Context

via commonsenseatheism.com

Context is just as important to a story as the lead (or lede). It doesn’t matter if we are writing for a specialized readership, or not. It has to be there. It’s crucial to the flow and understanding of our work.

Context also works to explain the significance of a story, as well as ensuring fairness and balance.

Basically, we are answering the “so what?” question. You can call it the “nut graph” or whatever you want, but it should be high up in the story. Are you spelling out the risks involved in the news? Are you identify what is changing with the council vote? We have to answer those questions for the readers. It has to be as clear as possible.

It doesn’t matter what you are covering, either. Context rules all. Context makes the story.

Each story won’t have the same amount of copy dedicated to context. Some don’t need much at all, but it still needs to be there.

Also, We need to take into account how much the reader already knows. We don’t want to give them information that they already know, so, again, we have to be careful with how much context we give to each story. If the story is science or math heavy, you are going to have to add more context than you would for a regular story on, say, a recent burglary in town. You have to use common sense, as always.

Some would argue that journalists take context for granted in their writing.

For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s the fifth story in five days on the same topic. I’m still going to put in the context needed, as if the reader is reading the story for the first time. My boss Mike taught me that right when I started. I’ve done it that way ever since.

I think that’s the right way to go about it. You have to assume a reader is going to pick up the paper for the first time. If they don’t always pick up the paper and there’s no context, you’ve already lost them. And that’s the last thing you want, especially with a daily newspaper. You need to keep your readers.

In the end, we are just trying to inform the reader of what’s going on. With context, we can do that and more. Right?

Jonathan

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