a focus for the profile.
      • Hand out sheets showing attribution styles for direct and indirect quotations, as well as journalistic style of subject-verb-object syntax.
      • Homework: Students should interview at least one other person relevant to the profile subject with particular attention to the predetermined story focus (coach, teacher, parent, friend, etc.) in order to gain further information and balance. Draft the assigned profiles using interview notes and Pre-write Story Planning sheet. Be sure to include direct quotes, as well as indirect quotes. Determine if there are any holes that need to be filled.
    • Day 2:
    • In a mini lesson, copy editing symbols will be introduced and a handout provided for student reference.
    • Following the mini lesson, students will plug any holes in their profile drafts. After finalizing the draft, students should get a peer edit for their draft, then make whatever revisions seem appropriate. After revising and proofing the draft, turn in to editors for review. (May go onto Day 3.)
    • Day 3 or 4 (after editors have reviewed drafts):
      • Sample profiles will be shared with the class to illustrate good technique and coverage.
  • Homework assignments will receive credit for completion based on quality and thoughtfulness.
  • Participation points will be assigned for contributions made in class discussion
  • Personality profile will be scored using the following rubric:
Needs work Satisfactory Well Done
Thorough coverage of subject
1 2 3
4 5 6 7
8 9 10
Use of direct, indir. quotes
1 2
4 5
Journalistic writing style
1 2
4 5
TOTAL ______/20


Resources Recommended

  • Cash, Wanda, “Styles of Writing and Reporting Specifics A Different Approach to the 5 Ws and H.”
  • Pshigoda, Cindy, “Pre-write Story Planning Sheet” (Perryton High School, Perryton, TX).
  • Todd, Rusty, various handouts regarding Copy Editing Marks, Spot Story Elements, General Feature Model
  • Selected articles
  • Newspapers


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