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About Us Interviewing Ledes The Inverted Pyramid Headlines Self-Editing Attributing Quotes Cord Style Guide Objectivity Writing as an Outsider Web Journalism


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Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

ABOUT US The Cord is a publication of Wilfrid Laurier University Student Publications, known as Student Publicaitons or “Pubs”. We’re Laurier’s on-campus, independent student media organization. If readers want to find out what is happening on Laurier’s campus, they can’t go anywhere else for better information. Our newspaper is written by students, for students. Because we are independent from both the university and the students’ union we can also serve as a critical voice on campus raising awareness about issues that these groups do not want to publicize. The Cord is an award-winning publication that stands out among other university newspapers. In 2010-11 The Cord received second place at the Canadian Community Newspaper Association (CCNA) in the category of best campus newspaper. We aim to be the top news source of student papers in Canada, both in print and online, and the quality of writing that appears in our paper is one of the biggest assets in helping us achieve this.

GETTING TO KNOW the cord → Get a tour of the office, either from an editor or another staff member. You can read bound volumes of old issues as well as this year’s editions. You can also see other student papers from across the country. → Study the masthead (the box where the editors’ names and titles are listed). Find out who’s who and who does what. → Sit down and look through old issues of the paper. Get a feeling for the issues that have been covered in its pages. Read the news stories carefully to get an idea of the paper’s style. → Look around for fellow newcomers or other staffers you can talk to about what it’s like working at the paper. → Come to the office at different times of the day to get a feeling for the different steps the staff goes through as they puts the paper together. Meet the array of people who are there throughout the week. → Visit during production. It’s a good way to get to know the staff and the behind-the-scenes workings of the paper. Don’t stay for the entire process, but offer to volunteer to help out a bit. → Talk to some of our more senior staff. Some are seasoned veterans anxious to let others in on how the paper works. Others are old hacks who run around like crazy people. They want to teach you all about us — just ask! → Experience everything you can. Because of the high turnover rate in student papers, you and your contemporaries will be running the paper in a few short years.

IMPORTANCE OF SECTION editors Editors at The Cord are some of the most passionate volunteers on campus. They work countless hours each week and are only paid a small honorarium for their efforts.

They are here as a resource for you; never be afraid to approach an editor with any question you may have. Remember that they were once writers and have likely encountered many of the same problems that you may be experiencing.

SECTION MEETINGS Your editors will be holding weekly section meetings. Not only are these meetings a great chance for you to get to know other writers and your editor, but they will also give you an opportunity to take on stories that interest you, as opposed to what is left over. Remember that you are not required to write every week (only as frequently as you can); however, you should still attend the meetings regardless of if you are planning to write or not.

OFFICE SPACE As a volunteer the Student Publications office is your space to use. We have lots of Mac computers, a lounge area and many great magazines. Please take advantage of this office space. It is probably best to avoid using the office for personal or social reasons at night, as that is when either The Cord, Blueprint or Keystone will be doing production, meaning there is little extra space and a lot of stressed out editors.

DEADLINES A lot more goes into putting out a paper than people just submitting their articles. After you submit your article to your editor, → Your editor reads it, makes edits and lets you know if there’s anything that needs to be changed → The Editor-in-Chief then reads it, adding notes and changes where necessary → The copy editors and Copy Editing Manager edit it once the story is laid out in the section by your editor → The Visual Director, your editor and the Editor-in-Chief all look over the article on the section’s page one final time before submitting it to the printers. Often, editors are also writing their own stories each week. When writer’s stories come in late, it slows down the entire production cycle. Just one article coming in late on a Tuesday night can delay sending the entire paper to the printers, which in turn means that the paper will not be back on campus for students to read when they expect it. Even if your story is an online-exclusive, it still must go through a similar process for editing. Please respect deadlines. If your section editors submit their content late they are the ones the Editor-in-Chief holds responsible.


Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

INTERVIEWING Every journalist takes a different approach to interviews. How you conduct your interview will change depending on the story, the subject and how much time you have available. Develop an interview strategy, adjusting it depending on how the interview flows. THE ART OF THE INTERVIEW


→ As a reporter, it is your job to get the facts. Whomever you are interviewing should understand and respect that. Chances are, your subject is more nervous then you; after all, they are going to be quoted in the newspaper and want to come off sounding intelligent. → If your contact refers to any documents/photos etc. ask for a copy. Assure them that you want these documents so that you can be as accurate as possible in your reporting. → Always keep in mind drawings or graphics you may be able to obtain which will help you accentuate your story. → At Student Publications we never let the subject see the article before it goes to print. If they ask, inform them that it is against our policy and explain that you will quote them fairly and accurately. They can contact your editor if they would like to pursue the issue further. And if you’re unsure about the situation, don’t hesitate to ask your editor for advice. → It is also against our policy to give interview subjects questions ahead of time. → If you are interviewing one or more speakers at the same time, make sure to identify in your notes who said what so you do not get them confused when transcribing. → Every aspect of the interview is important, not just the information being exchanged. Sequence, timing and tone are all key to getting the best out of your interview. → Always end an interview with: “is there anything else you would like to add?”

→ Decide who will have the information you need for this story. Ask your editor who they think are key people to speak to if you are unsure. → If you are having difficulties finding someone’s contact info try the Google, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. → Seek a variety of sources to ensure that you give both sides the opportunity to speak to you. Most stories should have at least two sources — the more the better. → Find out who cares the most about your topic or who will bring an interesting angle to your story. People whose stories aren’t being covered will want to talk to you. → Don’t be afraid to try sources outside of the “Laurier community” even if it is a “Laurier” issue. Such sources can bring a universal perspective to your story and may highlight its importance. → Include expert opinions, which gives credibility to your story – but be careful on who you choose as an expert. Business and political science professors often serve as good experts. → Always try to get a student opinion. → Never be afraid to have too many sources. The more sources you have, the more you are forced to pick out the absolute best quotes and the most relevant information. But be realistic; if you know that your story is just a small piece it may not be worth your time (and you may not have enough space to include) 5+ sources.

SETTING UP INTERVIEWS RESEARCH → Be well prepared for each interview. If this is a subsequent interview, make sure to review notes from your past interviews. → Try to locate press releases or other articles written on the topic. This will give you appropriate background information. → Contact a variety of sources to get different perspectives. → Don’t be afraid to tell your source why you are contacting them and what perspective you hope they will give you. → Continue your research after your interview. Remember to fact check the information you receive; the people you are interviewing may make mistakes. → Follow up regarding any documents you need. If your sources can’t provide them to you try acquire them on your own. → When in doubt about background issues, always consult your editor or the Editor-in-Chief.

→ Contact your sources ASAP. Individuals who work for the university often have full schedules and tend to only be available Monday to Friday during business hours. Start with an e-mail or, better yet, a phone call to set up your interview. → When trying to get someone to call you back, always leave them with four things — a deadline, an idea of what you’re talking about, a clear impression that it’s in their best interest to call you back, and when you are available to meet with them. → If you are interviewing someone regarding an issue you think they may be hesitant to talk about, don’t give away too much information in the e-mail or phone call; they might refuse an interview. → If your subject does not respond, send a follow-up. If they don’t respond to that, visit their office. If they are not in, ask their secretary when they are available. Secretaries are often willing to book appointments for you, and may even be willing to give you your contacts’ cell phone number.


Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

INTERVIEWING IF YOUR CONTACT REFUSES AN INTERVIEW → Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. → If it is impossible to set up a meeting, ask for an alternate contact. → In-person interviews are the best, but if the person is out of town or if they claim they can’t meet with you in person, don’t hesitate to set up a phone interview. You can use the phones in the office for long distance calling. → If they say they don’t have enough time, assure them you will take whatever time they have available. → If you know you only have a specific allotted time, conduct the interview accordingly. → Ask the most important questions at the beginning. → If your schedule does not correspond to the subject’s availability, check to see if your editor can do the interview for you. You can write the story from their files. → If their refusal was sent to you by email, try calling them or stopping by their office — armed with your recorder. See how they react to your initial questions; this may give you at least one good quote. → If they are worried about the issue you are speaking about, assure them that you are trying to write a balanced piece and their hesitation to speak to you will not allow you to do that. Hint that if they don’t speak to you, it will not look favourably on them. → If they initially refuse to comment, give them a second chance after you have spoken to all of your other sources. They may want to respond in light of the information you have found. → If your source says they cannot discuss the matter, ask for comments on the issue in general, or results of similar situations. → It is fine to pretend you know more information than you do. If your contact thinks that you know everything, they won’t be as inclined to keep quiet. → If the person is hesitant to speak to you about a sensitive issue (e.g. a deceased relative), start with a simple question, such as the clarification of the spelling. Once you have them on the phone, you might be able to get more information out of them.

ORDERING YOUR INTERVIEWS If you are not working on any last minute stories, you may be able to determine the order of your interviews. This can greatly change your story, specifically the quotes you get. The type of story you are working on will determine who you should contact first. Typically, you will want to speak to your most general contacts first to receive basic background information. However, if you are dealing with a situation where you want a reaction, you may want to complete your key interviews first and then you can bring their claims to the next person you are interviewing. Don’t be afraid to re-contact a source after your initial interview

Where should i conduct MY interview? We typically conduct interviews in the subject’s office, as it is their natural setting and they will have easier access to important files or documents. If you are interviewing a student, consider meeting in an accessible location like the 24 Lounge or the WLUSP office. If your story is a human interest piece, you may want to interview your subject their home or the campus building where they work. Take note of your subject’s environment, as it may be helpful for your story; don’t be afraid to ask questions about the environment.

in light of new information. It is often helpful to talk to students and professors about issues that effect them both before and after your key interviews. This way, you can take their concerns to officials and vice-versa. In your initial interviews pay attention to suggestions for further contacts. Don’t be afraid to ask your source if anyone comes to mind for future interviews.

INTERVIEW STRATEGIES Play dumb. → This will allow your source to explain the information to you in very simple terms. Likely, this will allow them to feel very smart. → It does not matter how much you know. Every time you talk to somebody new, let them tell you everything again. This will sort out discrepancies and will give you new information. Tell the subject the perspective you are hoping for. → Be aware that you may need to inform them of the issue based on information that they may not be privileged to, e.g. “I was looking for a professor’s opinion on this issue because it directly effects how you operate in the classroom...” Ask neutral, open-ended questions. → These types of questions bring forth topics we can’t anticipate and reduces bias. → This strategy usually results in less informed answers, and is best for providing you with clues as to what you should ask next. → If your subject rambles, you may need to redirect them. However, you should still pay attention, as they may mention issues that could be of interest for later stories. → You should avoid hinting at your own perspective or the “correct” anticipated answer. Make sure you are listening to what your subject is saying so you can ask follow up questions. → React to what they say. This shows you are interested and will permit you to identify key concepts in depth. → Your questions should flow like a natural conversation should. Move from general questions to the most specific.


Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

INTERVIEWING Always ask how, what and why. → The best questions to ask are: what happened? And then what happened? How did that make you feel? In what way? → These questions gives you an explanation as to what they are saying and allows them to justifying their claims and feelings. Use silence to your advantage. → Silence can be awkward, and your subject may continue to speak just to avoid it. → Use nonverbal cues to show you are attentive without verbally speaking. This will reflect that you are still interested. Other considerations → Don’t be thrown off if your subject asks you questions. Answer honestly, and redirect the questioning back to them. → Take note of emotions in the respondent’s voice, and what triggered the response. Don’t be afraid to ask why they feel that emotion. → Don’t base your interviewing style on what you have noticed from broadcast news. Print interviews can go much more in depth. → Before your interview, make note of a few things you would like to cover, but don’t stick to a script. Refer back to these notes as the interview concludes to make sure you’ve covered everything.

WHAT TO AVOID → Yes or no questions should generally be avoided. → Confirm/deny answers are never good. Instead, state the material facts and ask how they feel about it. → Don’t ask complicated questions. Simple, straightforward questions are best. → Only ask one question at a time. Your subject will be unable to sidestep what you want to know. → Only use statements when explaining something to the individual. If you are tempted to make a comment on something your subject has said, try to turn it into a question. → Be careful of “trigger words.” A term such as “scandal” could

→ → → →

make your subject less responsive. Don’t anticipate feelings, e.g. “That must have made you angry.” Don’t spoil quotes by speaking while your subject is talking. Avoid reacting by saying things like ‘uh huh’ or ‘I understand.’ When someone reveals something that is of huge importance to you story, put on your poker face. Don’t give away how excited you are to have gotten that killer quote.

USING RECORDERS For the most part, recorders are necessary when conducting interviews. They ensure that you don’t misquote anyone, and if someone ever tries to accuse you of printing something that they never said, you have the files to prove it. → Make sure to keep all audio recordings saved. → Make sure your recorder is charged and working before the interview. During the interview, periodically and discreetly glance at it to ensure it is still on. → Don’t feel obligated to note that the interview is being recorded. Don’t stop recording if the person you’re interviewing has a problem with it, explain that it’s for accuracy.

USING SHORTHAND NOTES If you are conducting an interview in a loud environment, you may need to shorthand as the recorder will pick up background noise. If shorthand is necessary, you may use “throwaway questions” which gives you a chance to catch up on the notes regarding something important your subject just said. You should always takes notes of: → Important points and quotes. Jotting the time this appears on your recorder is also helpful when transcribing.

→ Nonverbal cues, e.g. the environment, the tone of the interview, emotions expressed by your subjects, etc. → Topics to re-visit in subsequent interviews. Even though you may be taking notes don’t forget to establish eye contact. Don’t become so committed to taking notes that you miss what is right in front of you.

Sample questions


→ → → → → → → → →

In-person interviews are best, but phone interviews, though not ideal, are also acceptable. In-person interviews tend to have more depth and minimize the chance of distraction. If you are doing phone interviews, it is often necessary to ask your subject about their environment. This is especially important if it is a human interest piece. It may also be helpful to mention some personal details about yourself, as they may feel more comfortable (or just obligated) to release information about themselves as well. If you are doing a phone interview you can still record it; either come into the office to do it, or put your cell on speakerphone and

What was your reaction? What is the effect of this? What would be an example? What did he/she/you say? What was the turning point? What are the options? Why is that? What do you mean by that? What makes you say that?

→ What is the hardest part? → What is/was missing? → How did you make that conclusion? → How could this problem be resolved? → What went through/is going through your mind? → What do you know about it?


Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

INTERVIEWING keep your recorder a several inches away to avoid picking up static.



Always start by asking for the correct spelling of the student’s name (even if it seems obvious), their major, year and contact information. Always include their year and major or position (e.g. VP at WLUSU). Students often give brief answers; ask fewer “what” questions and more “why” and “how” questions to compensate.

E-mail and instant message interviews are rarely, if ever, permitted. They should be used only be used in extreme circumstances. Always get permission from your editor before conducting an e-mail or instant message interview.

OFF the record → You must honour a subject’s request for anonymity. Inform them that legally, WLUSP will have to reveal their identity if legal proceedings were to ever occur. → Ensure what is on and off the record. If your source wants to say one thing off the record, clarify when they are back on the record. → If your subject refuses to speak on the record, explain that going off the record creates a far less effective story. Try to negotiate; once they are finished speaking, ask if they would consider putting certain statements on the record. → Still record your conversation. If they ask you to turn your recorder off, take notes.

USING QUOTES EFFECTIVELY → Don’t waste quotes on facts. Quotes should offer analysis and add depth to your story. → It may be sufficient to paraphrase what your source said, while still attributing them. → You can make very slight changes to quotes such as removing words like ‘ummm’ or ‘like’ but don’t change their substance. → You can link quotes from two or more answers, as long as it doesn’t distort what the subject was trying to say.

→ Contact your subject at a later date and ask them if they would be willing to go on the record.

→ Use neutral words to introduce quotes, such as “said”, “states”, or “told The Cord.” Words like “claims” can make people seem less credible.

→ Ask your source if they know of anyone who would be willing to speak on the record.


→ If your source initially goes on the record and later requests that the interview be off the record, you are legally able to print what they previously said.

AFTER THE INTERVIEW → You may need to re-contact your subject again after your initial interview, especially if you receive information that may contradict what was said or you have new claims to bring forward. Even if you simply forgot to ask a question, don’t be afraid to reestablish contact. → Mention that you may be in contact again, even if you have no intention of conducting a second interview. → Try to transcribe your interviews as soon as possible, while everything about the interview is still fresh in your mind. → After you transcribe, pick out the most salient points and quotes you would like to use in your story. → Pick out important quotes and claims right after your interview, so you can take them to your other subjects. → Don’t write your entire story after only one interview. It may be helpful to pick out key points and write a couple paragraphs but remember every interview you conduct will greatly shape your story.

If you are using an interview that you did not conduct yourself in a story, you must include “with files from ...” at the bottom of the story, even if it is something minor. Though you may not care if you receive credit in the story, it is important that those quoted be aware of when they said something. If a quote appears in a story written by a different person than he/ she who did the interview, it loses it’s validity. If there are any sort of liability issues at a later date it will also be important in finding all those who was involved in the story. If you contribute significantly to a story, change it to a double byline. It is not fair, to either yourself or your writer, to give someone credit for something they did not do.

MAINTAINING CONTACTS Once you establish key contacts, try to maintain a positive experience with them. They may come to you again to inform you if further issues arise. At the same time don’t be afraid to print something for fear of hurting their feelings. Start making personal notes, or ask editors who is usually willing to speak out and who is not.


Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

LEDES A lede is the beginning of the story. In most hard news stories, that means the first sentence. In some features, it may take the first few paragraphs. Whatever its format, your lede must be compelling enough and inviting enough to arrest a reader’s attention as they scan halfinterestedly across the page. → An effective lede does two things: it answers the questions “what’s new?” and “why care?” → A lede should also communicate the key information contained within the story. Journalistic tradition would classify this data under “the five Ws and one H”: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. → A lede should raise questions, not just provide information. Otherwise a reader might be content with the factoid and stop reading. → Your lede will also set mood and tone. Ledes can be intimate or cold, tragic or hilarious, hard-hitting or celebratory. → Be concise. Don’t stall the reader with peripheral details.

TYPES OF LEDES → Summary lede — Tries to cram as much of the “five w’s and an h” into a single sentence as possible. It is also known as the standard lede, and is used for standard inverted-pyramid news. “Stephen Harper intends to fight urban poverty by rounding up all the drug dealers in Canada and locking them in small steel boxes, the prime minister told the Alberta Chamber of Commerce in a campaign speech in Red Deer last night.” → Single-item lede — Concentrates on just one or two elements for a bigger punch. “Stephen Harper has warned the nation’s drug dealers that they won’t breathe easy if he’s re-elected.” → Quote lede — Use a dramatic quotation to launch the story. This should be used sparingly, and only when the quote is fantastic. Often paraphrasing the quote will be more effective, as most people do not speak in sound bites. → Analogy lede — Make a comparison between the issue or event at hand and something more familiar. Usually the fruit of inspiration, this kind of lede either works or it doesn’t. “Civil libertarians fear that Stephen Harper’s prescription for drug abuse could make the War Measures Act look lax.” → Distinctive incident lede — Use an anecdote, image, or contrasting images to illustrate the point. It often brings in a human element, and gives the story personality, specificity and colour. A good way to improve stilted news style and to highlight ironies. “While Stephen Harper addressed them last night, the members of the Alberta Chamber of Commerce finished off their dinner wines and started in on dessert cocktails. Some enjoyed fine cigars or puffed on long cigarettes as they smiled at the prime minister’s words.” → Cartridge lede — Uses one word or short phrase as a teaser for the rest of the lede. This usually seems gimmicky and should be used sparingly. “Sardine tins. That’s what Stephen Harper intends to use to contain the drug problem and cure urban ills.”

LEDES TO AVOID → Quote lede — Isn’t good without context. You can almost always say it more succinctly than your source. → Pun lede — Write with nouns and verbs; don’t be cute. → Double barrel — Two ideas in the same lede. Sometimes this is necessary because they make the story. It’s okay to have a lede that’s two sentences long. Try not to have them longer than 25 words. People need to be able to read them quickly – short, simple sentences – tell them what they need to know.

LEDES TO NEVER USE → Question lede —It’s not a game, it’s a news story. → Cosmic lede — Makes a sweeping statement about an issue as a way of introducing the subject. It’s a pretentious, lazy way to write, particularly endemic to bad arts writing. → “It’s” lede — For example, it’s brown and grey and white all over. Don’t tease the reader. It doesn’t advance their understanding. It’s not about how clever you are. It’s about the reader, not us.

GENERAL ADVICE → The lede doesn’t have to be the first thing you write. In fact, wrestling with a lede can either prevent you from getting the story done on time or misguide you in how you slant the story. You can wait until you’ve finished the core of the story, figure out an angle, then try again. → The first part of your story does not have to correspond to the chronological first event. Start with the point, then fill in the background. → Make sure you attribute opinions in your lede. But don’t clutter the lede with over-identification — use either the name or the job title, and then use the other label in the next reference to clarify the attribution.


News Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

THE INVERTED PYRAMID One common approach taken by most newspapers, the “inverted pyramid” style places the most important information is at the top of the story, trickling down to the least important material in the last paragraph. The point is to give the reader as much information as you can before they run out of time, get bored, or get distracted. It also gives the production people something they can easily slice off the bottom if they don’t have room for the whole story. This does

happen, and sticking to pyramid style is your best defence against losing the best part of your story to the editing knife. The following article from the Ubyssey is a good example of inverted pyramid writing:

VANCOUVER (CUP) – The University of British Columbia has joined the Vancouver and Whistler bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. If its proposal is accepted, the university will be the site for the speed skating competition and the Olympic Village, where an estimated 3,000 athletes will stay. And while UBC isn’t that keen about the prospect of building a speed skating oval on campus, it was necessary under the proposed terms of the deal, said Byron Hender, the university’s executive co-ordinator for student and academic services. “The university wants to support the bid,” he said. The large, enclosed oval rink could be used as class space or library storage after the Games, added Hender. As well, new residences would be built in preparation for the Games, said Mary Risebrough, university director of housing and conferences. But, she continued, students living in these or other residences would have to relocate during the two-week long Games. The Canadian Olympic Association is scheduled to choose a Canadian city to enter into the international bidding for the Games on Nov. 21. Details about who will fund the proposed site at UBC won’t be finalized until then. “I don’t think we will do anything at all until we are sure of Vancouver [as a site],” said Hender. However, it’s likely funding will come from outside sources, she said. Calgary and Quebec City are the two other Canadian cities competing with Vancouver to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. Official announcement of the bid by UBC’s board of governors is expected in about two weeks.

This story begins by giving the most important information: UBC is joining Vancouver’s bid to host the Winter Olympics. Paragraph two is derived from this opening phrase. In turn, paragraph three comes out of the second sentence. The result is that each paragraph comments on information given in preceding lines. By the time we reach the sentence that begins “The Canadian Olympic Association . . .”, we are entering into a subtopic, namely, the day Canada will choose a candidate for its Olympic bid. If there

wasn’t enough space in the paper for the entire story, an editor could start cutting around here. Note, however, that the really important information would not be lost because it is at the top. There are pros and cons to the inverted pyramid and the debate still rages about its merit. It’s simple and quick, but the format can be very restrictive and boring. Once you’ve adapted to thinking in a news-writing way, and have written lots of stories, you can experiment and not feel bound by standard style.


Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

HEADLINES We love them, we hate them. They take up all our creative energy on production nights and force us to sum up a 500-700 word article in less than five words. Yet, headlines are arguably the most important text in the paper. When there’s a mistake in the headline – either factual or grammatical, it calls into question the integrity of the article and our newspaper. Headlines have to be interesting and snappy. They need to be read quickly and tell a reader if they should stop and read the article or move on. Sometimes they’re the only part of the paper a person will read. The truth is, headlines don’t get enough love from us editors. So here are a few tips to give your stories some headline therapy.

CUTLINES The purpose of cutlines is not to tell the obvious, but it still needs to answer questions. You have two chances to start telling your story: the headline and the cutline. Use them both but in different ways. → → → →

→ The writer should come up with their own headline but understand that it may not be used if it doesn’t fit within the layout of the section or is lacking information not presented in the deck or photo cutlines. → A headline gives it away. With many story titles, the reader is left in suspense. Not so in newspapers. People read the newspaper to find out what is happening. → Use active, present tense verbs. Make your words short and snappy, yet descriptive and precise. Avoid words ending in “-ing”. → A good trick is to use a phrase in the article that gives a good indication of its topic. It can be a direct quote – if so, always use single quotation marks in a headline – or it can be a paraphrased idea. → Don’t waste too much time trying to be clever. Although headlines thick in analogy and references are funny and cute, sometimes it’s just better to say it like it is. Headlines are not supposed to be inside jokes. Always be imaginative, but write “fun” headlines only when both the story and your sense of humour warrant it. → Don’t repeat the same idea in your decks. Say something else that’s interesting and gives more news to the piece. Don’t repeat the same word in the headline and deck. → Avoid acronyms like BOD or WLUFA. WLU is okay. → You must entice the reader into reading the story. If the headline is confusing, vague or abstract, they probably will move along. Be shocking and even a little sensational, appealing to emotions. → A good headline anchors the story to help visually organize the page. → If you’re stuck for a headline, always ask yourself this question: “What is the thing this story wants the reader to know?


You should be linking the photo and the story in the cutline. Write in the present tense. Include names wherever possible. Omit references to the photo, such as “is pictured” or “shown above.” Use “from left” rather than “from left to right.”

Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

SELF-EDITING Self-editing can be the most annoying step in the writing process if it is not done correctly. If you do it right, though, your editors will love you and your copy will glimmer like gold. If you want to get those late-breaking production night, hold-thepresses type stories, self-editing skills are key. Your editors are more likely to give you last-minute or important stories if they know your work will require little editing. It should get a little bit easier with each story, until you plateau and assert that you no longer need to self-edit. But you’re wrong. Review these rules one more time.

→ Trip over clumsy clauses → Switch the passive voice to active by putting the acted-on subject first


→ What is libel? A newspaper commits libel whenever they publish a false and damaging statement. It falls under the larger legal category of defamation. A defamation is any statement that lowers a person’s reputation in the eyes of others — by exposing them to hatred, contempt or ridicule — or threatens their livelihood. Any false or misleading statement that appears in your newspaper can potentially land you in court.

→ Know the rules of grammar, The Cord’s style and how to type. → Constantly look over what you wrote, scanning for errors in style, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary. → As paragraphs emerge, examine their structure and relevance to those preceding and following each of them. Re-arrange as necessary. → Re-write and re-re-write your lede as the story evolves. → Play with the order of your quotes, whose voices are where and what they’re saying. Look for balance and fairness, making sure that, in your haste, everyone is fairly represented.

TAKE A BREAK → You can’t self-edit right after you’ve finished writing. Grab a coffee, or take a walk, and relax for a bit.

WRITE A HEADLINE → Express the story in as few words as possible, knowing that the headline may be the only thing that gets read. → Read it aloud with your lede. Do they tell readers what they need to know?

KNOW YOUR WEAKNESSES → Whether you can’t spell to save your life or take hours to write a lede, know your weaknesses and own them. Ask for help if necessary, but try to account for it on your own by planning ahead.

FACT CHECK → Google is your friend. Typing in a name or a pronoun is usually all it takes to get the correct spelling. → When reviewing quotes, slow down your recorder and make sure that every word is on the tape as it is on your page.

Libel → While libel may fall better under Objectivity (pg 14), it is something you can identify and prevent in the self-editing process.

→ Anything published online also counts as libel. This includes posts on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and comments. → Defamation, when spoken, is called slander and the same rules apply. Slander, for a reporter, can occur on the radio. Think before you speak. → Still unsure of what it is? Defamatory = bad. If you call John an asshole and people laugh at him, not only did you make him cry but you made others think less of him. That, believe it or not, is libel, because you have lowered the reputation of someone in the minds of others. If you are going to be labeling people “assholes,” therefore, be sure you can convince a judge that you are in the right. You can’t commit libel against someone who is dead, but anyone associated to the deceased can be libelled depending on what is written. You can also libel a corporation, just like an individual person. → So what? Anytime The Cord publishes a libellous story, we are vulnerable to being sued. The source of the libel is not important. In other words, if you quote someone, and the quoted material turns out to be false or defamatory, you could be held liable. A paper and its editors (including copy editors) are responsible for all the material they publish. So is the reporter, meaning if you wrote it, you can be sued individually as well. → How do you prevent it? Don’t do it. Just like you wouldn’t plagiarize a story, you shouldn’t commit libel against anyone you write about either. If you’re ever unsure because you’re quoting something that sounds libelous or any other situation, ask your editor, the EIC or publisher. If they’re unsure, they’ll probably have you just remove it from your work. Better safe than sorry.

READ IT ALOUD Look for instances where you: → Used extra words or commas


Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

ATTRIBUTING QUOTES Some writers, looking for variety, try to squeeze six or eight different words of attribution into their story. They think readers will be bored by endless repetitions of ‘said’.

But that’s not necessarily the case. If multiple paragraphs start with Jones said or he said, readers will notice. If every sentence has to be attributed, the problem is with your story rather than your attribution style. In most well-written news stories, attribution is almost unnoticed. Said, in this case, is more than enough, but there are plenty of other options depending on the circumstance. You can use admit when someone confesses to a shortcoming or improper deed: “‘I sold the tools for drug money,’ Jones admitted.” You cannot use admit unless someone owns up to guilt — “‘I’m a Baptist,’ Jones admitted” won’t quite do it. State, though overworked, has its place. Most of us do not state things. Say that someone stated an objection or maybe even stated his name, but don’t use, “‘I’m Jim Baker,’ he stated.” Don’t use the word casually; it makes the quote sound forced. Vowed and promised can be illustrated with this simple sentence: “I will be back.” Depending on what we are trying to tell the reader, we have a choice of attributive verbs. “‘I will be back,’ he promised” expresses a guarantee; to vow has more solemn, even religious overtones and cultural contexts. He warned carries still another meaning. We also have verbs to indicate the volume of utterance: shouted, yelled, and screamed all have different connotations, and may be used with exclamation marks. Sometimes we want to have our speaker whisper something. Maybe we even have that person mutter or mumble, though those words do better as descriptions of speech than as attribution verbs. That is, it’s better to say “Jones mumbled an apology” than to say, “‘I’m sorry,’ Jones mumbled”. Beware of the threat implied in utter and the animosity in mutter; after all, mutterers say things under their breath. We also have a good supply of words to avoid in attribution. Some of these provide amusement: speakers may have facial expressions, but to say that someone grinned, chuckled, smirked, soothed or calmed a statement is indulgent. Unless you’re writing a crime report on the Joker in Batman, it wasn’t grinned — use said and describe the body language that led to this interpretation. Feel, think, and believe have three, very distinct meanings: sensual, cerebral, and deeply held. Unless you’re writing fiction, you don’t know what a person feels, thinks, or believes — you only know what they say. So: saying he thinks is your best bet. Finally: the great debate, says vs. said. There are many reasons to use said in news writing: most important is the realization that what someone told you is just that, what they told you. It could change. Journalism would be unnecessary if everyone went around saying the same thing all the time. Something was said, it happened once,

and you recorded it. Use says for movies, books, and music and the past tense for all other occasions. We have different words to indicate different meanings. Careful writers choose the right words to express the appropriate meaning. 90 per cent of the time, the right word is said.


Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12



→ Board of directors: Write the full name the first time. Following this, refer to it as the board. No capitals are used. Do not refer to it as the BOD. → Board of governors: Refer to as the board after the first time it’s used. No capitals. → Titles: Do not capitalize, unless it is a formal title. Nobody who works at WLU should have a capitalized title, e.g. president of WLU Max Blouw, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. For style purposes, we capitalize editor titles, e.g. Editor-in-Chief. → Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union: write out in full the first time, without putting WLUSU in brackets. Following this, refer to it as WLUSU. → Wilfrid Laurier University: write this out in full the first time, without putting WLU in brackets. After, refer to it as WLU. → Universities: Capitalize the names of universities and colleges, but use lowercase for departments, programs and courses, e.g. Brock University, history department, faculty of arts. → Newspapers: italicize and capitalize newspaper names, but not “the.” For style purposes, The Cord will have a capital “T” and will not be italicized, e.g. the New York Times.

→ Keep them short for print. They should be only 1-2 sentences. → Sentences may start with “and,” “but,” etc. but restructure if it is excessive.

WRITING FIGURES → Numbers: Round to the 100’s. In a series numbers can be mixed, such two and 13. → Spell out numbers from one to ten, use digits for 11 and above. → Do not use st, nd, rd or th in dates, e.g. Sept. 24, 2011. → For numbers in the millions or higher, use numbers and words. 2.5 million is preferable to 2,500,000. → Numbers are separated by (,)’s, not spaces, e.g. 50,000. → Per cent: Not percent or %.

COMMAS → “Apples, oranges and pears” not “Apples, oranges, and pears.” → Commas come after a clause at the beginning a sentence, e.g. after she bought apples, she left the store. → Commas go around phrases that are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence, e.g. Madonna, singer of “Material Girl”, played in Toronto last March. → Use commas sparingly, but make sure the sentence makes sense without them. If a sentence requires a large number of commas to be clear, it needs rephrasing.

Capitalization → In headlines, only capitalize the first word and any proper noun. → Internet is always capitalized. E-mail is spelled with a hyphen.

PUNCTUATION → Omit periods in all-capital abbreviations, unless the abbreviation is geographical or refers to a person. Most lower-case abbreviations have periods. Put periods in: a.m., p.m., U.K., U.S. B.Sc. Do not put periods in: UN, BA, MA, PhD, BBA. → Single space after periods. → Callouts and cutlines utilize proper punctuation. Decks do not use periods. → Use exclamation marks very, very sparingly. Almost never.

QUOTATIONS → Always use double quotes, except for inside quotes. John explained, “The quarterback said they ‘played a better game.’” → When introducing a quote with a comma, use a capital at the beginning of the quote. No comma, no capital required. → Punctuation marks always go inside the quotation marks, unless the quotations marks are indicating a TV show episode, short story or song title. → Quotation marks are used for titles of songs, short written works and song titles; use italics for novels, works of art, video game titles, movies, albums, plays, paintings, TV shows and newspapers.

Dashes and Hyphens → A hyphen is used to connect parts of a word together, such as reentry. → An m-dash is used to insert parenthetical phrases into a sentence — like this — and is so-called since it is approximately the same width as a typed m. → An n-dash, which is slightly smaller than the m-dash, but larger than a hyphen, is used for ranges, such as June–July. → Both dashes can be found by using the “insert symbols” tool in Microsoft Word. → When two words are combined to make a single adjective, hyphenate them. “Well-written commentary.”

SPELLING → Use Canadian spelling – metres, catalogue, cheque, colour, grey, tonnes, centre – unless the name of an organization or building indicates otherwise. → When referring to decades, centuries, etc., do not put an apostrophe before the s (1800s, not 1800’s; ‘90s, not ‘90’s or 90’s). → It’s councillor not councilor, but enrolment not enrollment.


Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

OBJECTIVITY From the very moment a story is assigned, there is a bias being brought to bear. An editor chose one story over another because they think it’s a ‘better’ story, and they want this particular angle on it because it’s a better angle. Writers seek out stories that interest them, reflecting their own views and tastes. The writer decides who to interview and, equally importantly, who not to interview. They decide what to ask and what not to ask, what research needs to be done and what doesn’t. They then decide what the lede should be, what the angle should be, who should be quoted first, who should be quoted longer. Copy editors then decide what to change, what to cut, or what to add. Editors decide where the story should be placed and what pictures should go with it and what the headline, decks or cutlines are. Sometimes none of that makes a difference. But, if you’re writing a story with conflict, there will be decisions made by a number of people that will affect the way the story is written. Those decisions will affect the way the story is perceived by the reader.

UNOFFICIAL SOURCES The word from the street is necessary in order to speak to the average reader. But the choice of voice is important when it is impossible to represent all voices in a single article. Which voice represents which people? Are the people you have chosen to quote informed about the issues that you’re asking them to comment on? As with official sources, quoting poorly informed unofficial sources can make the official sources look more credible than they really are, or de-legitimize what could otherwise be legitimate opposition or support. When you quote average people, make sure that they know what they’re talking about.


THE ‘OBJECTIVE’ MEDIA In practice, mainstream media suffers from economic, political and industry pressures that often prevent it from performing its ideal role of providing a wide variety of views. Coverage rarely threatens the status quo and criticism remains within acceptable boundaries. As a group, media tend to, by their neutrality, serve economic and political power holders, especially when these groups organize to use media to their advantage. This is one good reason why student journalists not only need to abandon the myth of objectivity, but consciously examine what positions they’re advocating. Are we simply adding to this wall of disinformation or are we posting an alternative?

OFFICIAL SOURCES Sources are an essential part to any news article. We must interview and report on all sides of a story. We must balance each view with the others, ensure that every voice is heard. However, you must watch that you don’t give voices unfair play. A source can tell you anything, but is what they say true? Which sources are more credible? Does the inclusion of honorifics like “Dr.” change your opinion of one’s credibility? What about the use of statistics in quotes? Remember when quoting people to double check any numbers they throw at you — they’re just as fallible when quoting numbers as you are. Think about balance. For example, 500 people strongly believe that WLUSU should put new pop machines in the FNCC and one person thinks the plan is a bad idea. If you write a story in which one person from the group of 500 gets a quote, and the person who thinks the plan is bad gets a quote, you may need to consider whether or not your story is balanced.

Freebies come in a variety of forms and almost always represent an effort to influence your coverage. At some commercial papers, the mere acceptance of a free coffee is cause for a reporter’s dismissal. Most arts sections do accept freebies, in the form of tickets, CDs, books and “press junkets” — free trips to interview the star of an upcoming release. Even these types of gifts are questionable and student papers are often vulnerable to conniving promoters. After several uncomplimentary reviews of a major promoter’s concerts, tickets are usually not as free-flowing. Promoters can afford to do this because student press coverage is not always crucial to the success or failure of an event. If you find you are being less than honest in your reviews in hopes of obtaining tickets for the same company’s next event, your criticism is virtually useless. Your readers have been unknowingly betrayed. If you can afford to, it is always better to resist any kind of gift.

LIBEL See page 11 or the HR Guide for the full explanation on what libel is and how to prevent it.


Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

WRITING AS AN OUTSIDER Reporters setting out on an assignment, even seasoned veterans, are woefully ignorant of the facts. When you have the added burden of entering a community as an outsider, the situation is only exacerbated. There is no formula for writing as an (ethnic, political, cultural, linguistic, geographic ... ) outsider. The key is your state of mind as you approach the people and documents you meet in your research. Respect your subjects. Respect the environment you are thrust into. Respect the words you write. The ever-present question that you should hold in your mind when you are covering communities from the outside is whether you have the ability, or even the right, to do so. Should straight people write about queer culture? Can a middle-class white person cover the First Nations? Should a Christian student be allowed to interpret the actions of an Islamic student society? In the real world, from understaffed student newspapers to giant dailies, these philosophical questions are usually a moot point. Practical and financial limitations mean that the closest body usually gets the assignment of the moment, whatever and wherever it is. Do not lose sight of the fact that a reporter’s role is to take a mass of information, make sense of it, condense it, and present it to your readers. To do so, you have to be well-grounded in the basics of research and interviewing. You have to know how to find information and how to talk to people.

→ You have to earn the respect of people you are covering. You do not have to apologize for who you are, or be someone you are not. But you do have to be ready and willing to deal with a situation which may be alien to you and do it with an open mind. → Constantly ask yourself if you are making value judgments based on your biases. When you go into a new community, leave as much of your baggage as possible at the door. → Every effort should be made to interview people in the language of their choice (using translators if necessary) and in surroundings where they feel comfortable. Aside from being a basic courtesy, it always gives you a better story. → Never imagine that you have become a member of a community while covering it. The reason reporters are welcomed into communities from the outside is to be conduits of information. The people involved should always be quoted telling the story because they are the story.


→ In covering outside communities, reporters can be too soft, paint a phony picture or fail to question contradictions in the name of solidarity. You cannot be afraid to tell the truth. No matter how much you care about a subject, you have an obligation to expose it fully, warts and all.

→ Reading can save you several hours of interviews. Talk to a community member or an academic before hand, if you can, to get some background on a new subject. It can open doors that would otherwise (literally and figuratively) be slammed in your face.

→ Do not underestimate your readers. If your concern is phony, if you are hiding something or are ill-informed, it will be glaringly obvious. If you really care about an issue, it will show and your underlying message will be conveyed.

→ Recognize that some of the rules go out the window and some of the simplest tasks can become very complex. We assume, for example, that in interviews subjects will be able to speak English, but what happens when you are trying to interview someone who is a tourist from a non-English speaking country? What do you do when the meeting you are attending is being conducted in American Sign Language?

IN SUM Do what is virtually impossible, and do it every time you write a story: be fair. Be prepared, listen carefully, sympathize, analyze and then tell readers what you have learned. When you are dropped into a strange place to cover an unknown topic in an impossible time frame, do it twice as well.

→ You have to be a good listener. You cannot be judgmental. You have to be resourceful. → You must step back and see the big picture, and refrain from making judgments until after collecting the various versions of the facts.

SENSITIVITY → Above all else, you must be as unobtrusive as possible. A white reporter who shows up at an Association of Black Students meeting will stand out. As such, they have an obligation to explain why they are there. This is when doing your homework pays off; if you have read the minutes of a previous meeting or haved talked to the association president, it can pay off big time.


Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

WEB JOURNALISM People are getting their news from Google searches and RSS feeds, and online media allows for people to access this information. Media is converging on the web, many people are doing their preliminary reading online, opposed to print sources. It’s no longer the graphics, or selection of news that are drawing people in, but instead simply the byline and the brand. The Tyee is a strong example of the future of journalism. It is an online daily news magazine, with stories from political issues, policies, features, to lifestyle issues. With the loss of classifieds and regional ads, advertising is also changing. As ads move online, the challenge is finding a way to make it profitable. Instead of getting news from a single source, people are now able to get news from many different sources all at once. “Citizen journalism” is becoming more popular with the help of resources such as Twitter, Facebook and various blogging technologies.

WRITING FOR WEB In order to be successful in the world of Internet journalism, you have to be a professional about it. You can’t do it while writing various other columns; you have to establish an audience and continue to feed their desires for news and entertainment. The writing has to be a conversation, engaging readers with opinion and debate. The Internet is excellent for longer, more thoughtful pieces. You can go more in depth online, due to the unlimited space.

TWITTER Twitter is one of the main breaking points for Internet journalism. The information can be reached by an unlimited amount of viewers instantly, while allowing reader to respond and interact to the news they read. All student journalists should be using Twitter. Use it to link to interesting articles and update your followers before the paper comes out. It shows you are following current events, linking you to important people on the web. You can use Twitter to live-tweet events like sports games, BOD meetings, and election results. This will allow you to beat Facebook status updates and even some major news sources. You want people to go to The Cord’s website to read your stories, posting links on Twitter and Facebook can contribute to that. Don’t be afraid to link out on your website (in articles, on blogs). It will keep people coming back more often to check your updates.

BLOGGING Blogging is a medium more relaxed and informal than print. You are able to say what you cannot in a newspaper; it does not have to be objective. A British journalist, Bill Thompson, blogs himself about the importance of getting students and aspiring journalists into the art of blogging early on.

He writes, “The real point of getting a journalist blogging at this early stage in his or her career is that the bloggers, in all their variety, with all their different skills and abilities and interests and biases, are reshaping the world in which professional journalists operate just as much as the telephone shook up the profession in the first half of the 20th Century.” People, especially young people, are reading more news online and therefore often better understand that medium than print or broadcast. Thompson also writes, “The growth of Internet use and the emergence of easy-to-use publishing tools could well be the best thing that has happened to journalism since radio and then television offered new ways to reach people, but that requires a certain degree of modesty and a great willingness to learn on the part of a profession that is not noted for either attribute.” While blogging is a much more conversational medium, great bloggers speak with informed, personal authority through an honest, lively voice. To write a great blog, write about what you know – your passion, well researched and reported. Employ the skills of a news columnist, crafting a personal, first-person voice that readers will find engaging, comfortable and honest. When you don’t know something, do not be afraid to admit it. Great bloggers see their posts as the first comment in a conversation, rather than the final word on that particular topic.

GENERAL TIPS → The shorter, the better. Readers appreciate writers who do not waste their time. Simple, direct language communicates your thoughts more efficiently than your bloated demonstration of all that stuff the rest of us slept through in English class. → Active voice. “Do it,” not “will have been done” it. Reserve passive voice for situations where you don’t know the subject, such as crime and court reports. But even then, try to cast as much of the action in the active voice as you can. → Strong verbs. The best verbs demonstrate action. If you’re writing a string of weak linking verbs, think about the action that’s happening in your post, then rewrite a new draft using nothing but nouns and verbs in an attempt to better engage your vocabulary. → Attribute sources. If you don’t tell your readers where you got your information, many of them will assume that you are just making it up. Attribution brings you credibility, because readers know that you’ve got nothing to hide if they want to check you out. → Contextual hyperlinking Online narratives should allow readers to “branch off” and click through to other, more detailed, support-


Writer Resources • Cord Training Manual 2011-12

WEB JOURNALISM ing content, depending upon a reader’s level of interest. Almost all journalism refers to other sources, but online, a writer has the ability to link readers directly to those supporting sources. Note the URLs of those sources when reporting, and work those into your piece with contextual hyperlinks. Try to link those URLs to the relevant proper names, keywords and phrases, rather than to the URLs themselves written out, or worse, the over-used “click here.” → Easy to read. Make sure that no block of text is more than five lines on the screen.

Helpful Links → — Advice on how to tweet effectively as a reporter → — Like Twitter For Newsrooms, Facebook + Journalists page gives advice on using their social media tool. → — The latest updates about social media and tech tools.

Shenzhen 2011, Day 1: Jetlag This post displays several aspects of what can be included in a blog. It is an example of a travel blog and shares the writer’s experience of the long journey they’ve taken. As an introductory post, it provides the context for the blog and previews future posts. Justin Fauteux News Director Posted August 10, 2011 As you my be able to gather by the title of this blog post, 14 hours on a plane and the 12-hour time difference is killing me. I’ve been awake for about 26 straight hours and 20 of those hours were spent aboard either a plane or bus. With this in mind I’m going to keep this post mainly focused on who I am and what I’m going to be doing over the next two weeks as I flood The Cord’s homepage with my ramblings. First, the basics. I’m Justin Fauteux, The Cord’s News Director and right now I’m in Shenzhen, China. There’s something I never thought I’d be able to say. I’m taking part in a young journalist seminar at the 2011 International University Sports Federation Summer University Games. I applied for this program at the beginning of the summer and despite thinking I had about as much of a shot of being selected as I do getting a date with miss Candace Bergen, I was chosen as one of the two North American representatives. Over the next two weeks I, along with the other participants in the program, which may be as little as 12 or as many 30+ (I’ll keep you posted on that) will be receiving training from professional international sports journalists while helping with coverage of the games. Ok, that takes care of how I ended up with a free trip to China, but what I’m sure most of you are probably wondering is “what the hell are the Summer University Games?” To put it simply, it’s the Olympics for university athletes (Team Canada is made up of Canadian university athletes and they compete against other countries’ top university athletes). To put a Laurier spin

on it, Golden Hawk athletes Alyssa Lagonia and Kale Harrison are on Canada’s women’s soccer and men’s basketball teams respectively. I’ll be keeping up with them throughout my time here too. Despite its non-existent profile in North America, this event is massive. While I knew that it was the second-largest multi-sport event, only behind the Olympics and that there were over 13,000 athletes, coaches and officials involved before I left, I didn’t understand the real magnitude of the games until I got here. Essentially the city of Shenzhen has been taken over by the Summer University Games. From the time my 14-hour plane ride concluded at the Hong Kong airport (I know 14 hours sounds like a hellishly long time to be on a plane, and it is) you couldn’t go ten feet without seeing a representative of the Universiade (as the games are also known). The city is draped with Universiade banners, the games have their own designated vehicles and even in the streets the sight of a representative is more than common. In the coming days I’ll be starting my program and the games will kickoff, starting with the opening ceremonies on Friday. I’ll be updating this blog everyday with what I’ve been up to and trust me it’ll get more exciting than this. It’ll even have photos.


This manual was compiled and designed by Morgan Alan, Blueprint Editor-in-Chief 2009-11. You’re welcome. Maybe this will teach you all to stay the fuck out of my house.

Cord Writing Guide  

Writer's guide for The Cord

Cord Writing Guide  

Writer's guide for The Cord