How to Write Online News

How do you write a news story for a website? Julie Shapiro, assistant managing editor for NBC News Digital Enterprise, shares tips. 


What is the Purpose of News Writing?  

Journalistic writing clearly informs the reader about a noteworthy event or development. Reporters write in a way that’s engaging enough to keep the reader’s attention while also delivering the news.  

The Lede

The story should begin in an interesting way that is directly tied to the main point. This is usually referred to as a “lede” or “lead.” Readers have a lot of competition for their attention, so the story needs to grab their attention immediately, whether through a dramatic anecdote, a surprising fact or an important breaking news update. 

Lede example
This hard news lede about a person of interest being named in a New York City subway shooting is straightforward. It first says police have named a person of interest, then gives a brief synopsis of the incident, followed by the name of the person of interest.

The Nut Graph     

The nut graph is the heart of the story. It explains what the news is about, why it’s timely and why readers should care. The nut graph can be  one sentence or several paragraphs and should include the answers to who, what, when, where and why. It often places the new developments in context by describing the bigger picture. 

Nut Graph example
This article begins with describing how an educator left his job, and then the nut graph explains the larger context behind his story. A growing number of educators are accused of teaching what some are terming “critical race theory,” and lawmakers in 22 states have proposed limits on how schools talk about racial issues.

The Body      

After the lede and nut graph the rest of the story should start to fall into place, relying on expert voices, analysis and key details.  

Quotes      

Quotes can be powerful, but use them sparingly so that they stand out. In general, a writer can paraphrase a point better than a character can. A good quote does more than just convey information — it can add color, drama and depth. 

Quote example
These quotes from a woman who learned the identity of her sister’s killer convey emotion and help the reader better understand the story.

Selective Details  

The rest of the story expands on the points made in the nut graph. Informative details could include examples, scenes and background information or sensory descriptions of the news scene. But choose wisely — too much detail can make the reader lose interest.

Selective Details example
Continuing with the article about educators accused of teaching critical race theory, further examples from Texas and Missouri show the scope of the story. These examples are limited to one sentence each, sharing the most important details.

Write Clearly       

Write without jargon, and keep sentences clear and direct. If a sentence needs to be read more than once to understand its meaning, trim it down or take it out. Don’t include words or phrases that would be unfamiliar to most readers. 

The Kicker 

End with something memorable. A short breaking news story may not need a formal ending, or kicker, but most stories should end with something memorable. A punchy quote is a good option. Other options include a forward-looking line on what’s next for an issue or character, or one last memorable takeaway for the reader. 

Kicker example
This article about a water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi ends with a quote from a local activist, looking forward to what might happen next.