The Five Ws
Any journalism course would probably start with the Five Ws, sometimes also known as the Five Ws and one H. A good report is supposed to answer six basic questions: What happened? Where and when did it happen? Who did it or was involved? Why did it all happen and how? Needless to say, the answers to all these questions are expected to be factual. Note also that none of them can be answered with a simple Yes or No.
The first three are fairly obvious, although your perspective would certainly affect, to a greater or lesser extent, the way you describe what happened. That's why Indymedia does not attempt to take an 'objective' or 'impartial' standpoint, the way mainstream media do to conceal their biases towards capitalism's power structures.
In reporting on major events, such as wars and big mibilisations, who and why become a real issue. Driven by their "worshipping of certainty", mainstream media often make up for not having the answer by recycling governments propaganda. So words like "terrorists", "anarchists" etc. fill in the gap of who, while phrases like "mindless violence", "rouge states" and so on give a false impression of knowing why.
A 'good report' would answer most, if not all, of thses questions in the first paragraph, known as the lead or abstract. For stylistic reasons, the answer to one question could be spread over a few sentences. Here is an example from an Indymedia feature (note the emphasis):
Over 250 Sub-Saharan Africans have been arrested by the Moroccan authorities in raids that took place in different quarters of Rabat on December 23rd, 2006. Among the arrested were women and children refugees and asylum seekers. Six buses, accompanied by the army, then carried them to Oujda on the Algerian borders. At about 11pm, the buses crossed the border at 3 different points and the migrants were left in the middle of nowhere. There are fears that these arrests are only the beginning of a mass deportation campaign to Algeria, or even into the desert, similar to what happened in September-October 2005.
A news item does not have to be a great piece of literature. It's purely functional and as long as you keep it fairly simple and direct.
The so-called Three Cs of journalism: clear, concise and correct. Clear means using a simple, straightforward language, avoiding ambiguity. Concise means your report should be as brief and short as possible. Correct is supposed to be using only facts and being 'objective'.
Be accurate! There's no point wildly over-estimating the numbers or effect of a protest, for instance, bearing in mind that the six people who turn up may all read what you've posted up on Indymedia and become confused. More to the point, they wouldn't believe anything else other people report there in the future.
Essential principles - a clear message and a logical flow. Anticipating and answering possible objections. Identifying the readers' needs. Selecting the best tone and style.
Mainstream journalists are trained (or should we say brain-washed?) to hide their own voices and use a standardized way of writing. Most people, however, have an authentic voice, which, when they connect with, allows them to express themselves forcefully and passionately. But in the written form, at least, fluency can be a rare commodity.
Mainstream journalists are also brain-washed into concealing their opinions, pretending to be 'obective' and 'impartial' (the so-called neutral point of view). We, however, don't have to do that: Have a point of view; it will help you, and your readers, if it's clear where you're coming from. But remember, a news report is not a column or analysis!
Structuring or planning your story
Get clear about the purpose of your report: what is it for? what is it supposed to achieve? and what do you need it to say? If you're not clear, your readers won't be either. It will help you a lot to sort the information or material you've got before you start writing.
The title or headline
It should be unique and specific (usually choose Tell the most important and unique thing). Should be short. Using verbs, present tense and active voice
The summary or abstract
After make sure the basic facts are there, the usual list of the Five Ws is often quite helpful. Never assume your readers know any of this in advance. Try to answer them in the first paragraph. But Don't make your first paragraph a boring list of facts - it's the first thing the reader sees, so make it interesting. It is often a good trick to get the interesting stuff in right at the beginning of your report, to entice people to read more and save them time in sifting through the details. For instance, don't kick off a report with something like "It was 8.45am when the hardy contingent of Bognor Regis anarchists started to gather in readiness for the day's assault on the capitalist system..." but with something like "Police used tear gas and water cannon as 10,000 anarchists barricaded the streets of Bognor Regis this afternoon..." You can then recap on the details.
Sources, witness acounts etc