Training for the News department is divided into the following sessions:
101: The basics (News 1-4 below)
102: Supervised phone interview – includes finding source, writing questions, etc
103: Writing a story
104: How to cover live events (must attend a council meeting)
105: How to do layout
SESSION 101: THE BASICS OF NEWS
What we cover
Campus news, student life, London news, Provincial news (only when relevant to students). In that order.
Whatever you cover, try to make the angle relevant and interesting to our readers.
How to find a story
Best way: Talk to people. Make contacts. Keep your ear to the ground. The best stories require some digging.
Press releases: check the News email every day, because there are often useful releases in there from Western and other sources
Other news sources: this is a last resort, but if you’re desperate for content it can be useful to check LFP, Metro or other local news outlets.
Sourcing a story
Stories are written based on info received from sources
Sources can be people close to the story, official documents, videos, and so on.
Your job as a journalist is to find out the details of a story from your sources, and distill all the information into an interesting package for the reader.
Best sources are people: they give you quotes.
How to find sources? Ask yourself: Who is involved in this story? Who is the most knowledgeable person that could explain it to me? If they aren’t available, who else is? How else can I find this information?
Not every source will be quoted, some are for background info only. You should make this clear to them if that’s the case, especially with USC staffers.
If in doubt, Ask! Ask! Always ask!
Types of stories
Difference between news brief and a normal article
Briefs are short (maximum 1,500 characters), one source, used for training
Stories are longer (minimum 2,500 characters), preferred to have three sources minimum
Volunteering for news
You can contribute to The Gazette with no experience. For your first few stories you will be considered a contributor, which is what it will say in your byline. After you’ve written five news briefs and completed the training for at least one section, you will be considered staff.
Internship program: Explain how it works (if you don’t have one in place yet, make one!)
SESSION 102: THE SUPERVISED INTERVIEW
In this training session, an editor assigns a brief to the volunteer, and works on the interview with them.
How to do an interview
Interview: the basic information-gathering technique of a journalist.
Who, what, when, where, why, how, and variations on those. Have a conversation with your source.
Prepare some key questions in advance, but don’t stick to them religiously if new information is revealed during the interview.
Let them talk! Prod them, coax them. Let them feel relaxed — they’ll give you better quotes. Don’t ask yes/no questions if you want quotes.
Be polite, but firm. If they dodge your question, it’s okay to bring them back on track and try to rephrase it in a way that they’ll answer.
They’re probably more afraid of you than you are of them.
Recording is fine, but take notes. If your recorder dies, or it’s a twenty minute interview with only one good quote, you’ll be thankful later.
Answer their questions if they have any, but don’t agree to show them the story beforehand or promise when it will be published.
Once a story is assigned
Prepare questions together, review “how to do an interview” if necessary
Show how phone taps and recorders work
Advise on good note-taking technique (mark timestamps for good quotes if recording, etc)
Have trainee make the call and supervise interview to make sure it goes smoothly
Follow-up discussion about how it went afterwards
SESSION 103: WRITING THE STORY
After the interview, editor works with trainee to put the story together.
Explain how to use the info they’ve found, how it should be organized, etc.
Explain the “Inverted Pyramid” style of writing. Most important in the lede, then the details, then the colour.
The lede: this is key. This will either draw a reader into your story or turn them off.
Hard and soft ledes: hard for serious stories: crime, death, tragedy. Soft for interesting stories, humour, less serious crime. It’s okay to make ‘em laugh, as long as you’re still being fair.
Style: if you’re unsure about capitalization, spelling, hyphens or punctuation, ask an editor or check the CP style guide.
Trainee writes a draft, and then the editor goes over it with them, explaining what changes are being made and why
STOP! Once the trainee has finished News 203 and written five pieces, they are a Gazette staff member. The following training sessions are not necessary to become staff, but if they are considering applying to be an editor next year, they will be expected to complete them during their internship.
SESSION 104: COVERING LIVE STORIES
In this training session the trainee will learn about and then cover a live story such as a press conference or council meeting. The skills and experience gained from covering live events are essential for editors to have, especially since they will be the ones covering council and senate meetings. Explain the following information about live events to the trainee, and then assign them a live story to cover. This training session is not complete until the trainee has covered a live story.
The two most common types of live stories you might be covering:
When someone knows the media want to cover a story, they invite a lot of reporters to do a group interview all at once. This is called a press conference, or “presser.” They’ll usually give a short speech and then take questions. It happens at Western sometimes, and often with bigger police stories. Governments love them. Sometimes they’re combined with photo ops.
Record everything – it may be hard to scribble down every question and answer, so record the presser just to be safe. You may get a dynamite quote from another reporter’s question, and that’s fine; everyone else will probably use it too.
Hosts of pressers will try to steer the direction of the conversation, but if that person is involved in some other important story unrelated to the presser at hand, it’s okay to ask them about it if this is your only chance. Do this with discretion; save for the big scandals.
USC council/standing committee
Council meetings are gold mines for stories. Any passing remark from the President or a councillor could reveal some information that you didn’t know about before, and each one of these could be a story. So…
PAY ATTENTION! It can be really boring sometimes, but try your best. That five minutes you spend on Facebook could mean that you miss out on five story ideas.
Bank your story ideas. It’s not uncommon to come back from council with ideas for five or six different stories, so rank them. What is the most timely? Cover that first.
The council meeting itself can be a story, but so can many of the issues discussed there.
Listen to the executive summaries of the president and vice-presidents, where they will talk about all the things they do outside of council. We don’t generally get to see this part of their job, so it’s usually one of the best times to listen for story ideas.
Get to know the councillors. This can be key. Developing relationships — but not necessarily friendships — with councillors can bring you many stories throughout the year. If they feel you’re someone trustworthy that they can come to with a juicy scoop, everyone wins.
SESSION 105: EDITOR DUTIES
This training session is intended for more experienced volunteers only
Explain how layout works, and have the trainee watch as you lay out the day’s pages. Explain why you are making certain decisions, why you chose one story for the top of the page and not the bottom, etc. Let them practice layout when they become more comfortable with it.
Common mistakes (per cent, ________said instead of said_______, numbers before 10 and written out, when writing a date, refrain from the superscript th à it is September 7, not September 7th etc. Consult Caps and Spelling if unsure.
What goes into a headline? Deck? Cutline?
Headline is meant to catch the reader’s attention. It doesn’t have to be as descriptive, because that’s what a deck is for. If there is no deck, then the headline MUST be descriptive. A cutline starts with a funny bolded comment on the picture shown followed by a few descriptive sentences on what is captured in the picture and what the story is about.
Show how headlines are written, saved and dropped
Fact check everything
It is amazing how many times names are misspelled, facts are wrong, dates are incorrect, details of past events are mis-remembered, etc. Check everything.
Every editor edits it before being given to Front Office
A way to both make sure that every story is as good as it can be and to improve your editing skills is to make sure each of you edit all pieces of content before you drop them to Front Office.
STOP! After News 105, the trainee should be well-versed in how things are done at The Gazette. But they are not necessarily ready to be an editor yet. How can they prepare? Practice! From now on, when situations present themselves, offer to let the intern do layout, help with headlines, edit news briefs, and perform other duties. The benefits of this are twofold: interns can continue to develop their skills and news judgment, and news editors get to slack off for a bit. Win-win!