Newspapers go bad and lose readers every day, yet the dream of becoming a journalist never seems to fade. This is demonstrated by the large number of aspirants who present themselves to the various editorial offices each year – too many, precisely because of a loss of readers -, but also, more prosaically, the fact that many students choose the type of newspaper article in the Exam of State, the old Maturity Examination.
One of the main novelties of the last few years, as regards the teaching of Italian, was precisely the introduction of this particular type of text to the final exam of high schools. In addition to the usual analysis of the text and the dear old themes (historical, scientific, topical), there is in fact the so-called “Type B”. A typology that offers various traces and documents, but which requires that the text produced be either a short essay or, precisely, a newspaper article.
But how do you write an article? What rules should you follow? At school some indications are given, but not too many, because the article is a genre to which many look with a bit of mistrust. In reality there is nothing transcendental in this type of text: it is enough to know the rules and understand their peculiarities. Let’s try to see the most important ones together.
There is no single type of article
The difference between news and opinion
The first thing to clarify is this: there is no single type of article, but the types are many and also very different from each other. The main distinction, without going into too much detail, is that between a news article and an opinion article. Both find space within any newspaper and both have their own specific dignity, as well as being used in the State Examination of high school students and graduates. But they are as different as day and night.
The main article of the news article is to tell a fact. Or rather, to give news. For this it must be as objective, clear and simple as possible. He must explain and inform, immediately clarifying to the reader the issues at stake and the innovations that have emerged. It is a type of article theoretically simple enough to write, because it does not like frills and doodles, but at the same time it can present pitfalls, because precisely for this reason it can easily fall into banality.
COMMENTS ON NEWS
The opinion article, on the other hand, does the opposite. It is a particular article, which is usually presented in the newspapers in a frame or with a particular character, just to differentiate itself from the rest. The purpose, in this case, is not to inform, but to give the reader the point of view of a commentator, who may be the editor of the newspaper or in any case a prestigious and experienced journalist. For this reason the opinion article does not tell a fact (in fact, most of the time it takes it for granted) but comments on it, providing a thesis and arguing in its favor.
The differences between the two types, of course, do not stop there, also because each of these two genres then has its internal branches (the crime story is very different from the news story, as well as the basic article political is different from the elzeviro). We will try, in the next few paragraphs, to analyze the basic elements of both.
Locate the news
The center of gravity of a newspaper article
The importance of the news We start from the news article. As we have said, in this case the intent is to communicate a news, an event, a novelty that up until yesterday was not there and that today could instead interest our public. This is the focal point of the article, what you need to have in mind from the first moment you start typing on the keyboard (or holding the pen) to the last word you type.
The news must be the center of gravity. It must appear immediately, in the first paragraph, possibly even in the first two or three lines. It must appear absolutely in the title, with great prominence. It must be resumed and explained throughout the course of your text, you must continually go around it. But how do you identify the news? What is news? And how can I decide, in front of so much information, what is the main news and which are secondary details instead?
Here, this is an important issue. Because there are no precise rules, there is no algorithm or formula to tell you: “This is the news and these others are not”. Journalists generally evaluate facts with experience and with the “flair”. You – whether you are a student or an apprentice – have neither one nor the other, so you will have to use some reasoning. In fact you have to ask yourself: who do I turn to? Who will read my article? Because once you have found your audience, you will have also found the news.
Let’s take a concrete example, to understand each other. Let’s say you are a young reporter who is sent to a press conference to present an aspiring mayor of the country. The candidate will talk to you about his plans for half an hour, how he wants to fix the road in that neighborhood, how he wants to invest in asylum, how he wants to manage the problem of gyms and sports clubs and so on. In short, it will give you a series of news. From which you will have to try to find the most interesting one, because an article that proposes, all on par, the mayor’s initiatives would be boring and flat.
As we said, the question you should ask yourself then is: who will read me? If you work for an institutional newspaper, present in the territory for decades, you know well that reading it is not so much the young as the elderly, perhaps in bars. And so you know that the problem of roads – for which they protested for weeks – is more important to them than investments in asylum. In that case, your main news would be easy to find.
If you worked for a school newspaper, you would know that your readers don’t care much about kindergartens and traffic, but much more about gyms, since they do sports. And then you would start from that news. Of course, then you would also give the others, but in a less obvious, secondary position, in the second part of the article. For this reason, when doing the State Exam, it is so important to indicate precisely the destination of your article: because depending on the target audience, the setting to be given to the piece changes considerably.
The 5 W rule
The importance of the attack
As said, in a news article the attack – that is the first paragraph – must contain the news. Possibly it would still be better to give it immediately, in the first sentence. Remaining on the example above, I believe it is clear that an attack of the “” will fix all the gyms within a year of the nomination, “promised mayor Pinco Pallino,” works better than “Yesterday, in the Salone dell’Arci, the candidate for mayor Pinco Pallino presented his electoral program “. In the first case the reader is encouraged to read, driven by curiosity; in the second he falls asleep.
The need to give all the basic information immediately has its historical root. Once, at the dawn of journalism, communications were not so effective. The journalists who went to the place where a fact occurred did not have laptops and internet connections with them and had to make do. For this they wrote the article and then telephoned the editorial office, to dictate it.
Given that even the phone calls were a rarity and uncertain lines, it often happened that communication was interrupted. If those who had received the article had already had the main information in the attack, however, the article could somehow be completed in the editorial office and the newspaper nevertheless went to print.
This system of saying everything at once has nevertheless remained a distinctive element of journalistic style and is one of the first tricks that are learned in the trade. The Americans, from time immemorial, have even formalized it in a rule, called “of the 5 W”. In practice, the journalist who is about to start writing his piece should try to answer, immediately, 5 questions that all start with the letter “W”: When? Where? What? Who? Why? That is: When? Where is it? Thing? Who? Why?
It is clear, however, that the rule should be understood more as a reminder and not as a diktat. In the case of a murder, for example, the journalist does not know, at least initially, the “why”, and it may be that he has doubts about the other questions as well. In short, it is not necessary to answer all five questions by force. The important thing is to remember that one must immediately speak of a fact, of a news story, the main one, and it must be outlined as much as possible. To learn more, there is time in the rest of the article.
Thesis and closing effect
The opinion article changes everything
The rules that we have presented so far change when we move on to the opinion article. There is no need to tell a story, nor to give all the information about it immediately. Rather, there is the need to convince: because it is for this reason that an opinion is expressed. And then to draw up an argumentative text, with a very clear and identifiable thesis and a series of arguments to support it.
For centuries rhetoric has explained what are the best tricks to prepare texts of this kind. For example, you can touch the emotional chords, telling personal stories or taking as an example some people – identified and clearly described – who have experienced the effects of what we want to hurl against them. Or you can prevent any criticism and objections, “disarming” them in advance. In any case, the intent with which you write an article of this type must be clear.
Obviously this intent also leads to stylistic effects. For example, the attack is no longer so fundamental, while the closure becomes vital, that is to conclude the article with an end effect, which moves the reader’s conscience.
Even language can and must be done higher, with the introduction of adverbs – which help to tread one’s hand on one’s point of view -, quotations, rhetorical questions and whatever our abilities allow us to show off. In short, there is more freedom, but this freedom can be a double-edged sword: convincing is not an easy task.
Work for your audience
Locate the right registry (and destination)
The student who for the first time approaches these types of text (but also applies to the most experienced professional) must therefore always keep his audience in mind: this is the only truly golden rule of journalism, and perhaps not only of journalism . A person who writes for himself instead of for his own audience does not have much reason to be in a newspaper that, to live, must sell copies.
Therefore, as we have said, not only the structure of one’s text must be thought of and chosen for this purpose, but also the linguistic register with which one operates. A news article that tells of a murder cannot afford a philosophical and poetic digression on the evil of living, just as an opinion article on a politician can not only report coldly facts without using adjectives or adverbs.
To sum up, a news article must use few adverbs and a dry language. The sentences must be brief, concise but at the same time precise. When one word can be used, it is better to use one than many. Moreover, in certain articles – such as those that tell of crimes or situations of danger – it is excellent to be able to also give a certain rhythm to one’s sentences, through a wise use of punctuation.
In the opinion article, however, the vocabulary and syntax are raised. Therefore adverbs, adjectives and subordinate sentences are fine, which make the reasoning more consequential. If you are able to do so, you can also use quotations in foreign languages (better Latin, also for the authority of the ancients) and less basic sentence constructions.