Journalists write on many different topics – often on deadline. Deadline writing required fast and strategic reporting, so that every interview counts. It also required strong story organization to tallow a reporter to insert more information as it comes in.

In this segment, we learn to write on deadline efficiently and effectively.


As a general assignment reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Tom O’ Neil makes every second count during his interviewing time. He uses the drive to the office after an interview to think through his material and start working out a lead. He often will make a follow-up call to ask a question he thought of after the interview.

Watch the video clip of O’Neil talking about his life as a general assignment reporter and the skills needed to be a good reporter on deadline.

As a class, select a topic that is of interest on your campus right now. Also as a class, spend a few minutes jotting down a list of questions for person-on-the-street interviews on the topic. Then, spend 1/2-hour interviewing people about that topic. Work on perfecting your questions as you progress through interview – repeat those that garner lots of information and opinion, and throw out those that seem to fall flat. Try new questions that follow up on people’s responses.

Think about your material and how you will lead your story. When you return to the classroom, share with your classmates which questions elicited the most responses and which questions didn’t work. Talk about follow-up questions that were successful.

Write a one-page story based on your interviews. Try to write the story in 45 minutes.

Read O’Neil’s story about the trucker who helped capture the suspects in a rash of shootings int he Washington, D.C. area. Make an outline of the story – label each paragraph by sub-theme to show how O’Neil groups together information on a similar theme.

Read Story

O’Neil says that even on deadline, he works to “write a story and not a report.”

Look for examples of breaking news stories that try to tell the reader a story rather than merely delivering facts. Identify the techniques the writers use too do that.

For the trucker story, O’Neil had to be expedient in his reporting, and there were dozens of other media outlets clamoring for the same sources. Note how each source he uses represents a different aspect of the story.

As a class, write down the sources that O’Neil uses in his story.

Make a list of any other sources you think should be included in the story that aren’t.

Clip one news story that is ripe with details that show the reporter was on the scene and serving as the eyes and ears for the reader. Cross out the images and references to such detail in the story and read it again, without such observations. In a paragraph, describe ho the tone, approach and credibility of the story change when the details are omitted.

A lot of sports writing is done on deadline. Before covering a football game, reporters might write some of the story before kick-off. They include background information on the teams and coaches, and any relevant pre-game interviews. Such background is called “A matter.”

Play Chicago Tribune reporter Julie Deardorff’s video clip on sports writing.

Select a campus sporting event to cover on deadline. Arrange to hand in your game story to your instructor within 90 minutes of the game’s conclusion.