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Saturday, July 23, 2011

News Worth Writing (and Reading) #freelance #writing #editing

If you’ve ever had a newspaper gig, you realize it’s not all glamour and glitz. There can be a bit of drudgery, as you find yourself dealing with the same-old, same-old. 

Not written for or edited a newspaper of any shape or size? You may be surprised to learn that the newsroom isn’t always full of excited buzz. Little birdies don’t constantly drop hot tips in the newsroom. And you will rarely get an assignment that gives you an opportunity to change the world.

Fully disillusioned, the question changes from How do I figure out which of these insanely awesome leads to follow? to How do I keep it fresh? Possibly even more important, How do I write news that people are going to want to read?

It starts with a dedication to your readers and the facts—not necessarily in that order. Actually, you can’t serve the readers or the facts justice without keeping both in mind at all times.

Have a great factual story about a topic no one cares about? Your story is worthless. Only go after stories that involve scandal? You may wind up quoting “inside sources” who don’t want their names mentioned. When this happens, you could be penning rumor, and that blood is hard to wash off your hands.

Getting your facts straight isn’t just a feather in your cap. It’s a necessity. Unless you’re not interested in building and maintaining readers’ trust. And if this is the case, you won’t have a job for long. Or at least you shouldn’t.

But writing a factual story—even if it’s on a topic that readers care about—can sometimes become routine. As a result, your writing can become stale, unexciting, uninspiring, and not much fun to read. So people stop reading it. What’s a writer to do to make sure this doesn’t happen?

Good question. Since I occasionally catch myself slipping into a sleepy, boring routine with my news coverage, I have had to find ways to kick myself out of it. Hopefully by allowing you behind the magic curtain, you’ll be better able to stay on track when your first sentence is as exciting to read as a printer manual.

Trick 1: Read It Post-Publication

After writing for a few years, the novelty of seeing my words in print wore off. I got paid for my work, and that became all that mattered. Besides, if I read any of my stories after they are printed, I always saw things I wanted to change. Not that I got my facts wrong, but there is always a better or shorter way to get my point across. So instead of torturing myself by thinking of what might have been, I taught myself to keep my head down and move on to the next story.

Unfortunately, this is a major cause of boring-news syndrome. To fix it, I force myself to read one of my stories now and then after it’s been printed. I pay careful attention to what I don’t like about the story and use this knowledge to get better. Kind of like I did when I first started writing and wasn’t so full of myself.

Trick 2: Remember Your Wallet

Getting the next writing gig is largely dependent on mastering your last. If you want to be a successful writer, you need to approach every project like it’s the most important thing you’ve ever written.

Every once in a while, I get comfy writing for a long-term client, and my writing suffers. The remedy? Remind myself that as a freelancer, the next project is not guaranteed. If I don’t deliver top-notch writing or editing services each and every time, I am putting myself out of work.

For me, the threat of being unable to buy groceries is usually enough inspiration to create news stories worth writing and reading.

These helpful tips were provided courtesy of Daniel Brantley (danielkbrantley.com), Amplification’s on-call freelance writer/editor. Shoot him a line (daniel@danielkbrantley.com) or follow him on Twitter (twitter.com/danielkbrantley).