NEWS WRITING SERIES #1: The Meaning Of Journalism
News stories are the most common types of stories journalists write regardless of the class of media they work for – print, broadcast or web-based. Covering newsworthy events and issues, then writing and publishing stories on them is an important avenue through which the media perform their surveillance function.
In this series, we shall look at the process of news writing in detail and proceed to actually write such stories. Some of the segments in this series will examine the meaning of journalism and news/news stories, various types of news stories and their characteristics, and provide guidelines for writing different parts of a news story.
Before perusing the posts in this series, ensure that you study our previous series entitled, THE BASICS OF NEWS REPORTING AND WRITING. That series, which you can access its first post by clicking on its title in the last sentence, will provide the foundation you need to fully comprehend the segments in this one. Once you finish reading the first post, you can easily navigate to others via hyperlinks within and below it.
a. Which scholar stated that surveillance of the environment is one of the functions of Mass Communication?
b. What other functions of Mass Communication did the same scholar add to this?
THE MEANING OF JOURNALISM
In this first segment of the series, we look at the meaning of journalism, the profession behind the news business. This is germane as an understanding of the work that journalists do facilitates understanding of the product of their work, which is largely the news. The American Press Institute (API) simply defines journalism as “the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information.” It adds that journalism is “indispensable to democratic societies” and thus, “the more democratic a society, the more news and information it tends to have.”
Taking a closer look at this definition, we see that it is the responsibility of journalists to gather news. In other words, they find news where it exists. Even in this digital age when you can access vast amounts of information at the click of a computer button, journalists still have to search for news and be there physically to cover it if they can. That is called legwork and it helps journalists to write vivid and authentic stories because they had first hand knowledge of the event or issue they have written on.
After doing the legwork and consultation of secondary sources like library materials, a journalist does not include everything he saw or was told into the news story. He assesses them. That means that he weighs them according to their truthfulness, availability of evidence to support them and public interest. He also checks whether they are ethical and legal to avoid culpability for publishing something sanctionable.
When he has sifted out what 7should not be in the news, the journalist creates the story. He decides what type of news story the information at his disposal requires and composes it according to the conventions for writing that type of story. If it is hard news, for instance, he goes straight to the point but if it is soft news, he adopts a more leisurely approach.
In the last stage, the journalist presents the story. How he does this depends on the media he works for. Broadcast news is read to the audience while print news is put on paper for the public to read. Web-based media use a multi-media format and so there may be textual material in the story, graphic material (still images), plus audio and video files attached.
We earlier stated that the API underscored the importance of journalism in a democracy. The media are charged with upholding the accountability of the government to the citizens in Section 22 of Nigeria’s 1991 Constitution. That section states that,
“The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”
If democracy is to flourish, those elected by the citizens to govern must serve the interests of and be answerable to the populace that elected them. To ensure that this is so, the Constitution invests the media with the mandate to check that those in public office live up to their responsibilities. The media primarily do this is through the work of journalists. They must gather information pertinent to how public officials are discharging their duties; they must seek a variety of sources through which to verify the pronouncements and claims of public officials and their aides, rather than pass them unchallenged in toto to the public and they must let the governed be heard, particularly when they have complaints against their rulers; they must create and present their stories in a way that highlights what is salient to the public good (instead of glorifying the frivolities of people in power) and in a manner that is lucid enough for comprehension across board rather than obfuscating the issues. This is where news interpretation and comes in.
These are the ways in which journalists, through the news business, further freedom and good governance. Unfortunately, many media in the developed and developing countries are joining the Establishment and the powers that be to enable them maintain and consolidate their power while frustrating the yearnings of the citizens.
a. As a reporter covering the campus, suggest five events and issues you would deem worthy of coverage.
b. Which of the following would you sift out as unworthy of inclusion in a news story:
i. The names and pictures of minors accused of committing crimes
ii. Allegations of corruption against public office holders
iii. The marital indiscretions of a relatively unknown private citizen
iv. Jokes making fun of the handicapped
v. A rebuttal from the media aide of a legislator on the claims about his principal in a story you’re following up
The next segment of this series will discuss what a news story is. In this age of the internet when everyone with a smart phone can purport to be reporting news via the social media and blogs, it is important that journalists in training understand what actually makes a story a news story.
Be sure to do the exercises in this post and send your impressions and questions to me via the Comments section.
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