Tuesday, 14 February 2012

6. Always try to include quotes in stories, they make them come alive. Try and get them in by the fourth or fifth paragraph.

Let's start with the absolute basics when quoting someone in a newspaper the form is this:

Mr Smith said yesterday: "We are making plans for the future to eradicate all cliches by 2015."

Note a) the colon and b) the speech marks and c) the full stop inside the closing speech mark.

While your prose may be beautiful people still want to hear other voices - preferably of people involved in the events you are describing.

Quotes enliven a story. They make it richer, and more vivid to the reader and show you have actually spoken to a real person.

More importantly it distances you (the journalist) from the story - you become a third party looking in.

There are in the main four (this has already gone up from two) types of quotes (this will be amended as people point the obvious that I have forgotten):

1. The witness quote. The person whose experience you are covering.
2. The reaction/expert quote: All important. These are easy or impossible to get depending on your contacts.
3. The insider quote: Everything from whistleblowers to political leaks.
4. The press release/press officer quote: On the whole dreadful.

Now I say fourth or fifth paragraph but obviously it depends on the length of the story - it is however a generally good rule of thumb for most local newspapers with a story length of around 350 words.

Note it doesn't have the full bells and whistles quote - it can be a half quote included later with the full sentence following on later.

Quotes are especially necessary on regional newspapers. The paper is meant to represent the local people and so it is all the more important to have the voices of the people.

Including quotes also removes most of the accusations of bias - believe me you will get this anyway.

This is Andrew Marr on quotations in his exceptionally good book My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism:

Always look for a direct quotation. If a reporter has actually done the work, and talked to people who know things, the evidence will usually be there. Who are the sources? Are they speaking themselves? Are they named? Generic descriptions, such as 'senior backbencher' or 'one industry analyst' (my mate on the other side of the desk) or 'observers' (nobody at all), should be treated sceptically. They can be figments of the reporter's own prejudices or guesses, rather than real people. If you keep coming across well-written anonymous quotes, be highly suspicious these are probably crumbling bricks without the straws of supporting fact.

I'm not sure I agree with everything he says - and especially on locals where local councillors often do not have the power or confidence to raise their head above the parapet... Indeed the same could be said of many MPs now.

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