A few lessons from a journalism classroom


For a few years now, the wonderful Robin Reisig invites me to speak to the students of Asian College of Journalism, on some topics with related to narrative journalism/ story-telling.

So once a year, I spend one afternoon with a group of students, usually between 10 and 12 in numbers, and try to recall a few of my stories over the years. In the process, I try to give them tips for better writing.

This is a sort of annual ritual that I have gotten used to.

But far from an exercise in vanity, I use this day as an opportunity to reaffirm what is good in journalism and what is it that makes some of us interested in telling stories, especially people stories.

This time around, I made a slight change to the ritual. I requested Robin if I could sit in on one of her classes to observe and take notes, like a student. And she was kind enough to allow that.

Here are some of the important takeaways from the class yesterday, at least for me. This class was about news feature writing.

1. Use of “cosmic paragraphs” or “hoarding paragraphs”. These are paragraphs in a long-form feature that summarise and bring into context why the story is important.

2. 5 Ws and 1 Hs is fine, but good features have 7 Ws. Classical journalism extolled the value of the 5Ws and 1 H: what, when, where, who, why and how. But modern journalism addresses two additional Ws: What does it mean? Why Should I care?

3. Kill the adjectives, before they multiply – this is a pure writing tool.

4. Stress the value of silence

5. Ummmmm

6. If there is a suspense point in your lead, make sure you address it and finish it off during the course of the article

Footnote: This was a one-time experiment that I sat in during the class. The students need not be worried that I would turn up like this often.


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