The Reporter Life: Writing the Article and the Magic of Three rachel mendell

The Reporter Life: Writing the Article and the Magic of Three

I can remember a reporter asking me for a quote, and I didn't know what a quote was. I thought it was some kind of soft drink. ~Joe DiMaggio~ Click To Tweet


By Rachel H.T. Mendell

03.22.2018


Three is a Magical Number

We see it everywhere in literature: Harry Potter, Ron Wheasly, and Hermione Granger; Curly, Mo, and Larry; Blood, Sweat, and Tears. The movie The Duff focused on a group of three friends. Then there’s The Three Musketeers, and the three ghosts of The Christmas Carol.

Groups of three fall easily on the tongue. They satisfy a rhythm we are born with. They feel like holy completeness.

Colors come in threes: Primary red, blue, and yellow; secondary green, orange, and purple; and six tertiary colors red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet (six is a multiple of three).

Three is also magical for photography. The Rule of Thirds* completely changed the way I take photos. If I see a photo that just doesn’t sit right with me, it’s usually because the person behind the camera didn’t follow the Rule of Thirds (in ignorance or on purpose).

Look for threes in your favorite stories, song lyrics, and news stories. The good ones have threes. This is on purpose.

The number three: We see it everywhere in literature: Harry Potter, Ron Wheasly, and Hermione Granger; Curly, Mo, and Larry; Blood, Sweat, and Tears. The movie The Duff focused on a group of three friends. Click To Tweet

The Practice of Writing in Threes Takes Craft.

Writing an article for the newspaper or other publication also has a Rule of Thirds:** Three points to ponder, three sources of information, three quotes. Three makes your story FEEL like it is complete. Three makes you think you have all the information.

This type of writing takes a lot of crafting and hard work, but it’s worth it. Here is an example of three components I use to write an effective article.

Points

As with any piece, I write everything down I can think of, all the information I have gathered, all in one place. I get it in front of my eyes. Then I chose three of the most important points for my story. Many of the points I did not choose can be used as sub-points of my main three. I play with it. I switch paragraphs around. I take my time.

If I haven’t found three main points, I do more research, call another person to interview, and brainstorm.

People

When researching and asking for quotes, I make sure I talk to enough people, more than I need. I like to have lots of quotes to choose from, but for some stories, this isn’t possible. For the last story I wrote for Heart of Ohio Magazine, I spoke with more than 10 people. I was able to get lots of information this way and plenty of quotes to play with.

In my articles, I still find three main sources are the best, even if I have more. As I gather the information, I don’t stop until three have risen to the top.

Sometimes the people I talk to like to remain anonymous. That’s fine. They can be confident I will not quote them in the story, but they can take pleasure in the fact that they helped fill in the blanks for me.

Quotes

When doing any article, the power of the piece comes with solid quotes. This still takes practice for me: First, to call and meet someone and broach the subject I am writing about; second, to ask the right questions; third, to copy down what they say accurately.

Once I think I have more than enough information for the story, I comb through the quotes, choosing the ones that pop and placing them where I feel they support the appropriate point, the best. A rule of thumb is to place the quote where it serves to strengthen the point or acts as a conclusion to the point.

A caution here: Some writers will take good quotes and place them under a point that doesn’t really correspond, or speak clearly, to the point. This is when the story might be confusing to the reader or, worse, to those interviewed. They might call and say they have been misquoted.

It’s a good idea to bring a recording device and ask permission to record your source’s answers. They may be uncomfortable, but getting a quote exactly right is difficult. I’ve gone through hours of recordings. It’s painful, but worth it in the end. Accuracy is important.

Once your material, quotes, and points are gathered you are ready to rewrite. Here’s a basic structure.

  • Introduction or lede***
  • First point with quote
  • Second point with quote
  • Third point with quote
  • Conclusion

Each point should somehow lead to the next point. Using a transitional sentence should do the trick.

Small vent: Very few news stories have threes in them. The excitement of on-the-spot coverage has replaced the craft of three. Click To Tweet

Unsolicited Advice: The newspaper is still a great place to get your name in print. They may take you on as a paid stringer if they like your writing, or they may happily take your writing for free as a “local writer.” Decide the advantages and disadvantages for yourself before you send that first story. Personally, I would take the risk of “giving it away.” Get known. Write daily. Submit often. After a while, people will be scanning the newspaper for your byline.

*The Rule of Thirds – The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and those important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. (Wikipedia)

** Associated Press Style calls for a capital letter after a colon. This is not a typo.

*** A lede (lead) is a sentence or paragraphs that lays out the basics of the story right from the start. It’s the hook, the grabber. In some cases, it’s almost a conclusion. It can also be the article in very condensed form.



Rachel H.T. Mendell

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Bio:

Rachel H.T. Mendell writes freelance from home in her office that she grabbed when her sixth child moved out, which is much nicer than the converted closet she wrote in for almost 20 years. Rachel writes novels, poetry, plays, essays, columns, articles, short stories, long letters, devotionals and experimental allegory. She has been published in various magazines as well as the Galion Inquirer, The Morrow County Sentinel, the Crestline Advocate and online at Richland Source. You can find a few of her articles in Heart of Ohio Magazine and floating around cyberspace. She keeps a blog, Domestic Mobility (http://domesticmobility.blogspot.com), and has recently started a website (http://www.rachelhtmendell.com). Rachel happily answers emails at mendell.rachel7@gmail.com. She is married and has seven children and one grandson. When Rachel is not writing, she’s gardening, caring for chickens, rabbits, and cats. She lives with her family in Morrow County, Ohio.

Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:

1) The Reporter Life

2) The Reporter Life: Writing the Press Release

3) The Reporter Life: Writing a Letter to the Editor

4) Two Drops of Ink: Noise, Guilt, Muskets, and Time


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15 comments

  1. Interesting, Rachel! I did not know about the rule of threes in journalism. I knew about it in photography and in decorating. Your post has piqued my curiosity and mades me wonder how many other places it applies 🙂
    I also love your advice to use quotes. I am a quote lover and collector, but confess, I haven’t used them enough in my writing.
    Thank you for another peek into a “Reporter’s Life….”

    • Thank you. Quotes do add color to a story or an article. I have seen them used effectively in poetry, sometimes like a hit to the gutt … quotes can be overused, of course, but I think they may be dying from newspaper articles and that is NOT good. Try a quote and see if it works! Good luck!

  2. I have used, and even taught, that three points makes a complete piece, however, I don’t think I realized it was a technique. Your article points out so clearly how many places that magic of three exists. It is one of those things I kind of knew, but didn’t know I knew it, does that make sense? And when you pointed it out, it is right there in front of me everywhere I look. Thanks for giving me a new tool.

    • Thanks, John! I did love being a reporter … sometimes. Not going back, you know … too stressful … but a great place to learn the skill of writing!

  3. Rachel, I have come across the rule of threes in a few places. It is a clear rule of public speaking. Toastmasters teaches member to write a speech with three main topics. I have many times tried to convert the rule into nonfiction writing. Every time I think I have succeeded a fourth main topic presents itself, grrrrr… I believe you are right that well-written newspaper articles are written this way. I shall refocus and see if I can make it work.

    • Good Luck Peter! It usually means taking the leftover points and creating something new … or in my case … letting them sit in a separate document languishing …

  4. Hi, Rachel. From your post, “If I haven’t found three main points, I do more research, call another person to interview, and brainstorm.”

    Research today is a whole lot easier than in my public library days, so posts that aren’t researched make me wonder about the writer’s thoroughness.

    You’ve listed two more ways to add to the post with calling for an interview or brainstorming for tangential ideas to add value.

    I’m also a believer in quotes. I usually include one in my posts. I like Goodreads.com and have always found one that reinforces the concepts, adds a different perspective, or is about the author/expert that I want to highlight in the post.

    I’m always appreciative of your journalist’s approach that translates well to blog posts, too.

    Thank you.

    • Thank you, Marilyn! It’s so nice to have a place to visit when my own blog gets lonely! I know journalism can seem boring, but it’s a great place to train! Blessings!

    • Good response, Marilyn! You gave me an idea. I used quotes extensively in my memoir, but haven’t in blog or social media posts. Now I’ll have to consider that!

      “Ideas can be life-changing. Sometimes all you need to open the door is just one more good idea.”
      Jim Rohn

  5. Good article, Rachel! And, I learned something about the upper case after a colon. Never knew that. I think using techniques from journalism can improve any kind of writing.

    • Absolutely! I learned so much at the newspaper about writing quickly and concisely … just remember, AP Style (Associated Press) is different from other styles of writing. I’ve had magazine editors ask me NOT to use AP Style, so it’s always best to check editor preference. Blessings!

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