Story Endings: Avoid Sermonettes!

Your ending graph in a news story is just as important as your lead sentence. It's the last thought or piece of information you lead readers with. If a reader has bothered reading all the way to the end of your profile story or enterprise story, you should reward them with a nice ending.

"A good ending absolutely, positively, must do three things at a minimum," Bruce DeSilva of The Associated Press said.  They are:
1. Tell the reader the story is over.
2. Nail the central point of the story to the reader's mind.
3. Resonate. "You should hear it echoing in your head when you put the paper down, when you turn the page. It shouldn't just end and have a central point," DeSilva said. "It should stay with you and make you think a little bit. The very best endings do something in addition to that. They surprise you a little. There's a kind of twist to them that's unexpected. And yet when you think about it for a second, you realize it's exactly right.

Avoid a common mistake young journalists make:  the sermonette ending. This is an ending that sounds like something you'd hear in a sermon. Here are some examples from previous studentsí stories.

This was the ending for a profile story about a model: "At the rate Nyna's going, who knows, maybe she will make it as a supermodel. Maybe she will be the next big-time supermodel we see walking down the most famous Victoriaís Secret runway." This ending is bad because it is an editorialized statement and sounds like a sermonette (which our textbook specifically warns against). Remember in newswriting you want to keep your opinion out of the story.

Here's another bad ending. This appeared in an enterprise story on the difficult job market graduating seniors face: "Whether you lack experience or you donít know the right people, job hunting isnít going to get any easier for college students and fresh college graduates any time soon." Again, this is a bad ending because it contains the writer's own commentary and sounds like a sermonette.

Also: Avoid summary endings that repeat what you have already said.

On the other hand, here are a couple approaches that may work for your story ending.

Quote ending: "A quotation in itself is a piece of information," explained Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Don Murray. "Its authority comes from the speaker, not the reporter. It gives a sense of objectivity to the story, and it allows for a conclusion in a manner that the reader will accept and believe. It lets the writer get out of the way." This is the most common type of ending in news stories. Notice that most of the sample profile stories I posted feature a quote ending.

Detail ending: "The writer uses a specific detail, a concrete image, a fact, a statistic to conclude the story by implication. The part stands for the whole and allows the reader to take a specific piece of information away with him," said Murray.

Circle ending: This ending in some way refers back to the beginning (but doesn't repeat it) so that your news story comes full circle.


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