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Getting started: Some templates and tools for encouraging organic news fluency

Every story is an opportunity to have a conversation with your audience about what journalism is for and how journalists conduct their work. Each type of story presents different questions and different ways to encourage news fluency, in an organic and contextual manner. In this section, we’ll list nine types of stories and the unique questions that news consumers might ask about each type. (You can click on a category below to go directly to those questions.)

Story categories

Below, we’ve listed questions designed to address news fluency in various types of story content. You might choose three or four to display prominently or “billboard” near the start of your story, and answer the remainder within the story itself. By including these questions and answers, you are also engaging readers with your reporting, improving the standards of your reporting and building trust.

This is just a start. If you are a journalist, we hope you think of other questions or other types of stories. That means you are thinking about creating journalism that encourages news fluency. If you’re a news consumer (and most of us are, even if we’re journalists as well) we hope you’ll let your local journalists know about clarifications you need and questions you have.

The “standard news story” is the daily or typical story produced by most news organizations. Examples might include a story about a public agency meeting, a new business in town, a new dean at the local university.

Questions: Here are some questions news consumers might ask about a standard news story. Consider choosing a few that are important in this case to display at the beginning of your story and offer your audience a way to ask their own questions.

  • Why did we do this story? (Why does this story matter?)
  • What’s new here?
  • What questions did we set out to answer?
  • What do we know now?
  • What don’t we know?
  • What’s the evidence?
  • Who are the sources and why were they chosen?
  • Why did we use unnamed sources?
  • What might happen next? What could change?
  • How and when will we cover it?
  • How can you respond or get involved?

These are project stories — other than deep investigations — that required considerable time and effort. The topic might be a long-term trend or social problem or phenomenon. Why the story was written and what follow-up stories could be done are particularly significant.

Questions: Here are some questions news consumers might ask about a project story. Consider choosing a few that are appropriate, and display them at the beginning of your story.

  • Why did we do this story? (Why does this story matter?)
  • Who’s in this story (the “cast of characters”)?
  • What questions did we set out to answer?
  • What do we know now?
  • What don’t we know?
  • What’s the evidence?
  • Who are the sources and why were they chosen?
  • We had some tough journalism decisions to make. What were they?
  • Why did we use unnamed sources?
  • What might happen now and how will we cover it?
  • What are some potential solutions?
  • How can you respond or get involved?


Investigative projects differ from general projects in at least one important respect: The news organization takes on the additional role of exposing wrongdoing or something else that might be hidden. Often the burden of proof is higher. The investigative story tends to be less conversational and more like a prosecutor’s brief that identifies wrongdoing and those who are responsible. That changes, subtly but importantly, some of the questions consumers may ask of you and the story. Particularly important questions are: Why did we do this story? What newsgathering obstacles did you tackle and what tough choices did we make?

Questions: Here are some questions news consumers might ask about an investigative story. Consider choosing a few that are appropriate, and display them at the beginning of your story.

  • Why did we do this story? (Why does this story matter?)
  • Who’s in this story (the “cast of characters”)?
  • What do these terms and phrases mean? (Provide glossary of terms.)
  • What questions did we set out to answer?
  • What do we know now?
  • What don’t we know?
  • What’s the evidence?
  • Who are the sources and why were they chosen?
  • Why are there unnamed sources? What other tough journalism decisions and news-gathering obstacles did we tackle?
  • What might happen next, and how and when will we cover it?
  • What are the potential solutions?
  • How can you respond or get involved?


Fact-checking as a form of journalistic writing refers to the assessment of statements and rhetoric for accuracy and truthfulness, as well as the debunking of viral stories and rumors. The statements typically are made by people in politics, government or other powerful positions who are held accountable for their words and actions. Fact-checks require original sources, intense research, and high-quality data. Topic choices and source selection are important questions here.

Questions: Here are some questions news consumers might ask about a fact-checking story. Consider choosing a few that are appropriate, and display them at the beginning of your story.

  • Why did we do this particular fact-check?
  • How did we decide on our conclusion?
  • What’s the evidence?
  • Who are the experts we consulted and why were they chosen?
  • What were the primary sources we used and why were they chosen?
  • What other sources do you recommend? Let us know. (Create a Google form or another way for your audience to connect with you.)
  • What don’t we know?
  • What is the response from the subject of this fact check?
  • What additional questions do you have?


“Explainers” summarize a complicated topic to make it more accessible and useful for news consumers. The type of encapsulated analysis is often referenced over and over, to augment another piece of reporting. While Vox is often credited with popularizing the modern explainer, many other news organizations have followed their lead. Particularly important elements of explainers include a definition of terms and a clear list of sources.

Here are some questions news consumers might ask about an explainer story. Consider choosing a few that are appropriate, and display them at the beginning of your story.

  • What do these terms and phrases mean? (Provide a glossary of terms.)
  • Why did we do this story? (What current issue does this story relate to?)
  • Who’s in this story (“cast of characters”)?
  • What do we know now? What’s the evidence?
  • What don’t we know?
  • Who/what are the sources and why were they chosen?
  • What are the potential next steps in this story? What could change? What are the options and variables?
  • What are the potential solutions?
  • Where can you find more information?


When important events happen unexpectedly — such as a violent public crime, the sudden death of a city official, or a surprise move announced by a sports team — public interest is typically immediate and intense. Their questions may center on what happened, what is known and what isn’t known.

Here are some questions news consumers might ask about a breaking news story. Consider choosing a few that are appropriate, and display them at the beginning of your story.

  • What just happened? (Provide context and timetable.)
  • What is still unfolding?
  • What do we know now?
  • What don’t we know? What are the questions we are trying to answer?
  • What additional questions do you have? Let us know. (Give people a quick way to post questions, such as through a social media platform.)
  • Who are our sources?
  • If we have anonymous sources, why?
  • Are there previous stories to provide context?
  • Who is covering this story and where are they now? Where are they headed?


These are stories that must be covered in real time but are expected and scheduled. Examples include a governor’s inauguration, a murder trial or a public hearing on a controversial issue. Previous stories or explainers to provide context and “What’s next?” are significant elements here.

Here are some questions news consumers might ask about live coverage. Consider choosing a few that are appropriate, and display them at the beginning of your story.

  • Who is covering this story and where are they now? Where are they headed?
  • What is happening now? What’s coming up? (Provide timetable.)
  • What do we know now?
  • What don’t we know? What are the questions we are trying to answer?
  • Why does this story matter? Why are we here at this event?
  • Are there previous stories to provide context? (Provide explainer.)
  • What are the options/variables on the outcome of this story?
  • What are the potential solutions?


Features encompass a wide range of topics and formats, from a “day in the life”-type stories to an athlete profile to fashion stories. Most often, the content revolves around people or a group of people. Why the story was written and how those people were chosen to be featured can be important questions for news consumers.

Here are some questions news consumers might ask about a feature story. Consider choosing a few that are appropriate, and display them at the beginning of your story.

  • Why did we do this story?
  • What was its origin? How did we find out about it?
  • Why did we choose this particular person or group or event to feature?
  • What’s new here?
  • What questions did we set out to answer?
  • How can news consumers respond or get involved?


Opinion content can include political commentary, local theater reviews, editorials and “op eds.” While opinion writing typically takes a stand or a side, writers still must abide by journalistic standards of accuracy and transparency. Questions may focus on the credentials of the writers, how this content differs from news reporting, and the origin of the data and evidence they may cite.

Here are some questions news consumers might ask about opinion writing. Consider choosing a few that are appropriate, and display them at the beginning of your story.

  • Why does this publication write opinions?
  • Who is the writer and what are the writer’s credentials and background?
  • What is the writer’s relationship to the subject matter? Why were they selected to write this?
  • If data and other supporting information is cited, where did it come from?
  • What are the primary points the writer is trying to advance?
  • Why does this topic matter? What’s the news context?
  • What are some of the counterpoints or alternative ideas or solutions?
  • How can news consumers respond?

 

While each story presents its own questions about transparency and fluency,  here’s our recommended basic checklist of elements you can include with most types of journalism. The elements can be prepared or designed in advance, and can be permanent features with all content or can be quickly “plugged in” at appropriate points.

  • Author bio page
  • Author’s body of work (links)
  • How to contact the writer or editor (e-mail, phone, social media)
  • List of editors, researchers, data reporters, photographers or others who contributed to the story
  • List of sources used in story
  • Uploaded documents, audio, video, and any other external material

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