Thursday, August 8, 2019

Newspaper Writing: Tips for Becoming a SuperStringer

by Julie Lavender @JLavenderWrites

EXTRA! EXTRA!      Read all about it! 

Who? You, that’s who.

What? Could earn valuable writing credits.

When? Every time your article is accepted.

Where? In your local newspaper.

Why? Because newspapers need fresh, up-to-date content every day!

How? With the help of freelance writers willing to seek and write current event, community articles and hometown human interest stories.

It’s me again—SuperStringer—encouraging you to don cape … well, perhaps pen and notepad would give you better super-powers … and join the ranks of other newspaper freelancers, also called “stringers,” who contribute content regularly to a hometown newspaper, earning those much-sought-after writing credits. 

We talked last month about the 5 Ws and 1 H of every newspaper story (and other forms of communication, but not necessarily all wrapped-up in the very first paragraph, like a newspaper article).

For just a quick review.

A standard newspaper article has five designated parts. 

Headline: think “title”—and is the short, attention getting statement about the event. The headline, however, is most often not cutesy and clever, but rather is the gist of the article in a few short words.

Byline: writer’s name

Lead paragraph: Gives the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the article in one or two sentences.

Explanation: paragraphs that give additional, important details about the article or event, elaborating on the brief details in the lead paragraph. With most newspaper articles, quotes from reliable sources, experts, or witnesses are included in this part.

Additional information: information that has the least relevance to the story. Unfortunately, readers may not take the time to read an entire newspaper article, so the main parts need to be in the first paragraphs. The lesser important details are also relegated to the end, in case the editor cuts part of the story to meet the word count and layout needs of the paper.

Last month, we talked mostly about the lead paragraph, and we learned that all the details are included in one sentence, preferably, or maybe two. Most of those leads are 25 to 35 words tops. 

(But I do have to chuckle when I read a lead sentence that goes on and on that makes me gasp for air after reading it. A recent Associated Press article began this way: “A summer afternoon at the beach quickly became a scramble to save a pod of disoriented pilot whales, as vacationers on a popular Georgia island joined lifeguards and state wildlife crews in the water to stop dozens of the large marine mammals from beaching themselves.”)

Catch your breath—that was 45 words!!!

After the lead, complete the article with details. Be sure to cover all the details and don’t leave questions unanswered; however, be careful with the word count of the story. 

An editor may give you an exact word count, but may not. When I first started writing regularly for the newspaper, I would pay attention to the length of similar articles and follow suit. Now, it’s painfully difficult to count the words by hand from a print paper, so I would pull up the story online, and then copy and paste it in a word document to check the word count.

A few of my shorter articles will run 300 to 400 words, but most of the time, they run from 500 to 700 words. For some of the human interest stories, my editor allows up to 1000 words, but that’s rare. Just ask your editor—he or she will give you a ball-park to shoot for. 

Newspaper articles, in general, use short sentences and short paragraphs. In fact, the lead sentence may be the longest sentence of the whole article. And paragraphs are usually two to three sentences long at most. But again, this varies between papers—check out your own paper for style and tone and sentence length and word count. 

Generally speaking, newspapers aim towards an eighth-grade reading level. Don’t use big, huge, flowery language, or words that most people can’t even pronounce, let alone know the meaning of. Again—this will vary in some papers, and the subject of the article itself, may not lend itself to a middle-school vocabulary. 

Again, pay attention to your own paper. (You can even do a reading level of the article you copied and pasted into a document to check word count.) 

And then lastly, use active voice. When possible—hopefully that’s regularly—let the subject do the action. Active sentences are stronger and should be used most often. 

Until next time—get active ….. (see what I did there?) …… and look for news stories in your community to share with a newspaper editor.

(PS: If you find a lengthy lead sentence in your newspaper before our EXTRA EXTRA time resumes next month, share it with me below. I just love the creativity of a SuperStringer who can write a 45-word sentence that makes perfect sense and tells the entire summary of an article!)

Newspaper Writing: Tips for Becoming a SuperStringer - @JLavenderWrites on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

More Tips on How to Become a Newspaper Stringer - @JLavenderWrites on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Julie Lavender read newspapers all over the country while her husband served as a Navy entomologist for twenty years. She wrote for the children’s section of the Denver Post for four years. Currently, she reads and writes for her local newspaper, the Statesboro Herald, back in their Georgia hometown and loves the interesting people she meets as a journalist. Julie also writes for GuidepostsPublications, other magazines, a couple of homeschooling blogs,, and many compilations. Combining her education degree, love of homeschooling, and joy of celebrating, Julie wrote a devotional entitled, 365 Days of Celebration and Praise, a party planning book called, Creative Sleepovers for Kids, and three teacher resource books for the religious division of Carson-Dellosa. Julie and David are enamored with their four adult children, one son-in-love, and one gorgeous grandson. Keep up with Julie on social media and at her blog at


  1. Have taught "Top-Down" writing for many years Ms. Julie. Great tips for writers, and this just might be a way to help grow your platform/tribe. Thanks for sharing ma'am.

  2. Thank you, J.D. for joining the conversation. I've never heard it called "top-down" writing and I am so glad to learn that new term!!! I really enjoy my newspaper writing, and you're right - it's a great way to share God stories that have the added benefit of building a platform and tribe!!