Some things to think about when you’re writing for the Spark…
• You need to take the reader by the hand (in a non-patronising way!) and walk along with them. We report from a layman’s point of view rather than from an expert point of view. At times we may know more than some readers, but there will also be many readers out there who know much more than we do about a huge variety of subjects. The people we interview can provide the expertise. We question and analyse.
• Don’t be afraid to ask the ‘stupid’ questions. If you are thinking it, then guaranteed someone else is too. Our job is to ask the questions that many people are afraid to ask.
• If you reference something within your article, make sure it is either (a) a universal truth; (b) a widely recognised cultural reference or (c) something that you have explained earlier in your article. Every reader must be able to understand 100% what it is that you are trying to say. They may not agree - and they may not understand all the layers and detail of everything you reference, but they must be able to understand straight away what you are referencing/explaining or describing.
• Whatever references you use, explain their link to your subject matter.
• Do not assume that the reader has your knowledge. To be a good writer you must step back from your life and your perspective far enough to be able to empathise with someone who knows nothing about what you are talking about. Even with personal articles you must do this.
• Be open-minded but not gullible.
• Feel free to say at the end of an investigation/review or interview that this didn’t work for you, that you have doubts about it, or that you are simply not convinced/sure about the integrity of the people involved. You are not committed to giving coverage to anyone when you work for the Spark. If you are not sure, then we simply don’t give that thing any coverage or publicity.
• Interviewees don’t get editorial control although they may fact check if they wish to. If a feature contains difficult or contentious material it is a very good idea to fact check with your interviewees and also let them check their quotes. This saves a lot of hassle later on. Explain to your interviewees that they may only change factual errors and not style, tone or general content.
• When you report quotes, let people speak in their own words (as long as it is coherent!), rather than interpreting what they say
• Be aware that there are two sides to every story. If someone is alleging that a company/organisation has behaved in a certain way then you MUST get the other side of the story from said organisation and allow them to defend their reputation/refute any allegations. If you do not do this, you are risking a libel suit.
• Always let the readers know if you are personally/professionally involved with anybody of anything you write about. As long as you state your interest at the start it is not usually a problem (but check with your editor!).
• You can write from a chatty, informal first-person perspective or from a more authoritative third-person perspective in the Spark. Either works for different kinds of articles. Check with the editor if not stated in your commission.
• We don’t give repeat coverage within a one year minimum cycle of the magazine.
• We do not accept unsolicited or previously published material.
• Please keep any correspondence (emails etc) from your sources (interviews, pictures etc) for at least six months after publication.