Journalistic style teaches conciseness and precision

Instructor John Kupetz advises Grace Roeshot to shorten her paragraphs to make them “easy to read.” Photo by Caroline Brew

Adam Levine of Brookville, Maryland, learned how to write news stories, features, editorials, profiles, obituaries and reviews in his school journalism class. Despite his experience, he realized he had a lot to learn about journalistic style after getting feedback on his first few assignments at the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute.

“I was told I needed more of a thread, I needed more transitions and my news pegs weren’t there,” Levine said. “As for inverted pyramid, I apparently had never heard of it.”

Through their instructors’ edits, John Kupetz’s lectures and Joe Grimm’s poems about grammar, cherubs learned what defines journalistic style and how that differs from other writing.

“I always wrote long sentences, and Meredith, my instructor, would comment, ‘Use short sentences, this isn’t an English essay,’” said Ishani Chettri of Monmouth Junction, New Jersey.

Cherubs also learned to refrain from using semicolons and colons, avoid adverbs and adhere to AP style. The instructors emphasized the importance of conveying meaning with as few words as possible. To achieve this, cherubs learned which words and phrases were redundant.

“The word ‘that’ you could definitely take out,” Chettri said. “Take out phrases that are unnecessary, like ‘dying from drowning,’ since drowning is dying.”

The instructors told cherubs to avoid generalized statements and cliches to give their reader as much specific information as possible.

“If I had someone quoted who said ‘many’ or ‘anything,’ my instructor, John, would make me push the subject harder,” said Grace Roeshot of Port Matilda, Pennsylvania. “If I said any ambiguous language, he would make me get a concrete answer.”

Cherubs used their news judgment to determine the most relevant information.

Brynn Winkler of Prairie Village, Kansas, said her instructor, Erica Snow, taught her to present only the most important parts of her research and reporting in the trend story.

“Every time you introduce science and statistics, it gets complicated,” Winkler said. “I realized I can tell this story without going into too much detail describing studies because the only thing people care about is the results.”

By the end of the five weeks, cherubs relied on their reporting skills instead of elaborate sentences to grab the reader’s attention.

“Your writing is meant to inform people,” Winkler said. “It’s not about being an amazing writer. If you report on the right sources with the right information, that will write the story for you.”