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Newspaper Copy

( Originally Published 1911 )

This is the age of the reporter — the age of news, not views. We are influencing our public through the presentation of facts; and the gathering, the assembling and the presentation of these facts is the work of the reporter. There are two ideals of news. The first is to give the news colorless, the absolute truth. The second is to take the best attitude for the perpetuation of our democracy. The first would be all right if there were such a thing as absolute truth. When jesting Pilate asked, "What is truth? " he expressed the eternal question of modern journals. The best we can do is to follow the second ideal, which is to point out the truth as seen from the broadest, the most human and the most interesting point of view.- From an address by WILL IRWIN at the University of Missouri.


All manuscript for the press is copy. Clean copy is manuscript that requires little or no editing. The various steps in the gathering and writing of news that precede printing are indicated briefly in the following explanation of newspaper terms :

Story.— Any article prepared for a newspaper.

A three-line item and a three-column account of a convention are both, in the newspaper sense, stories. The term is applied also to the happening with which the story deals. Thus a reporter sent to get the facts about a fire is said to be covering a fire story. A happening of unusual importance makes a big news story. Reporters are assigned or de-tailed by the city editor to cover certain stories, and the task given each is his assignment. A reporter assigned to visit certain definite places which are covered regularly in the search for news (as police stations, hospitals, courts, fire headquarters, city hall, etc.) is said to have a run or a beat. A reporter scoops competing news gatherers when he gets an exclusive story. The story is called a scoop or a beat.

Stickful.— A term frequently used in defining the length of a story. A stickful is about two inches of type — the amount held by a composing stick, a metal frame used by the printer in setting type by hand.

Lead.— Loosely used to indicate the introduction, usually the first paragraph, of the story. In the ordinary sense the news story has no such thing as an introduction. The lead goes straight to the point without preliminaries. Do not confuse this word; pronounced " leed," with the word of the same spelling pronounced " led." The latter word lead, as a verb, is an order to the printer to put thin strips of metal (leads) between the lines of the story in type, thus giving additional white space and making the story stand out more prominently on the printed page. Editorials are usually leaded.

Copy Reader.— A sub-editor who puts the copy into shape for the printer and writes the headlines. Sometimes called copy editor. Do not confuse copy reading with proofreading (the correction of proof sheets), which is done in another department.

Slug.—A solid line of machine-set type. As used by the copy reader, the term usually means the identifying name given a story, as " wedding," " fire,'. " wreck." A story is slugged when it is so named for convenience in keeping tab on it.

Head.— Abbreviation for headlines. A copy reader is said to build a head on a certain feature of the story.

Feature.— Noun : The most interesting part of a story is the feature. Verb : A story is featured or played up when it is prominently displayed. Adjective: A feature story usually depends for its interest on some other element than that of immediate news value.

Make up.— Verb: To arrange the type in forms for printing. Noun (make-up) : The process of arranging the type or the result as seen in the printed page. A newspaper is said to have an effective make-up when the disposition of the stories on a page and the general typographical appearance of the whole contribute toward making the desired impression on the reader. The make-up editor supervises the work of making up. A page may be made over to insert late news.


Most newspapers insist on typewritten copy ; all prefer it. It can be prepared more quickly than long-hand copy after one has mastered the use of the machine; it makes for accuracy; it is easier to edit, and, because of its uniform legibility, it saves time and expense in type-setting.

Adjust your typewriter to leave two or three spaces between lines, so that legible interlining in long-hand will be possible. Closely written copy is the abomination of the copy reader, compelling him to cut and paste in order to make corrections.

Never write on both sides of the paper. Never fasten sheets of copy together.

Write your name in the upper left-hand corner of the first page. Number each page.

Begin the story about the middle of the first page, the space at the top being left for writing in the headlines.

Don't crowd the page with writing. Leave a margin of an inch to an inch and a half at each side. Leave an inch at top and bottom for convenience in pasting sheets together.

Avoid dividing words. Never divide a word from one page to another.

In writing a story in short " takes," or installments, make each page end with a sentence.

Indent for a paragraph about a third the width of the page.

In making corrections it is usually safer to cross out and rewrite. Be particularly careful about names and figures.

Letter inserted pages. For example, between pages 3 and 4, the inserted pages should be designated 3a, 3b, etc.

Use an end-mark to show the story has been completed. Thι figures 30 in a circle may be used.

Use every effort to make long-hand copy easily legible. Overscore n and o and underscore and a when there is any possibility of confusion. Print proper names and unusual words. Draw a small circle around periods or use a small cross instead.

Draw a circle around an abbreviation to show it is to be spelled out. To make sure a letter will be set as a capital draw three lines under it.

If there is a chance that a word intentionally misspelled, as in dialect, will be changed by the printer or the proofreader, draw a circle around the word, run a line to the margin and there write " Follow copy."

Unless you are pressed for time, read over your story carefully before turning it in.

Accuracy is the first essential of news writing. Above all, watch names.

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