Writing and Designing for Newspapers: Georgia Press Institute 2014

Friday, February 7

Print and Digital Strategies for Breaking News with a Focus on the Sandy Hook School Shootings

Rick Hancock, Atlanta-Journal Constitution (Daily) and Walter Geiger, The Herald-Gazette, Barnesville (Weekly)

How do you prepare to cover something like the Newton, CT shootings?

  1. Look at your entire organization and decide who is doing what.
  2. Hold a breaking news drill. The AJC created a scenario with the newsroom for about four hours where an unmarked, unlabeled truck stopped in the middle of I-85. A suspicious man walks out of the truck, looks around and runs away. The truck begins leaking. Evacuations happen and roads are closed; MARTA stops working. This situation tested the newsrooms’ ability to react to a breaking news situation. This helped the newsroom develop protocols they would not have thought of without doing a drill.

A strike team—special breaking news team—are employed to get the news the paper is looking for.

“Tell the story right.”

Saturday, February 8

Writing for Readers: Headline and Lede Writing Discussion

Barry Hollander, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, UGA

Lede Advice

  1. Sum up the story in six words or less. Make them tweet it. If you can get them to sum up the question, they’re less likely to bury the lead.
  2. If you’re writing an opinion you don’t fully understand, you can’t develop a good lede.
  3. You don’t need to have everything in the lede, but the “what” needs to be there. Keep it clean, clear, simple and to the point. What can you put off until the second graf?
  4. Be very gentle with numbers in the lede. Break it into proportions that people can understand. But get math proficient. You can’t say “I’m a journalist, I’m a word person” anymore. You need to be a numbers person.
  5. The date and time should never open a story. Level 1 writing is getting a clear, crisp, simple lede.
  6. In journalism, never invent. There are some times where second person works—but make it rare.
  7. Think of the lede while you’re reporting and let it change—it should change.
  8. People either tinker with the lede until it’s perfect or get the story down and write the lede afterwards. Who gets impacted by this?
  9. Pretend you’re telling the story to your roommate. And don’t stare at the blank screen—write something. The longer it stays blank, the more the writer panics.
  10. Notice and ask. Drive home a different way every day. Do things to get you out of your normal routine. When you get stuck on a lede, go back and look at the details. Never use all your best stuff in the ledes—save something for the 1/3 point that grabs the reader. Then 2/3 of the way through, do it again. A good quote is a great ending.
  11. Don’t ask too much of your readers in a straight story.
  12. Challenge every word and every sentence and especially every adjective and adverb. Find strong verbs.
  13. Find stories in the numbers.
  14. The lede has enormous power to frame the story in the reader’s mind.


  1. Find a good, strong quote. Try not to steal the best from the lede in the headline. The head needs to be different enough from the lede so that people don’t stop reading at the lede.
  2. Our audience enjoys snarkiness and attitude—but not in the news.

Getting the Grey Out: Making Your Inside Pages More Compelling

Corinne Nicholson and Christine Troyky, Southern Community Newspapers, Inc.

  • Ask yourself: Would I read this? Would I look at this?
  • Say you don’t have room for all the stories. You can’t run all those photos unless you have a photo page (which holds 5-7 photos). You can use a box that advertises more photos/videos/multimedia online.
  • If the story is too long, don’t be afraid to send it back to get subheads.
  • If you put a dollar over a text and it covers the entire text, it’s too grey.
  • White space is your friend. Don’t be afraid to pull stories and give them some space so it doesn’t look all greyed in. It looks nicer.
  • Submitted photos need cutlines, too.

Is Your Paper Worth Reading: Developing and driving content

John Winters, The Newnan Times-Herald

  • One of the key ways to drive content is to find out what your readers want. The best way to do that is through a survey.
  • If you charge for your print edition, charge for the website. You’re losing circulation.
  • The Times-Herald encourages Letters to the Editor. This is the community’s report and is becoming the biggest red section aside from Local News.
  • Crime stories drive the most sales. “If it bleeds, it leads.”
  • You’ve got to give people the information they want that they cannot get anywhere else. You are the masters of your own little world, and people are going to rely on you to give them information.
  • Make it as proactive and interactive with your readers as possible.
  • What’s the most important thing you have? Your news. Your content. From a purely business standpoint, a newspaper sells information: news and advertising. That is where you need to focus. How good are you at what you do?
  • People are fascinated with other people. In-depth features on teachers, business owners, etc.
  • You’re writing for students: they’ll be thinking “Why should I care?” and “How is it going to impact me? What does it mean to me?”
  • Make sure that people can access your information however they want to.
  • Some things students want to know: What am I going to do this weekend? Who’s having half-price pitchers? What bands are coming to town? Print a weekly calendar.
  • You need to have fun with your paper and with your readers.

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