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Hard news has become somewhat of a lost art in the highly politicised world in which we now live. What used to be hard news is now more opinion than anything else, and the whole concept of ‘fake news’ is making even the most avid consumer of news somewhat cynical. Nonetheless, hard news is a form of content you should be able to use to your advantage.
As you read this article, bear in mind that hard news is not the same thing as an informational article. While informational articles are heavy on facts, writers are allowed to inject some opinion into them. The same is not true for hard news. Writing hard news is a matter of presenting relevant facts for the purposes of informing readers. Hard news is not supposed to be a platform for opinions.
What is Hard News?
The best way to understand hard news is to think about what the news used to be like before the internet age. If you are too young to remember that era, no worries. You can always Google news articles from the 1960s and 70s. Better yet, go back to the pre-war era. Reading news articles from those past decades should present a stark and noticeable difference between how news used to be presented and how it is presented today.
One encouraging thing that should be mentioned is the fact that hard news free of most opinion is still available. You just have to look for it a little harder. Consider the BBC. They are held up as one of the standards of UK news content. Some opinions do creep in (it is nearly impossible to write 100% opinion-free) but their articles are fairly straightforward most the time.
A good exercise would be to compare BBC stories with stories on the same topic published by a website like the Huffington Post. Whereas the BBC still follows journalistic standards in relation to personal opinions, the Huffington Post completely sidesteps those standards to combine news with opinion.
In short, hard news presents important information to your readers, based solely on facts. Furthermore, hard news is current. A hard news piece covers an event that has happened within the last 24-72 hours, maximum. Anything beyond the 72-hour mark is no longer considered hard news because it is not current.
Furthermore, hard news covers topics relevant to your readers. Let’s say your organisation is involved primarily in pest control. You may write hard news articles in the spring detailing bee swarms in certain UK locales. In the autumn you may write stories detailing local rodent problems. The key is addressing issues and events that are relevant to what your organisation does and are important to your audience.
What is the Purpose of Hard News?
A news article has two fundamental purposes. First is the goal of informing your readers of some sort of important information they need to know. Using the same example of a pest control provider, your target audience would need to know that it is against the law for them to attempt to trap or eradicate a protected species. A press release or bulletin to that effect published by the British Pest Control Association would be excellent fodder for a news article.
The second purpose is to generate better SEO productivity. All the major search engines now count relevance as one of the top priorities for ranking websites. The same holds true for individual pages and posts. The best part is that hard news has relevance built in.
If the BBC publishes a story, it is because they know that this story is important to their audience. Your writing a news article based on the BBC story captures that same relevance and ties your story to the BBC story.
Once again, there are a number of additional purposes:
- Authority – Hard news articles remind your target audience that you are staying up to speed on the topics most important to them. This improves your organisation’s authority.
- Traffic – Hard news will drive traffic to your site inasmuch as regular readers loyal to your organisation would rather read the news on your site than elsewhere.
- Updates – The search engines don’t care what your regular updates are as long as the content is relevant and of good quality. Writing hard news stories gives you the opportunity to create daily updates without requiring you to constantly come up with creative ideas.
One thing we should mention here is the practice of spinning. Article spinning is considered a ‘black hat’ SEO practice in which a writer takes an article written by someone else, then rewrites it five or six times using slightly different vocabulary and a different sentence structure. All the main points of the article remain intact.
Search engines do not consider this kind of content relevant. They also consider it cheating to a certain degree, which is why article spinning is considered black hat. If you attempt to create hard news by spinning, your efforts will backfire. Don’t do it.
It is perfectly acceptable for you to use an article written by someone else as the basis for your own story. It is also fine to cite facts and figures from that story as long as you give appropriate credit by providing a source link. Under no circumstances should you copy and paste someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. Keep your news articles as fresh and unique as possible.
What Style Should I Write Hard News In?
The style of news article writing should be self-explanatory. Articles should be straightforward and to the point, containing facts and figures proving any and all assertions made in the text. Outside sources should be mentioned and linked to so as to avoid plagiarism and search engine punishment.
Hard news articles should also be as brief as possible without sacrificing the information your readers need to know. If you can say it in 300 words, don’t stretch it to 500 just to take up space. Otherwise, you will end up creating something so redundant as to harm your SEO productivity.
AP Stylebook vs Chicago Manual
In a previous article, we discussed extensively the idea of writing in the plain English style. If you don’t remember what that was all about, now might be a good time to go back and refresh your memory. This is important because you will need to take the plain English style a little bit further when writing hard news stories.
When it comes to hard news, you can write according to the AP Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style. Both these books set their own standards for writing. The AP Stylebook is the smaller work of the two, consisting of only 330 pages. The style presented here is targeted to journalists who write news articles and public relations content.
The Chicago Manual of Style is more than 900 pages of information targeting a much wider audience. The standards in this manual pertain to published authors, book and periodical editors, technical writers, and so forth.
Do you need to know both styles inside and out? No. However, it is important that you follow AP standards for things like headlines and punctuation when writing hard news stories. It could be that your readers don’t know the difference between AP style, Chicago style, and no style at all. Still, we recommend using AP style for hard news. The benefits of doing so are as follows:
- Accuracy – Your writing will be more accurate.
- Brevity – Your news articles will not be too long.
- Clarity – Readers will be able to understand what you have written.
- Consistency – All your news articles will follow the same general presentation.
Again, it is not reasonable for you to memorise the entire AP Stylebook just to write hard news content for your website. But at least know the basics. Purdue University (USA) offers an excellent, single-page resource that puts all the basics into an easy-to-understand format. They also offer links to more extensive AP style guides.
Here are the other articles in this series: