Reporting Breaking News

If you are a photojournalist assigned to a particular beat or area, chances are you might already have been taking photographs of breaking news for quite a time but wish you could also write the text that goes along with your pictures. The following are simple easy steps to guide you how to report breaking news.

Basic structure of a news report
Writing the lead
Using sources
Making an argument

Basic structure of a news report

News reports put the most important part of the story on top and the least important at the bottom. Most news reports follow the structure of the inverted pyramid, where the Five Ws (what, when, where, when, why) and One H (how) are placed in a descending order of importance. Or, it can also follow the hourglass style, which tells the whole story right away in a sentence and then, using a transition, proceeds to tell the rest of the story in the narrative style.

All news reports begin with the lead, the first sentence which carries the most important part of the story, followed by paragraphs supporting it. 

Writing the lead

Find the most interesting, dramatic and unusual part of the news story and use it as the lead. You can use an interesting quote, a short description or summary, an anecdote, as long as it grabs the reader’s attention and encourages people to read more. Here are some more key things to consider:

  • The lead should only express one idea.
  • Sharpen your lead by keeping it short and simple. Take away excess flab.
  • Always use an action verb in your lead.

Imagine yourself as a reporter doing your rounds at the Nakuru general hospital when you come upon an elderly Ogiek woman from Ngongogerie village bringing in a man with numerous machete wounds. You talk to the woman and she tells you the wounded man had been attacked by 6 men wielding machetes and swords in his home at dawn. The Ogiek woman, a neighbour, heard the commotion and when she went out to check what it was, she heard the man cry for help and brought him to the hospital. You also learn that the man has been fighting for Ogieks’ land rights and that a similar attack in the village also happened days earlier.

After the interview, what are you going to tell your readers first?

Following the inverted pyramid style, you could write:

‘An Ogiek activist survived a machete attack by six men who barged into his house in the Ngongogerie village at 2:30 am.’

The rest of the details, including the name of the victim, will follow to support the lead, in a descending order of importance.

In an hourglass style, you could begin with: 

‘An Ogiek activist survived a machete attack by six men. James Rana, the victim, said he awoke at 2:30 a.m. in his house in Ngongogerie village to hear men calling his name. It was dark. He got up and peered outside. He saw six men wielding machetes and swords, forcing open his door. He was so shocked he could hardly move.’ 

Using sources

Your attribution should be very clear from the beginning of your story. Other things to remember are:

  • Use only the most authoritative sources, which does not only mean ‘official sources,’ but also includes eyewitnesses and people who either have first-hand information about the event you are reporting, or people directly affected by it. 
  • Policymakers also make important sources of news because their pronouncements are bound to affect a large number of people. 
  • Go to the first-hand source of the story. Be wary about using second hand information, unless you verified it right from the source. 
  • Get as close to your subject as you can (but remember to respect their privacy).

The lead statement in our first example, ‘An Ogiek activist survived a machete attack by six men who broke into his house in Ngongogerie village at 2:30 am at dawn,’ should be immediately followed by the source of the story. 

Your supporting paragraph may run like this:

‘James Rana, the victim, said the men had forced open the door and attacked him as he tried to escape.’

Aside from the victim and people close to him, you may also get the accounts of neighbours, community leaders, his co-workers, the police and law enforcers, the doctor who treated him, government officials and, if possible, those suspected to be involved. 

Find out if the victim had been receiving death threats before the incident and why. Ask the neighbours if they noticed something strange before the event. Ask community leaders if there had been a similar attack in the village before the assault happened. Ask government officials what are they doing to solve these attacks; and if names of suspects cropped up during your interviews, be sure to get their side, too, (without disregarding your safety, as a journalist).

But first of all, try to find out if there could also be other motives of the attack aside from the land rights issue. 

Making an argument

Stories often revolve around conflicts involving one or more groups of people. When making an argument, here are some key things to remember:

  • Get as many sides of the story as possible. Draw out the quotes that best express a particular side, paraphrasing the rest of the argument as you go along. Well-chosen quotes can add character to your story. Use quotes to enhance your story so that the readers have a clearer impression of the key events and characters involved.
  • When dealing with two opposing sides, strive to present each side as fairly and accurately as possible. Interpret how each argument or position affects your readers.
  • Be sure to attribute each statement to the source.
  • Avoid taking sides. Allow some distance from the subject to give yourself perspective in reporting the issue, but stay close enough to have a complete grasp of what is going on.
  • Do not editorialize or put your opinion into your story.
  • From our example, you may get the direct quote from the group working for land rights. Then, you can also include quotes from state officials, to show how they may or may not be doing anything to stop the attacks. If you come across names of persons or groups suspected to be involved, you may try to get their side, too, and this will give your story depth and dimension.
  • Notice how quotes can make your story come alive.

The statement, ‘I saw their machetes glint in the dark as they walked to my door,’ the victim said with a shiver, recalling the night of the attack,’ brings your reader directly in front of the victim, as if they were there when he was telling the story. The effect is quite different if you merely tell your reader that the victim was shaken by the attack.

Even if you are a reporter whose sympathy goes either with the Ogiek people or those who want to take away their land, never make up statements or distort facts. Let the facts speak for themselves. 


The end should tie the different pieces of the story together. You may want to conclude your news story with a good quote from an important source to wrap up the entire story, or a paragraph that predicts the possible outcome of an event you are reporting.