Common Style Issues

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Writing Editorials – basic notes

The fake editorial or fake feature column follows the same principles as that of the fake news article. Start with a funny headline/title, and follow-up with funny text which keeps with the same theme as the headline.
The fake column is about 500 words in length, so to keep interest you need an idea which has ‘legs’. One tactic is to create comic tension in your title, and keep referring to that tension throughout the piece with new examples.
In this Onion article, note the headline is already setting up a satire of a BP executive through irony:

We’re Investing So Much In Alternative Fuels, Sometimes We Almost Forget To Pump Oil!

http://www.theonion.com/articles/were-investing-so-much-in-alternative-fuels-someti,11396/

The article has ‘legs’ because the satire draws on the very real incongruities which exist within the operations of large corporations posturing to care about the environment. The same joke as found in the headline is simply repeated throughout the text with variations and new information to maintain interest. Each time the BP exec mentions his efforts in alternative fuels, he catches himself and pretends he is surprised by how much profit BP is making with Oil, a non-alternative.
The writing can be stylized to match the character or to further the satire of the character. Note that in the above example, the style of speech mimics that of a country bumpkin, which is appropriate given that the column is meant to belittle the BP exec’s efforts in real life to come across as caring of the environment.

Because a lot of attention should be paid to the name of the character, along with his or her or it’s face (for the accompanying photo), it might be easier to view the column as a monologue which could be spoken out loud on a stage. The rules of good writing can definitively be broken in order to match the character, but not so much that they break the style of an editorial piece found in newspaper opinion pages. This is a parody, after all, so it has match somewhat the style it parodies.
The types of ideas can vary. In most cases, the purpose of the fake column is to belittle the type of person who might think or say similar things as that which you’re using as fodder for jokes.

Incongruous:
http://www.theonion.com/articles/if-i-could-have-any-superpower-itd-definitely-be-i,20193/(here the joke relies on the reader’s knowledge of the speaker’s character)
http://www.theonion.com/articles/well-that-sunset-sucked,11433/?utm_source=related(talking about an event that wouldn’t normally be worthy of publication, so a sort of anti-editorial)
Truth editorials. Here the joke lies in the fact that the person is telling the truth where normally we are used to hearing the same type of reasoning masked in lies.

Examples: http://www.theonion.com/articles/you-and-me-and-baby-minus-me-makes-two,10844/

http://www.theonion.com/articles/i-will-do-whatever-it-takes-to-restore-your-faith,11440/

Satire. It’s fair game to write as the character you are satirizing. It’s ironically an indirect method, but can be very effective.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/were-investing-so-much-in-alternative-fuels-someti,11396/

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Write a ‘genre’ article

A ‘genre’ style article can provide the writer a framework for the writing process.

Essentially, a ‘genre’ article borrows elements from well know fictional or cultural narratives but does so on a subject not particularly fit for such treatment.

The example below ties together a narrative that elevates the allure of a truck-driver to that of a cowboy. Much of the wording is meant to draw parallels between the iconic rugged, lonesome cowboy type and a modern day truck driver. This in itself is an interesting connection, but the humour of the piece relies, ironically enough, on deflating the importance of the driver by constantly mentioning the type of cargo, convenience store junk food. The satire is a general comment on the degrading type of jobs that are created by our consumer society.

 

From The Onion (visit the article to see the photograph of a truck in sunset which alludes to the iconic image of a cowboy in the distance):

Modern-Day Cowboy Rides 18-Wheeler Full Of Entenmann’s Products Westward

SOLOMON, KS—Awakening to the lonely howl of a distant coyote early Tuesday morning, C.J. Hoppel climbs into his 18-wheeler and sets off westward across a barren stretch of unbroken prairie, the whipping wind his only companion as he pulls a rig full of Entenmann’s baked goods and snack cakes across the plains.”This load’s gotta be in Arizona by sundown tomorrow,” says this 63-year-old cowboy of the American road, gesturing toward his 500- horsepower Peterbilt tractor-trailer packed to the brim with Raisin Loaf Cakes, Apple Puffs, and Ultimate Cinnamon Pastry Twisters. “But I should be able to cover 700 miles today, so long as the weather holds.”Clad in well-worn workman’s denim and sturdy boots that have withstood two decades of fudgy brownie hauls, Hoppel is, by his own admission, too restless a soul to put on a suit and spend his days pushing papers around a desk. For him, there is no greater satisfaction than rising before the sun and putting in an honest day’s work moving 10 tons of prepackaged, preservative-filled Entenmann’s products across the country to the company’s contract wholesalers out west.

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Collective sentiment articles

These two articles have had some success and good feedback. They can be classified as ‘collective sentiment’ articles because they capture the sentiment that many people are feeling. Some of the responses observed on Facebook threads have been “hell yes” and “I feel the same way.”

Rest of world hasn’t got time for North Korea’s BS

Nation just wants spring to fucking happen

Notice how the second one uses language to mirror the sentiment of the reader even more.

 

 

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Keep the intro sentence short and sweet

Your first sentence should state the important elements of the piece but you should also just keep it simple and restate the headline’s joke without adding a new one. It makes life simpler while writing and editing and it matches the conventions of hard news, which is the style of most of our articles.

Avoid two sentences or long winded first sentences.

The intro should also lead in for a smooth transition to the second paragraph, which should usually be a quote. If the transition is not good, something will feel off to the reader. Make the choice between a super thought out first sentence to allow the second paragraph to be a quote, or going with a follow up paragraph that gives a bit more exposition and follow that with a quote.

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Adding feedback to an article before and after the meeting

We use a blend of sources to do peer review. Our big one is through Google Docs.

Here are some basics:

- use margin notes for specific notes such as suggested line rewrites or deletions, or to say you thought it was a sweet joke

- use end notes to give your general impression of the piece (please be honest)

 

END NOTES

 

It’s a bit annoying to write your thoughts and articulate them, but silence is deadly. Subsequent rewrites rely on group notes.

If you do not like a piece, it’s important to know this. However, we have to watch for how one strongly put opinion can put off everyone else. Notice how the first two notes are appreciative of the comedy, the final one is strongly against it. In the end, the piece still hasn’t been used. Was it the right choice? Who knows, but the strong opinion against it has put a damper on wanting to work on it further. It has killed the momentum.

 

*** – I like it. I like it a lot actually. Not sure if this is how editorials are written, I haven’t read enough real ones to be sure.

*** – this may or may not be one of the best things I’ve ever read. Whether or not it makes sense for a Bton editorial is another thing, of which I am also uncertain for my own editorials. Anywheat, i loved it as a thing to read.

*** – Forgive me as I’m about to be blunt.

This is too long and it’s written like a monologue, not an editorial. Case in point: “Time to go clean up that babby, Daisy-Ellen. No sense in dilly-dallyin’ around in here, just talkin’ to yourself.”

I know the Onion can blur the line sometimes, but we don’t do a lot of editorials.

I frankly think it’s far too easy to just put on a southern drawl and hick it up for over a page. For me, the premise is better served speaking to the urban audience (our readers) that has to deal with psychotic raccoons on a daily basis. Write it from a horrified city-dweller’s POV.

That said, it does work as a monologue.

MARGIN NOTES

Look at these very useful, very specific margin notes that were eventually incorporated into the final piece, Parents can’t decide who favourite kid is:

I think for the article to be its funniest the parents have to be even more nitpicky, petty, and negative. Like “That coffee mug Jenny made me for father’s day leaks all over the place. But Mark has his mother-in-law’s nose… I can’t stand that.

Funny reversal at the end. Joke might be more obvious if “The caldren children answered they wished they would die SO THAT aunt leona and uncle jerry COULD take over. Small point.

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Verb tense

News reports on events that HAVE ALREADY HAPPENED. Therefore articles should be in the past tense.

Note: Headlines are written in the present tense because it sounds more exciting. It makes the reader feel like it’s happening now.

Note: Timelines / Sidebars can also be written in the present tense.

 

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Do not self-reference The Beaverton within stories

As a general rule, do not mention The Beaverton within your articles.

If a quotation mentions the speaker spoke with The Beaverton or held an exclusive interview with The Beaverton, it suggests no other reporters were there, which also suggests the story didn’t make the front page of other newspapers, and ultimately this works toward breaking the illusion that the story is true.

The preference is simply to say, “he said” or “he told reporters” or “announced at a press gathering.”

Other terms don’t require the mention of reporters at the scene, such as “according to sources.”

Sometimes it’s funny as well to suggest many reporters where on hand even though the story is clearly unimportant. Choose whether or not this is the case in your article.

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Canadian placelines & international placelines

CANADA

In Canada use the following format:

COMMUNITY, PROVINCE ABBREVIATION -

If the city is a capital or well known, omit the province/territory:

COMMUNITY -

Examples:

KINGSTON, ON – Local 8-year-old, Tommy Steiger, went to bed yesterday seemingly unaware he had just experienced the best day of his entire life.

TORONTO – Although he is not currently in the public eye or available for comment, city officials, journalists, and citizens of Toronto are all in agreement that mayor Rob Ford is probably doing something stupid at this very moment.

(note all capital letters, a comma, an abbreviated province or territory, a space, a hyphen, a space)

Special cases:

  • Use QUEBEC CITY in the placeline, Quebec in the body of the text unless it is unclear whether or not the reference is to the city or the province.
  • There is a St. John and a Saint John. Include the abbreviated province to avoid confusion. Do not use a period for “ST”

U.S.

Well known cities do not need a state abbreviation in the placeline. Otherwise, use this format:

COMMUNITY, STATE ABBREVIATION -

Example: JANESVILLE, WI – Paul Ryan, the notoriously athletic and daring former vice-presidential candidate, has chosen to relax from the grueling campaign trail by taking on the monumental task of scaling the foreboding widow’s peak that sits above his own eyebrows.

NEW YORK – After almost two decades of mutant sightings in the New York sewers and a lengthy siege, spokespersons for the New York Police Department have reported that a nest of mutant turtles has finally been destroyed.

INTERNATIONAL

Include the community and country name unless it is a major city such as LONDON, MADRID, PARIS…

Example:

PARIS – In a long overdue move, the International Association for Getting It On has officially downgraded heavy petting to first base. The move reclassifies French Kissing as a sacrifice bunt and intercourse as a mere triple.

Note:

Do not use the long version of the country name, use the most commonly accepted version. For example, use CHINA instead of PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA.

 

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Rule of Three and quotations

Even the biggest hack knows about the rule of three and how it applies to comedy. Create a pattern with your first two points, and break it with the third for comedic surprise.

You have to watch out for using this device often because it can come across as gimmicky, though when you can pass it off as natural it can have a great effect.

In our article, Citing rising allowance costs, Gary Bettman locks his children out of the house, the author made creative use of the rule of three. Three children names are stated in the intro paragraph, and when a quote from Gary Bettman begins to list the names using cute nicknames, the reader is caught off guard when he reaches the third name. Part of the charm in this example of the rule of three is the contrast between giving affectionate nicknames to two of the children, and not even mentioning the name of the third.

“We made a reasonable offer for a rollback from 10 dollars a week to 3.50, but unfortunately it was rejected. Even though, household wide, our revenues have increased in recent years, it just wasn’t enough to justify keeping all three children in the house. Frankly we were left with no other options but to void their contracts and wish our beloved Britt-Britt, Laurie-Pie and the other one the best of luck in their future endeavours.”

 

 

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