The Body Of The Story

=121. Inaccuracy and Dullness

If the reporter has written a strong

lead for his story, he need have small worry about what shall follow,

which usually is little more than a simple narration of events in

chronological order, with interspersions of explanation or description.

If a wise choice and arrangement has been made in the organization of

details, the part of the story following the lead will all but tell

itself. The reporter's care now must be to maintain the interest he has

developed in the lead and to regard the accuracy of succeeding

statements. There are just two crimes of which a newspaper man may be

guilty,--inaccuracy and dullness. And the greater of these is


=122. Accuracy

When a reporter is publishing a choice bit of scandal

or a remarkable instance of disregarded duty, it is an easy thing, for

the sake of making the story a good one, or for lack of complete

information, to draw on the imagination or to jump too readily at

conclusions, and so present as facts not only what may be untrue, but

what often later proves entirely false. The ease of the thing is argued

by the frequency with which it is done. Such a reporter does a threefold

harm: he compels his paper to humiliate itself later by publishing the

truth; he causes the public to lose confidence in his journal; and he

does irreparable injury to unknown, innocent persons. The day following

the Eastland disaster in 1915, one Chicago paper ran the list of dead

up to eighteen hundred. A week later the same paper was forced to put

the number at less than nine hundred. A rival publication in the same

city kept its estimate consistently in the neighborhood of nine

hundred, with the resultant effect to-day of increased public confidence

in its statements. In another city of the Middle West judgment for

$10,000 has recently been granted a complainant because one of the city

staff made a rash statement about the plaintiff's "illicit love." The

reporter was discharged, of course, but that did not repair the damage

or reimburse the paper.

=123. Law of Libel

Every newspaper man, as a matter of business,

should know the law of libel. It varies somewhat in different states,

but the following brief summary may be taken as a working basis until

the reporter can gain an opportunity to study it in his own state. In

the first place, the law holds responsible not only the owners of the

journal, but the publisher, the editor, the writer of the offending

article, and even any persons selling the paper, provided it can be

proved that they were aware of the matter contained in the publication.

What constitutes libel is equally far-reaching. It is any published

matter that tends to disgrace or degrade a person generally, or to

subject him to public distrust, ridicule, or contempt. Any written

article that implies or may be generally understood to imply reproach,

dishonesty, scandal, or ridicule of or against a person, or which tends

to subject such a person to social disgrace, public distrust, hatred,

ridicule, or contempt, is libelous. Even the use in an article of

ironical or sarcastic terms indicating scorn or contempt is libelous,

because such expressions are calculated to injure the persons of whom

they are spoken. And if an article contains several expressions, each of

which is libelous, each may be a separate cause for legal action. Nor is

it a defense to prove that such rumors were current, that such

statements were previously published, or even that the writer did not

intend the remarks to do injury. If it can be proved that the article

has done injury, the writer and his paper are guilty of libel and must

pay damages in accordance with the enormity of the offense.

=124. Avoidance of Libel

When it becomes necessary to make a

statement about a person that may be unpleasing to him, the writer

should give the name of the one making the charge or assertion, or else

avoid making a specific charge by inserting it is alleged, it is

rumored, it is charged, or some such limiting phrase. Note the

following story of the arrest of two shop-girls and how skilfully the

reporter avoids charging them with theft:


Edna K. Whitter and Minnie Jensen, saleswomen in a

New Haven store, are under arrest charged with


The former is said to have confessed after goods

valued at more than $1,000 were found in her room.

She is said to have implicated Miss Jensen, who

denies the charge.

Desire to dress elaborately is alleged to have

caused the young women to steal. Miss Jensen is the

daughter of a farmer. Investigations by detectives,

it is said, may result in more arrests....

Whenever possible, it is well to avoid it is said, it is rumored. A

story reads more convincingly when the reporter's authority is given.

And the statement of the authority places the responsibility where it


=125. Exaggeration

One word further about the Eastland disaster and

loss of public confidence resulting from exaggerated stories. Upon the

news article itself there is a very definite effect of such

exaggeration,--that mere extravagance of statement often defeats its own

end. It is of first importance in writing that one's statements command

the confidence of the reader. If a reporter writes that the wreck he has

just visited was the greatest in the history of railroading, or the

bride the most beautiful ever joined in the bonds of holy wedlock before

a hymeneal altar, or the flames the most lurid that ever lit a midnight

sky, the reader merely snickers and turns to a story he can believe.

The value of understatement cannot be overestimated. Probably the

majority of the people of the United States are suspicious anyway of the

truth of what they read in the newspapers. Hence, if one must sin on the

side of accurate valuation of news, let him err in favor of

understatement rather than exaggeration. Then when he is forced by

actual facts to resort to huge figures, his readers will believe him.

Such a policy, consistently adhered to, will always win favor for a

paper and a reporter. And that the best papers have learned this is

proved by the fact that they no longer tolerate inaccuracy of statement

or unverified information in their columns.

=126. "Editorializing."=--One other caution must be given in the cause

of accuracy, that of the necessity of presenting news from an unbiased

standpoint, of eliminating as far as possible the personal equation,--in

other words, of avoiding "editorializing." The news columns are the

place for the colorless presentation of news. No attempt is, or should

be, made there to influence public opinion. That function is reserved

for the editorial columns, and the reporter must be careful not to let

his personal views color the articles he writes. The following story was

written for a small Wisconsin paper by a rabid political reporter:


Thomas Morris, lieutenant governor of this state and

candidate for the United States senate, was in

Appleton this morning and spent the day in Outagamie

county shaking hands with those who would. But few

would shake. He wanted to speak while here, but the

enlightened citizens of this city were right in not

letting him. Peter Tubits was his chief pilot

through the county.

Needless to say, this story was not printed.

=127. Newspaper Policies

Even though it may seem--and in a measure

is--in contradiction to what has just been said about accuracy and

editorializing, it is nevertheless necessary before passing the subject

to comment on the necessity of a reporter's observing a paper's

editorial policies,--to say, in other words, that all news is not

unbiased. For instance, if a newspaper is undertaking a crusade against

midwives or pawnshops or certain political leaders, it gives those

institutions or those persons little or no credit for the good they

accomplish, nor does it feature impartially in its news articles their

good and bad acts. Yet such institutions or persons must have

accomplished much good to arrive at the rank or position they now hold,

and must continue to be of service to retain their standing. The

following story, which appeared in a paper crusading against pawnshops

and pistol carrying, is an illustration of what is meant by biased news:


Israel Weilman was in love. Three months ago the

girl told him she would not marry him. Last night

Weilman left his quarters at 875 Banker Street and

went to the home of Rebecca Schussman, 904 South

Pueblo Avenue, where his room-mate and cousin, David

Isaacs, was calling.

"Here are the keys to the room," he told his cousin,

"I will not be home to-night."

Then Weilman departed. A few minutes later a shot

was heard in the alley back of the Schussman home.

They found Weilman dead with a bullet wound through

his heart. Beside him was a new "American bulldog"

revolver, retailing for $1.50. In his pocket was a

ticket of sale from the Angsgewitz pawnshop. The

profit on this style of weapon is about 25 cents.


=128. Observing a Paper's Policies

It is necessary, therefore, to

modify the preceding statements about unbiased news. Those assertions

express the millennial dream, colorless news, that American journalism

is always approaching as an ideal, but has not yet reached. From the

same Associated Press dispatch a Georgia and a Pennsylvania daily can

produce stories respectively of success and dissension in the Democratic

party. From the same cable bulletin a Milwaukee and a New York paper can

obtain German victory and English repulse of repeated Teutonic attacks.

Not only can, but do. It is only fair to the would-be reporter,

therefore, to tell him that at times in his journalistic career he may

be permitted to see snow only through a motorist's yellow goggles. The

modern newspaper is a business organization run for the profit or power

of the owners, with the additional motive in the background of possible

social uplift,--social uplift as the owners see it. They determine a

paper's policies, and a reporter must learn and observe those policies

if he expects to succeed.

=129. Following Commands

Observance of this injunction is

particularly valuable in stories relating to political and civic

measures. If one is on a paper with Republican affiliations, one may be

forced to hear and report a G. O. P. governor's speech with an

elephant's ears and trumpet,--or with a moose's ears and voice if the

journal is Progressive. It makes no difference what the reporter's

personal feeling or party preferences may be. On such papers he must

follow precisely the commands of the managing editor or the city editor

and must feature sympathetically or severely what they request. Usually

an intelligent sympathy with the general policy of the paper is

sufficient for a reporter, no matter how conscientious. It is only

rarely that he is trammeled with being forced to write contrary to his

convictions. But at those times when such commands are given, he must

see and write as requested or seek another position.

=130. Consistency of Policy

On the other hand, suppose in policies

affecting the official standing of a newspaper every reporter saw and

presented events from his own distorted angle. How consistent would a

modern newspaper be? And how long could it hold the respect or patronage

of its readers?

=131. Clearness

Next in importance to accuracy comes interest. A

story must be interesting to be read. Every paragraph must be clear. Its

relation to every other paragraph must be evident, and the story as a

whole must be presented so that it may be understood and enjoyed by the

reader with as small expenditure of mental effort as possible. Ideas

that are connected in thought, either by virtue of their sequence in

time or for other reasons, must be kept together, and ideas that are

separated in thought must be kept apart. If the story is one covering

considerable length of time, care must be taken to keep the different

incidents separated in point of time so that the reader may understand

readily the relation of the different events to each other. The tenses

of the verbs, too, must be kept consistent, logical. One cannot shift at

will from past time to the present, and vice versa. If the story is a

follow-up of an event that occurred before to-day and has been written

up before, the body of the story should contain a sufficient summary of

the preceding events to make the details readily clear to all

readers,--even though the lead may already have included a connecting

link. The summary of events in the lead must necessarily have been

brief; the review in the body of the story may be presented at greater


=132. Coherence

A valuable aid in gaining clearness is a proper

regard for coherence, for obtaining which there are four ways within a

story: (1) by arrangement of the facts and statements in a natural

sequence of ideas; (2) by use of pronouns; (3) by repetition; and (4) by

use of relation words, phrases, and clauses. Discussion has already been

given, in Chapter VIII, on the organization of material, of the

necessity of logical arrangement of the story. If one has made a proper

grouping there, one will have taken the first step, and the surest,

toward adequate coherence. Of the three remaining methods, probably the

greatest newspaper men are strongest in their use of pronouns, such as

these, those, that, them, etc. They also avail themselves freely

of a skillful repetition of words,--the third method, which stands

almost, but not quite equal to the use of pronouns in effectiveness and

frequency. The following fire story exhibits a happy repetition of words

for holding the ideas in easy sequence. Note in it the skillful

repetition of firemen, fire, whiskey, building, casks,



Firemen had to fight a canal full of blazing whiskey

here to-day when a fire broke out in the building of

the Distillery Company, Ltd. Twelve thousand casks

of liquor were stored in the building. The

conflagration spread rapidly and the explosion of

the casks released the whiskey, which made a burning

stream of the canal.

Firemen pumped water from the bottom of the canal

and played it on the blazing surface. The loss is

estimated at $750,000.

=133. Relation Words

In other kinds of writing there is a tendency to

use relation words, phrases, and clauses freely between sentences and

paragraphs. But in news writing the paucity of such expressions for

subconnection--moreover, finally, on the other hand, in the next

place, now that we have mentioned the cause of the divorce--is

noteworthy. Editors and the news-reading public demand that the ideas

follow each other so closely and that the style be so compressed in

thought that there shall be small need of connectives between sentences.

It is this demand, plus a desire for emphasis, that is responsible for the

so-called bing-bing-bing style of writing, of which the following is a

fair illustration:

After killing Mrs. Benton, Wallace, and the Weston

boy, Carlton set fire to the Lewis "love bungalow."

The wounded were unable to care for themselves. They

narrowly escaped death in the burning building.

Arrival of rescuing parties attracted by the fire

alone saved their lives.

A hatchet was the weapon used by Carlton.

The slayer escaped after the wholesale murder. He is

thought to be headed for Chicago. A posse under

command of Sheriff Bauer of Spring Green is hunting

the man.

The story of the terrible tragedy enacted in the

Lewis "love bungalow," where for some years the

celebrated sculptor and the former Mrs. Cross had

been living in open defiance of the

conventionalities, was a gruesome one as it came to

light to-day.

Carlton is twenty-eight years old. He is married.

His wife lived with him at the Lewis home. He had

been employed by Lewis for six months. He was

formerly employed by John Z. Hobart, proprietor of

Hobart's restaurant. He is five feet eight inches

tall, of medium build and light in color.

What caused the trouble or the fury of Carlton is

not known.

Who first fell is not known.

What is known of the tragedy is this:

Shortly after noon to-day villagers in the little

village of Spring Valley, where the Lewis bungalow

is and always has been something of a mystery as

well as a wonder to the residents, saw smoke coming

from the "love bungalow" on the hills. Villagers ran

to the place. The fire department responded to the


The bungalow was rapidly being consumed. Some one

entered the house. It was a shambles. Mrs. Benton

was found dead. Wallace was dead. Both had been

literally chopped to pieces by the infuriated negro.

The bungalow was barricaded before entrance was

forced. After the dead had been discovered the

wounded were found. They were dragged out. The

conscious told disjointed stories of the tragedy and

of the awful fury that seemed to possess Carlton,

the cook.

The latter was not to be found. He was at first

thought to have taken to the hills. Later it was

thought he might be hiding in the underground root

cellar but no search lights were available.

Men with guns surrounded the house.

The negro will be lynched if he is found, it was

thought this afternoon.[17]

[17] Chicago American.

=134. Bing-Bing-Bing Style

On the whole, this bing-bing-bing style of

writing cannot be commended. Its value in rapid narrative, where

excitement prevails and the reader's emotions are greatly aroused, is

evident. But the style, indulged in too freely, produces a fitful,

choppy effect that is not good. The sentences should be longer and more

varied in construction. Examination of the preceding illustration shows

that it has only three words or phrases used for subconnection, and only

four complex sentences.

=135. Emphasis

Next to clearness in holding the interest of the

reader comes emphasis, which may be had by avoidance of vague literary

phrasing, by a due regard for tone in the story, and by condensation of

expression. The first two overlap, since the whole tone of a story may

easily be destroyed by an affectation of literary phraseology. These

two, therefore, may be considered together.

=136. Vague Literary Phrasing

Many cub reporters feel, when they

begin to write, that they must express themselves in a literary style,

and to gain that style they affect sonorous, grandiloquent phrases that

sound well but mean little. In nine cases out of ten these phrases are

the inventions of others and meant much as used in their original

connection. But as adopted now by a novice, they are vague, only hazily

expressive, lacking in that sharp precision necessary for forceful

presentation of news.

=137. Tone

It is this vagueness of expression that as often as not

destroys the tone of the story. One may be aiming at portraying the

dignity and simplicity of a wedding or the unmarred happiness of the

occasion, but if one attempts to equal the joy of the event with the

bigness of his words, one will produce upon the reader an effect of

revulsion rather than interest. An ignorant, but well-meaning, reporter

on an Eastern weekly concluded a wedding story with the following


After the union of Miss Petty and Mr. Meydam in the

holy bonds of wedlock, the beautiful bride and

handsome groom and all the knights and ladies

present repaired to the dining-room, where a

bounteous supper interspersed with mirth and song

awaited them. After which they tripped the light

fantastic toe until the wee small hours of the

morning, when all repaired to their beds of rest and

wrapt themselves in the arms of Morpheus.

This selection happens to be a conglomeration mainly of worn-out

expressions current in literature for the past two or three centuries.

But any use of phrases too large or too emotional for the thought to be

conveyed will result in an equally dismal failure. All the words,

phrases, and ideas in the following are the writer's own, but the effect

is practically the same as in the preceding story:

The scene and the occasion were both inspiring. The

music was furnished by the birds, which were at

their best on this bridal day. A meadowlark called

to his mate across the lake, asking if he might come

and join her. A brown thrush in a tree on the hill

near by sent forth across the water a carol full of

love and melody such as a Beethoven or a Chopin

would strive in vain to imitate. The hills were

dressed in their prettiest robes of green. The water

was quiet. Nature was at her best. And the bride and

groom, both in tastiness of dress and in spirits,

were in harmony with nature.

The writer, too, in striving after a definite tone must be equally

apprehensive of unintended suggestions caused by an unfortunate

closeness of unrelated ideas. This fault was illustrated in a story by

an Iowa reporter who wrote that "Lon Stegle took Mrs. Humphrey and a

load of hogs to Santo Monday," and of an unwitting Pennsylvania humorist

who said, "Audry Richardson, while visiting his sweetheart in Freedonia

last Sunday sprained his arm severely and won't be able to use it for

ten days or two weeks." If the tone of the story is meant to be

dignified, unintended humor may make the presentation absurd.

=138. Varied Sentence Length

The story tone is greatly affected also

by the length of the sentences. If one's sentences are unnecessarily

long, the effect will be heavy and tiresome. If they are markedly short,

the result will be a monotonous, choppy, jolting effect, like a flat

wheel on a street-car. The bing-bing-bing style just discussed is an

illustration of the latter. The writer should aim at a happy medium,

with simple constructions and a tendency toward shorter sentences than

in other kinds of writing. Twenty words make a good average sentence

length. It is necessary to remember that one's stories are read not only

by the literati, but by the uneducated as well. One must make one's

style, therefore, so fluent, so easy, that a man with a speaking

vocabulary of five hundred words can read and enjoy all one writes.

=139. Condensation

The value of condensation of expression need not

be discussed at length here as it is taken up fully in the next chapter.

Suffice it to say now, however, that a diffuse style is never forceful.

The reporter must condense his ideas into the smallest space possible.

Often that space is designated by the city editor when the reporter, on

his return to the office, asks for instructions, and nearly always it is

only about half enough. But he must follow directions to the letter. Woe

to the novice who presents a thousand words, or even six hundred, when

the city editor calls for five hundred. Sometimes, however, he will

find that the city editor has allotted him more space than he can

easily fill. In such a case, let him give length by introducing

additional details. Mere words will not suffice. They do not make a


=140. Final Test of a Story

The two cares for the reporter, then, in

writing the body of the story are accuracy and interest. Accuracy is

worth most, and is attained by strict adherence to truth, with plenty of

proof for the truth in case it is questioned after publication. Interest

may be had by making all statements clear, coherent, forceful. But there

is no precise form or method by which accuracy and interest may be

obtained. The reporter is given unlimited range in selecting,

organizing, and writing his news. He may follow or disregard at will the

standard types of other newspaper men's stories, which should be taken

as models only, never as laws. For the final test of the goodness of a

story is its effect upon the reader. If it attains the desired result

without conforming to the patterns given by other writers, it will

become a new pattern for itself and for similar stories. Get accuracy

and interest, then, no matter what the method.

The Apostrophe The Business Department facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail