How to help your staff keep that online news area buzzing

Plenty of organisations invite staff to contribute to online news areas these days, but how much help do they give them to fulfil their role as part-time reporters? Maybe our free guide will help.

We have been working with a client organisation on various aspects of communication, and recently produced an eight-point guide to help staff in offices around the country submit copy which works.

Although the guide is intended for our client in particular, we’ve amended it here to make it slightly less specific, and reproduce it below, with permission.

1.     What makes a news story?

Look at the News section for the kind of stories we publish. Not every event will make news, but it probably has the potential – a record number of attendees, new venue, exceptional speaker, or delegates battling through snow might make it newsworthy. Other potential news stories might be a new service, key achievements, research findings, something different or extraordinary.

Here’s a test: If it’s worth telling your partner when you get home, it’s probably worth a news story. Maybe not the office gossip, though.

2.     How to present

Keep it brief. Ideally news stories should be no more than 150-200 words long – attention spans on the web are notoriously short – but if it has to be longer, don’t worry.

Put the main info at the start. You’re not building excitement or developing characters, as in a fictional story, so put the most important content in early, so the reader understands what it’s about as soon as possible.

Use the “active” rather than “passive” voice, if possible (“Bridget Jones gave a presentation” rather than “a presentation was given by Bridget Jones”).

Look at how news stories appear in a newspaper or on a professional news website, such as BBC or Sky News, to give you an idea of good practice.

If you want to add a headline, please do; but there’s no need – we will do that at the production stage.

3.     Five W’s and an H

 Be sure you answer who, what, where, when, why, and how, if applicable.

4.     Keep it simple

 We need to ensure our content is easily understood. Short words, short sentences and short paragraphs are always best.

We don’t need to impress anyone with long words or clever sentences – quite the opposite. Simple, punchy language will help the reader along instead of slowing them down. For instance, instead of “situated adjacent to” let’s say “next to”; instead of “prior to”, say “before”. And try to avoid jargon and acronyms.

5.     Include quote

 A news story comes alive if it includes a quote. Ideally this should be an opinion, not just a fact. (Facts can be included in the main text) If the person you want to quote can’t come up with words they are happy with, it’s acceptable to help them by suggesting something – but be sure to check with them before sending to us!

Again, the quote should normally be brief. And be sure to include the person’s first and last name (check spelling) and get their job title and organisation, if applicable.

6.     Provide link for further info

 As the stories are published electronically, and are deliberately brief, it helps to provide links for further information. Usually, this is best at the end.

7.     Read it through before sending

 Although we will, of course, read the story, and edit if necessary, please check it through before sending to us. There may be factual inaccuracies that we wouldn’t spot.

8.      Keep in touch

 If you have a story coming up, please let us know, so we can plan ahead. Also, if you’re not sure about the newsworthiness of something, just phone or email us, and we can advise.

 If it’s useful to you, please feel free to use this guide, crediting Weltch Media.

Does your organisation need communications advice or support? Just get in touch.

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