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.

Exercise 1
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?


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.

Exercise 2
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.



  • Akamadu Oluoma Francisca

    “Legwork” oh, well! This is the first time I’m coming across such word and to think that it’s a Mass communication term is funny and amazing at same time. I only know it to be a type of dance.

    I have definitely taken the word home.

  • Evelyn Johnny

    Thank you for the explanation
    Please ma what’s the meaning of API

  • Egbue Precious

    Keep riding on, ma! I’m always looking forward to more. I want to swallow as much information I can get on Mass Communication.

  • Ahueze Vivian Isioma

    This is Very Educative,
    The Word that stuck to me most was the “Leg work”, I never knew such a term was used in mass communication.
    And also, I find your Lecture Segment very Informative Ma,and i must say, i always anticipate for more.

  • Chinenye oguanya

    The explanation was detailed ma.
    Keep it up ma.
    I never knew that the term ‘legwork’can be used in journalism.
    I’m rooting for more ma’am.

  • Kamsy Mbamalu

    I enjoyed this segment of the series. I do have a question about the exercise 2.
    Is protest and maybe an accident that occurs in a hostel part of the term ‘event that can be covered’? Or must it be like a gathering similar to award ceremonies and so on.

  • Madukwem Ebube Sharon Oghenetegiri

    This is a very detailed explanation and it is quite easy to understand. Thank you ma.

  • Ezimora Reliance

    Thank you ma for this brief but well detailed lecture, however I do have a question from the exercise 2. In the (i) option there, I’d like to think that the names and pictures of minors accused of committing a crime is quite unfit/unworthy of inclusion in a news story.
    But in the case of a serious situation like these minors being involved in blood rituals and the death of people, I have seen news stories that carried their names, age, pictures and even interrogation videos though censored
    Does this mean that I am wrong?

    • You may have seen those things on unprofessional media. There are many people disseminating information that are not qualified to do so, especially online.

  • Okeke Tochukwu Patricia

    I really enjoyed this lecture series.

    Honestly I must say that while reading I was so engrossed and felt as if I were in my classroom meanwhile I was in the confinement of my comfort zone. God bless your efforts ma’am 🙏

  • Ezenwa Miracle Joy

    Thank you so much, this is educative. In other words, there are 5 stages to Journalism and his story. The first stage which is the Leg work – the act of searching out information and findings, the second stage also which is Secondary sources, third stage which is, assess, the creating and finally presenting.

  • Nwije Vivian Onyinyechi

    Thank you ma for this wonderful article I enjoyed it. In this computer age it’s easy to copy news from the Internet and rephrase it but as a journalist there are determinants to take note of inorder to make the news worthy.

  • Muanya

    I really feel journalism is not as easy as it seems from the surface view. It’s a noble profession but, you’ve got to work your fingers to the bone. It demands speed and accuracy. I just hope practising journalists are having a good pay.

  • Aniaku Oluchi Victory

    Thank you very much ma for this lecture. I must say I’ve learnt so much in this blog post.
    I made an attempt at the second exercise and here are my answers:
    A) matriculation of new students into the university.
    – Inauguration of a new VC.
    – launching ceremony of new hostels.
    – induction of Pharmacy graduates.
    – A distinguished lecture series by a prominent person.

    B) the name and pictures of minors accused of committing crimes.
    – the marital indiscretion of a relatively unknown private citizen.
    -jokes making fun of the handicapped.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: