GUIDE FOR CONTRIBUTORS

Do you have a story you’d like to cover or propose. Contact us at amherstindy@gmail.com

Contributions to The Indy should strive to:

1. Answer the basic questions: 

WHO?

Who are the parties involved? What did they do and say, or what are they planning to do? No matter what your opinion is on the subject at hand, we strive for objectivity and balance, which is crucial to our credibility as a news and information organization. As a practical matter, this means each writer is responsible for reporting all sides of a discussion or issue. Opinion columns should also be well-reasoned, and may not include ad-hominem attacks.

WHAT?

What is the story about? E.g. a meeting, a report, a proposal, an issue.

WHEN?

When did the event take place or when will it occur? Or what is the likely timetable for an issue to come to a vote? Include information such as date, month, year if applicable – for example, Tuesday, Feb. 2. 

WHERE?

Where did the event take place (or where is the site in question)? Remember that not everyone has strong familiarity with our town’s street names and buildings. Places other than major landmarks (Jones Library, UMass, Amherst public schools, fire stations, current DPW) should be made clear. What is the closest intersection to the site you mentioned? What street will the new development be on? Which part of town?

WHY?

The reasons why things happen are not always clear, and we need to avoid  speculation in news articles. However, we can quote people as to their explanations for their actions, and provide supporting or contradictory evidence.

and, perhaps, HOW?

How did this happen? Was it easy or difficult? Controversial or not?

2. Beware of run-on or lengthy sentences and long paragraphs. Large blocks of uninterrupted text (“gray matter”) look like walls and act as such to the reader. Research has shown that concise writing, short paragraphs, and bulleted text work best on the Internet.  Please also provide photographs or artwork to illustrate your article is possible.

3. Your first paragraph (the “lede”) is the most important, and will determine whether you engage the reader. Remember that people have little spare time and will not read an entire article unless the first few sentences grab them. Imagine yourself as someone who comes across your article for the first time. Can you quickly understand what it is about, and why it is of interest and important to know? Make the lede interesting! What is the most interesting thing about the meeting or issue you are writing about?

4. Use the standard “inverted pyramid” style.  The most important (and interesting) information — the basis for the article — should be at the top, with supporting information below and points of lesser significance toward the end.

5. Break up long stretches of text with section breaks that identify the next key point. Each long section break needs its own short sub-headline, made up of a few words introducing or summarizing the section that follows.

6.  Before you submit material:

* Ask yourself if you have provided all the critical information and whether everything you’ve included is actually necessary and interesting.  Be concise!

* Check spelling and grammar

* Remove all extra spaces (one space after a period, not two; no space before or after a paragraph break; no extra tabs; no double paragraph breaks).

7.  Provide accurate URLS for source material.  Data, complex information, and substantive claims (e.g. voting numbers, tax rates) should ideally be supported with a link to an online source. Be sure to check your links for accuracy before submitting. Examples of appropriate links: An article on the Jones Library could include a link to renovation plans; an article that mentions an upcoming meeting could have a link to the agenda.  Links to relevant studies and articles can come after the main text, and be titled this way: “For further information”.

8. No hearsay! No quoting “anonymous” sources! If someone has great information but wants their name to be withheld, please discuss the situation with the editors before proceeding, or don’t use the information. Alternately, confirm the information and attribute it to a public source.

9. Regarding accuracy and quoting:

Strive for accuracy! Check that you have spelled all names and titles correctly.

Quotes must always be attributed to a speaker. Those taken during a private interview should be verified with the speaker.

Quotes taken from a public meeting, TV news report, etc. should be verified, or if they cannot be, can be paraphrased. Quotes taken from an established record or other source (e.g. meeting minutes) should be attributed, e.g. “according to the draft minutes…” or “according to So-and-so, speaking on The Rachel Maddow Show on such-and-such date….”

10.  Our news and opinion sections are distinctly separate. News stories should be created around the principles of accuracy, objectivity, and balance. Opinion stories can present a particular point of view, but must also be prepared and presented thoughtfully, with supporting evidence. Opinion pieces can include the personal pronoun “I”. No opinion columns can include insulting, abusive language or personal attacks, even if you are quoting someone else.

11. Types of articles: word limit in general is 1,000 words.

INTERVIEWS

Your questions should be short! Responses can be consolidated with care, using ellipses (…).

OPINION PIECES

Can use “I” and “we”.

BACKGROUND PIECES

Write in the third person, not “I” or “we”.

REPORTS ON MEETINGS

Write in the third person, not “I” or “we”.

SIDEBARS:

Sidebars provide additional information, broken out for easy reading. Bulleted lists are great.

Word count for sidebars: 400 words, including headline

HEADLINES: No more than 5 words, all capitals. Headlines should be accurate, informative, concise, and interesting, and draw the reader in by highlighting the key or most interesting elements. E.g. COUNCIL APPROVES NET ZERO ENERGY (not REPORT ON COUNCIL MEETING JAN. 28).

SUBHEADS (short explanation of the headline): No more than 10 words. Capitalize the first letter of each word except for articles such as “an” and “the.”

PULL QUOTES (TEASERS), if desired: A pull quote is an informative or exciting quote taken directly from the text of the story.

BYLINE: Your name in  italics

Writer’s tag, if desired: At end of story, no more than 30 words about yourself. Italics.

12. STYLE DETAILS

All caps: headlines only

Underlined words: NO (on the web, an underline = a link)

Italics

to emphasize something: NO.

for author’s byline: YES

for titles of complete works of art, e.g. books, movies, plays: Yes. Please look up the exact title, spelling.

Oxford comma (before and, or, e.g. Peaches, cake, and ice cream were on the menu): YES

Capitalization: capitalize the first letter of names of committees (and titles before names) but not general terms, e.g. Amherst Town Council, the president of the council, Council President Lynn Griesemer.

Second “s” after a singular possessive ending in “s”, e.g. Ross’s proposal: YES

Use the template attached, which include paragraph styles with built-in font, leading, tabs, etc.

Placement of grammatical marks after partial quote: OUTSIDE the end quote, e.g. She said the listening session went “well”.

Comma between season and year: NO

Comma after town, state: NO, e.g. It happened in Miami, Florida in 1966.
13. Editorial oversight: We will try to review all stories, including suggested headlines and subheads. We reserve the right to make  changes that will improve accuracy, length, and tone, in our opinion. We will not have time to rewrite every story, however, and hope to be able to trust every writer.