Dating advice: dealing with dates in stories

Whenever I talk to students about journalism and writing, I set them a little exercise.
I give them all the facts and some decent quotes for a potential story about a little girl who saves her grandad’s life using first aid skills she learned in the Brownies.
I then give the would-be journos a few minutes to come up with the best intro they can.
In the first paragraph of the notes, I put in the full date when the drama happened.
And, lo and behold, nine times out of ten, it’s still there in the intro.
That’s despite the fact that the date something happened is usually utterly irrelevant, and almost never intro material.
Those student folk can be forgiven for their misplaced sense of priority.
But I also see it in too many reporters’ copy.
In the long date goes, slowing down the pace of a story from the very start with wordy, irrelevant detail.
By all means try to answer the who, what, where, why and when.
But be in no doubt that the when is exactly where it should be in my list – right at the end.
On a similar theme, I also too often see the times of a festival, sponsored walk or fun day finding their way into post-event reports, by which time they are as much use as a chocolate barbecue-lighter.
Two more things on dates.
One is that it is increasingly necessary to stick confirmation of dates in brackets when writing for the web about events yesterday, today or tomorrow.
The second is that, once you’ve written your web story, make sure you change the date (if it’s relevant enough to be included) for the print version.
If you’re not a sub, you’ll be amazed at how many people don’t.
If you are a sub, nothing much will amaze you any more.


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