Newspaper writing is like driving a cab

Style note for reporters starting on their first job

If you love your (dad’s) car, you probably warm it up till the engine settles into a creamy idle. It takes longer in winter. You use that time to choose a song or radio station, check whether the mirrors, vents and car perfume need adjustment, and quickly scan WhatsApp.

Driving your own car is like writing a novel. It is self-indulgent; writing for a newspaper is not.

When you call a cab, you want it to be ready to go, and get you to your destination in the shortest time, without hassle. Were teleportation possible, would you bother with a cab?

Your reader would be happy to ‘know’ all the useful and interesting news without reading. She has a life beyond your newspaper. Respect her for casting a glance at your report. Do not take her for granted. Tell your story quickly and correctly.

Does anyone like a cabbie who pulls his seat all the way back and reclines it? Don’t make it difficult for your reader to get into the story with a breathless intro that tells nothing. There was a time when ornamental intros were fashionable and your editor young. That time is gone — but don’t tell your editor.

Would you take a clean and quick cab, or one with balloons and streamers hung inside? Do you like it when a cabbie burns incense in the car, plays songs of his choice, at a volume of his choice, and drives too slow or too fast?

Do not show off to your reader. Do not impose yourself on her mind. It will not make you the celebrity reporter you aspire to be. If you have the spark, it will show without your trying to dazzle.

Does anyone like a cab with crumbs on the seat? Instead of showing off, make your copy clean. Facts, spelling and grammar — in that order — are important. You are bound to get some of them wrong sometimes. While mistakes are pardonable, not trying to correct them is not.

To sum up: serve your reader, not yourself. Tell your story simply, correctly, efficiently and unobtrusively.

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