Writing for a Newspaper

Marty Barrack

Marty Barrack


From time to time, Marian Catechists are invited to publicize particular events by writing a newspaper article. The basic principles are:

A good newspaper article answers the questions: who what when where why how.

Start the article with a summary paragraph. Most people don’t read every article in a newspaper. They read the first paragraph of each story and see whether they’re interested enough to continue reading. That paragraph has to provide big picture of what’s happening. The rest of the article fills in the details.

But we don’t stretch the summary paragraph to try and stuff everything into it. It has to be brief, concise, and precise. For example, "Jesus of Nazareth, whom many believed to be the Son of God, was crucified today on Calvary Hill."

The rest of the article always lists the most important details first, and then the rest in descending order of importance, always including the who-what-when-where-why-how details. Editors always cut from the bottom up to fit an article on a page. We always make sure we get the most important information up front.

Newspaper articles are an exception to the standard rule of writing that says we keep all information about a particular subject area together. All editors and most readers know that, because editors cut from the bottom, it’s okay to put the most important information up front in fairly concise style, and then return to the same subject later in the article with details that are less essential but still complete the reader’s experience of the event.

Whenever possible, we quote directly from an authoritative source. For example, "’…to be a Marian Catechist, one must cultivate the art of writing to bring Christ to others,’ said Father Hardon." Or, "Barrack said, ’The Marian Catechist Writers Apostolate is a direct extension of Christ’s command, Mt 28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you …"’"

Newspapers live by deadlines. Always meet your deadline.



Writing a regular column for a newspaper is different in that the writer knows in advance how many words he will be able to use for each column. If, say, the allotted amount is 750 words each month, the writer can produce his columns confident that they will not be cut from the bottom.

That means the summary paragraph and most-important-first rules are not necessary. A columnist can organize his column each month as he wishes. Marian Catechists might consider organizing all the text of each column focused on a summary point at the end, which leaves the reader something to remember or act on.

A distinct advantage of writing on Catholic issues is that the columnist can prepare his background material in advance, and then merely insert some specifics that key the column to a current event. For example, a Marian Catechist can prepare about 600 words on the subject of Confession from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and set them aside. When a Confession issue arises, we can bring up our notes, add in 150 words or so on the current event, write the article, and e-mail it to the publisher on short notice.