Thursday, June 10, 2021

The ABC’s of Newspaper Writing, Part One

by Julie Lavender @JLavenderWrites

A wealth of sayings about “old news” abounds, but the truth is, newspaper outlets need fresh content on a daily basis. Or, at least as often as the newspaper comes out in your neck of the woods. 

And that means, as a freelancer, you have many opportunities to gain writing credits by contributing news articles, lifestyle stories, and much more to your local newspaper publication. 

To help you learn the lingo of the newsroom, commit these definitions to your memory:

Above-the-fold – the first story of the newspaper, on page one, above the horizontal fold of the newspaper and just below the name of the newspaper. Typically, the article “above the fold” is the most important news of the day or a prominent story about a well-known community member or institution. (I still remember my first, above-the-fold story, as a freelancer!)

AP - the abbreviation for Associated Press. The AP is a non-profit news agency company. Most local newspapers include some AP-written content in their papers for national and global headlines.

Art only – a photograph with an explanatory caption that does not have an accompanying story. 

Assignment – a story given to a reporter to cover.

Banner – a headline on the first page, written in large, bold font and extending from one side of the paper to the other.

Bump – to move a story to another location in the newspaper or to another day.

Byline – the writer’s name, printed at the top of the story, following the headline.

Copy – all material turned in to an editor for publication that includes the written story and the accompanying photographs

Cutline – sometimes called a ‘caption,’ the cutline is the information beneath a photograph that describes it. The freelancer is responsible for supplying the information about the photograph, unless a newspaper staff photographer takes the picture.

Dateline – the word at the beginning of the story that tells the location or origin of the story.

(Believe it or not, ‘dingbat’ and ‘dummy’ are newspaper terms, but I’ll let you curious ones look those up in all your spare time!)

Ear – the corner at the top of the front page, left side or right side. Brief news blurbs are included here, like weather-related news or a mention of a special feature included in the newspaper for that day.

Feature – a story with more of an entertainment value, rather than news value. (Most of my faith-based stories fit in this category. I’ve shared many stories about God’s work in a particular person in the community as a feature article.)

Flag – the newspaper’s name on the first page.

Folio – the information printed on the paper that includes the date and page number (and includes the price of the paper on page one).

Gutter – the margin between inside, facing pages that includes the vertical fold of the paper.

Headline – the title of a newspaper story.

Inverted pyramid – the placement of the most important parts or facts of a story in the first paragraph or two and the remaining parts of the story written in descending order of importance. 

Jump – to continue a story to another page of the newspaper.

Kill – to take out part of a story, usually because of limited space, or to eliminate the story altogether.

Lead (or lede) – the first sentence or opening paragraph of an article that summarizes the story and grabs the readers’ attention.

Masthead – the blurb that states the title of the paper, address of the newspaper office’s physical location, and publisher’s ownership info, and often includes subscription prices and pertinent phone numbers for each department of the newspaper. The masthead is most often found on page two of the paper.

Morgue – the area of the newspaper office where back issues of the paper are kept.

Newsprint – the paper on which newspapers are printed.

Nut Graf – short for “nut paragraph” and means the summary paragraph that explains “in a nutshell” what the story is about.

Obit – short for obituary.

Op-ed – a page opposite of the editorial page where community members can have their opinions presented through guest writings. (‘Editorials’ are articles that represent the opinion of the editor and/or the newspaper on a particular subject.)

Orphan – part of a word that carries over to a line by itself.

Press Run – total number of copies printed for an edition of the newspaper.

Pullout – a sentence or two pulled from a story, enlarged, and placed at the top of the story to draw readers’ attention. 

Put the Paper to Bed – that moment when the newsroom signs off on all the pages and the newspaper goes to press.

Quarterfold – a newspaper insert with some sort of extra material, like a television guide that is sometimes included, or in the case of my newspaper, a once-a-month insert called MOMents that contains feature stories pertaining to moms and women. The insert gets its name because of the size – a standard newspaper is folded into quarters with a fold on the left side such that it reads like a “mini” newspaper.

Release – sometimes called a “press release.” Information about a particular event or person given in advance to a newspaper by the source of the news.

Slant – the angle of a story.

Source – the person, book, survey or other outlet that supplies information about a story.

Spin – a method of writing a story to produce a desired interpretation 

Stringer – a part-time reporter; also called a “news correspondent.”

Typo – a mistake made during the production of the story (that most reporters blame on those that do the layouts of the paper!!)

UPI – abbreviation for United Press International. AP and UPI are the two major international sources of news stories for newspapers.

Evergreen – a story that can run in a newspaper at any time and be pertinent; a timeless or perennial article 

Widow – a word or paragraph that carries over to the top of the next column or a single word at the end of a paragraph left on a line by itself.

Wire Services – the collective term for news-gathering agencies that gather and disseminate news to subscribing newspapers. AP and UPI are two forms of wire services.

Extra – a term from the ‘old days’ of newspapers that meant a special edition of a newspaper printed for breaking news. Most newspaper agencies can no longer afford to print ‘extras,’ and with online services, the need is no longer there, either.

Yellow journalism – fake or sensationalized news.

Zoned Edition – an edition printed for a specific area that includes more localized news or advertising. 

And there you have it! Some lesser-known bits of jargon and some commonly-known terms, too, to keep you in-the-know for newspaper writing! If you’re a journalist, share a recent God-story you wrote for your newspaper. And if you’re not, now that you have the A B C’s of Newspaper Writing, try your hand at submitting a stringer story today! 

(And, if nothing else—maybe you learned a word or two for a Jeopardy solution or crossword puzzle answer!)


Julie Lavender, author of 365 Ways to Love Your Child: Turning Little Moments into Lasting Memories (Revell), has written close to 1000 newspaper articles. Connect with Julie on social media—she’d love to help you earn writing credits by submitting to your local paper!


  1. Awesome post, Julie. Thanks for this. So good to have this info in one place. Very timely for our guild.
    Jay Wright; South Carolina

    1. Thank you, Jay! I had to learn a whole new language when I first started writing for the newspaper!!! I only knew a few of these before that!! Thanks for the comment! Always nice to hear from you!! Blessings!

  2. I found that fascinating. Some I knew but you gave a whole lot of new vocabulary to us. Thanks, Julis!

    1. I found several of these very interesting! I can't even figure out how some of the terms came to be!! Thanks for the comment! Always nice to hear from you!

  3. Oh WOW! This took me back to my journalism days B.C. (before children). I could almost feel the wax columns on my fingers (that's dating me).

  4. Haha!!! My journalism days came after children, and I felt like I was drinking from a firehose when I first started writing for my local paper! With a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education and some magazine writing under my belt, I had a huge learning curve to become a newspaper writer!!! I've loved my newspaper experiences!

  5. Julie, I have enjoyed writing on the Opinions page of my local newspaper for several years about faith-based issues. It has been something that has enhanced my writing journey, and while I have received some positive feedback, I have also learned to deal with those who don't agree with me. I did learn some new words from your post too! Thanks for enlightening us.