10/20/20 The “Best Friend” Test-Simple Tips for Writing News

Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS)
Student Journalism Program Participants

Roger Utnehmer, Director
WIPPS Student Journalism Program

The easiest way to start writing a news story is to apply “the best friend test.”
That means “talk” the story as if you were speaking to your best friend.

The most important part of a news story is the first sentence, called “the lead.”
The engagement of the lead often determines if people are interested enough to keep reading. To capture the essence of the story in the lead just think how you would tell as if in a normal conversation.

Let me us an an example a possible story about high school students becoming poll workers in the November 3rd upcoming election.

After doing some research you’ve learned that several municipalities have reached out and successfully recruited high school students to work the polls.

How would you say that in conversation to a friend?

This could be the first line, the lead, of your story.

“High school students throughout Wisconsin are being recruited to work at polls during the upcoming November 3rd election, including several in the Wausau school district.”

That captures what the story is about and hopefully gives the reader or listener a reason to learn more.

The second sentence can give background and more information.

“Many municipalities have relied on senior citizens to staff the polls. Covid 19 has made many seniors hesitate and high school students are stepping up to fill open positions at local voting sites, including (name of student), a junior at (name of school.”

By adding about twenty seconds of audio from an interview with a student your story is localized and sourced. All your need to complete a one minute story for radio is a final sentence or two about how students can become involved and perhaps details on compensation for being a poll worker.

Using the “best friend” test is an often helpful devise to overcome a mental block that writers can experience when sitting at the keyboard and now knowing how to start a story.

A good story answers five basic questions; who, what, when, where and why.

Please contact your media partner and ask for a story idea to be approved. Then answer the five basic questions of a good story by simply writing down what you would say to a friend in response to the questions. You might have your story written in less time than you think.

Roger Utnehmer, Director
Student Journalism Program
920 495 9677

Katie Schramm, Student Coordinator
Student Journalism Program
920 723 5814