Journalism 130: Prof. Craig: General Story Guidelines

General Story Guidelines

Each story assignment for Journalism 130 will have somewhat different parameters (subject matter, story length, etc.), but there are certain basic guidelines that you should follow for any story.  You should be familiar with many of these from other classes.  

  • You will pitch your story idea to the class before it is approved.  This is the equivalent of how writers on the Spartan Daily and in the professional ranks propose story ideas.  In this class, story pitches will often be the result of in-class exercises.
  • The basic minimum word count is 500 words.  This will rise as the semester progresses, as you become more proficient at writing news stories, and as the complexities of the topics increase.
  • You will be required to conduct three or more interviews.  By this I mean actual interviews with actual people, not secondhand quotes borrowed from online stories.  Ideally these are conducted in person, but Zoom interviews and phone interviews are also acceptable.  Try to reserve email and text contact for arranging interviews or for the occasional follow-up question. 

  • You should always interview students, but also try to interview an authority figure.  Different topics will have different experts and knowledgeable people, but you should one non-student in a position to have informed knowledge of the subject. Sometimes this will be a professor, sometimes an administrator, sometimes a staff member.  This adult perspective helps inform the story and keep it from being one-sided.
  • You will double-check spellings of names and other facts for accuracy.  Factual errors destroy your credibility, and names are the most basic fact you need to get right.  Any misspelled name will result in an automatic failing grade on the assignment.

  • You will turn in your stories in Word format.  I have to use Track Changes to grade assignments digitally, which requires you to turn them in in Word format.  

  • You should do some additional research on the topic as part of the process.  In the digital age, there's no reason not to educate yourself a little on the subject of your story before you plunge into it.  Be careful, though, to make sure you're seeing multiple sides of the topic -- you don't want slanted research to lead to a biased story. 

  • You can quote from articles you find, but this material should be labeled in the text (as in, "According to a July 18, 2020 article in the New York Times...").  This should be used as supporting material, not the core of your story -- your own interviews should be at the center of your narrative.

  • When interviewing students, make sure to get their major and class standing (senior, junior, etc.).  If students attend a different school, be sure to get the name of that school and the location if it would not be obvious to our audience. 

  • The assignments for this class are news stories, not opinion pieces or first-person accounts.  Keep your own opinions out of your stories.  Your goal should be to find a range of points of view wherever possible.  You're the reporter, not the subject of the story -- keep yourself out of it.  

  • Try to avoid interviewing people from our department's majors (journalism, advertising, public relations) unless the topic makes it obvious that they're the best sources.  This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, but it's a good idea.  If you interview people from our building all the time, it narrows the perspective of your stories, and makes the rest of campus feel like our student media don't care about anyone else.  We want our student media to be inclusive.  
  • Don't bury your interviews.  You usually want to get a direct quote from one of your interviews in within the first four or five paragraphs of your story.  This engages readers early and draws them in to keep reading.  

  • Be sure to go over your story before turning it in.  A good practice to catch mistakes is to read your story out loud to yourself. 

  • If you have questions along the way, don't hesitate to email me at


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