Advice for Writing the Message Online students on writing, interviewing and finding stories

Writing style

-Look at the module guide again and read through the assessment criteria

-Your website should have 6 news stories not 6 blog posts

-Look over the seminar slides on Writing for the Web to understand the style you need to write in and revisit the writing exercise we did in the seminar

-Intros should cover the basic who, what, where, when and then your story should explore why and how

-Read websites in order to understand the style and structure of your stories: www.bbc.co.uk/news www.thestar.co.uk

-You need to find a hook/angle for your stories:

  • This may simply be it is something ‘new’ (new shop, new line-up announced at a venue).
  • Or something that is new to your readers that they will be unaware of (profile of unusual university club, interview with an alternative student venue).
  •  It can also be a preview of a forthcoming event (preparations for Freshers 2014, Varsity training, interview with a band about to play a gig).
  • Or a follow-up of a national story with a local angle (latest research says students are coach potatoes, what do Hallam students and university experts think? Yellow is the new black, speak to fashion students and boutique shop owners).

Your stories may have a mixture of all of the above or other ‘new’ elements to them.

-You must include original content in your stories by way of interview. Ideally each story will have at least 2 people quoted who need to be experts or representatives. If you do a vox pop (e.g if you speak to the public/students to gather opinion) then 5 is a good number.

-Your news stories should be factual rather than opinionated and should avoid commentary in any way. Avoid phrases like ‘Meadowhall is a really great place for shopping’ ‘It is really horrible to see so many shops closing down’.

Where to find stories

-There is loads going on in Sheffield at the moment. Do you research and keep checking Blackboard announcements and the Facebook page as I will continue to put suggestions up there.

-You still have time to change your theme if you think you need to focus on something different. Run your new idea past your tutor before changing though.

Look through the Sheffield Star newspaper and see if there are any stories you could follow up or explore in more details

Check press releases from SHU media centre and the council – they are all online. Don’t copy them but they will tell you if there is an event coming up or people available to interview

-Some things you could base your website around:

Sheffield DocFest – international documentary film festival in June (lots of potential for preview stories and interviews)

Sheffield Adventure Film Festival – in April and SHU students are having their films screened (again lots of potential for interviews with organisers, SHU film-makers)

Varsity – lots and lots going on around SHU over the next few weeks, tonnes of people you can speak to

Student Elections interviews with candidates, student vox pops, union members

Sheffield Food Festival – lots of potential previews and interviews here

Tour De France – this is coming to Sheffield in the summer and is a MAJOR sporting event. SHU is an official partner of the event. Lots you could do on how the city is preparing for the event, how SHU is involved, what will be the short and long term economic benefit, how will it impact on the popularity of cycling etc.


-Look over the seminar slides on Developing a Story for ideas on who you should be speaking to and how to conduct interviews

-Make use of Sheffield Hallam University media centre, look at their press releases for story ideas and access their list of experts

Don’t be afraid of contacting people. The worst thing that will happen is that they will say no. If they do, move onto another person.

-Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Have a list of possible people to contact in case they don’t all respond – always have a back up plan.

Make use of media/press offices. They will be listed on an organisation’s website.

-Press offices you may want to contact include South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Hallam University, The University of Sheffield

-Always try to conduct interviews face-to-face, second choice on the phone and a very, very last resort via email

-Before you go to an interview write a list of all the questions you want to ask. Think about what you are trying to find out and what questions will help you get this information.

-Be honest about who you are and what you are doing the story for. Don’t be afraid to admit you are scared/nervous/unsure, this will make people warm to you and want to help you more.