TYPES OF REPORTING I : STRAIGHT NEWS REPORTING
The work of covering newsworthy people, places, issues and events and crafting accurate and balanced stories from them is at the core of journalism. This work, called reporting, has sadly become an all-comers’ affair in this digital age. Anyone with a smart phone can gather and disseminate information in the name of news. But trained journalists know that it takes more than a good phone or other digital devices to report the news properly.
Reporting is an intricate process that requires special attributes- some innate, some acquired through training. For instance, a good reporter should have what is professionally called a nose for news, that is, an ability to detect news possibilities where others do not and ferret the stories out. The latter takes curiosity and persistence, both of which can be natural traits. However, how they can be applied in knocking on the right doors, asking the right questions and collating the information gathered from a variety of sources into a coherent and fluid story is largely a function of training.
Part of that training concerns the different approaches to reporting. Not every story is handled in the same way. Some stories by their very nature lend themselves to one approach while others would require another kind of treatment. In the same vein, all stories do not have the same goal and these varying goals necessitate different handling for them to be actualised. In this series, we shall examine different methods of reporting to identify the following:
• Their characteristics
• The communication goals and roles of the media they seek to accomplish
• Their popularity/availability in Nigeria’s media landscape.
In this particular post, we shall look at the traditional method of reporting called straight news or objective reporting.
Straight news reporting
Straight news reporting is the earliest form of reporting in journalism that requires the reporter to submit a concise and timely report of the day’s events with no embellishment or editorialisation (insertion of the reporter’s personal opinions and biases). In other words, using the 5 Ws and H (news elements), the reporter is expected to answer the questions:
• What happened?
• Who made it happen or who did it happen to?
• When did it happen?
• Where did it happen?
• Why did it happen?
• How did it happen?
As many of the answers to these questions as can be discovered are quickly assembled to send out a report that is as contemporaneous with the event as possible.
Characteristics of a straight news story
• It concerns important matters. The most important news of the day come in straight news fashion, When reporters say “breaking news,” it is often straight news. Stories about politics, education, the economy, etc. that people cannot do without. When the government announces a tax hike; when a major trade union, like the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), announces it is commencing an industrial action; when a pandemic hits; reporters rush to submit straight news stories. This method of reporting does not cover fluff like who is dating who, what flavour of ice cream does the president or Speaker of the House of Representatives like or what did a business mogul buy his wife for her birthday? That could be why its output is called hard news.
• It goes straight to the point. It does not begin with any preamble or building of context. It is not written like the conventional essay or story that uses description to paint a scene or builds an image in readers’ minds before launching into the meat of the narrative. It starts with a summary lead that gives the story in a nutshell by answering some or all of the 5 Ws and H.
• It is written with the simplest language possible. That is why it is said that you do not ‘purchase’ when you can ‘buy’ in news writing.
• It is very timely. It is usually the first account of every important news you will hear before it is elaborated upon through other methods of reporting.
• It is precise because it does not make room for vast amounts of background or interpretative information.
• It is called objective reporting because the reporter is expected to detach himself from the story and report only the facts of the event. Any opinions in the story must be strictly attributed to properly identified sources and these opinions should be diverse enough to prevent a charge of promoting one view over others.
• It is written in the inverted pyramid order. This means that the basic facts of the story are presented in the first paragraph (the lead), followed by a bridge that explains the circumstances surrounding the lead, a further explanation of the lead, background and secondary information, with minor details at the end of the story. It is the opposite of the usual storytelling style that picks up gradually, building to a climax.
Goal of straight news reporting/Role of the media it serves
As earlier said, straight news focuses on crucial matters that affect most people, information about which they need to make vital decisions. That is why it does not dance around or adopt a suspenseful style. It tells the reader immediately what the story is about from the headline to the first few paragraphs. Anyone who wants more information can read the rest of the story. If they’re still not satisfied, they can search for more comprehensive reports outside straight news.
The major goal of straight news is, therefore, to provide information- help people to be aware of what is happening around and beyond them, some of which affect their lives directly or indirectly. In other words, straight news enables the media to perform their surveillance function.
Popularity/availability of straight news in Nigeria
Straight news is the major method used to report news in Nigeria- in daily newspapers, on television, radio and the web. Other methods of reporting, although present, cannot compete with the sheer volume of straight news churned out everyday.
This is not a uniquely Nigerian situation but are there things about the Nigerian situation that could explain the preponderance of straight news?
***Find three straight news reports in any Nigerian newspapers and dissect each of them into the various parts of the inverted pyramid as listed above.
***Pick two front-page stories from any national daily and assess how they reflect the characteristics of straight news stories identified above.
***Write a straight news story on a major event that took place on campus or its environs.
***Adduce reasons for the popularity and wide availability of straight news reports in Nigeria.
Nwabueze, C. (2015). Reporting: Principles, approaches, special beats. Owerri, Nigeria: Top Shelve Publishers.
Uwakwe, O. (2017). Media writing and reporting. Enugu, Nigeria: Cecta Books.
Ohaja, E. U. Feature writing simplified. Enugu, Nigeria: El ‘Demak. (Chapter One distinguishes between straight news and features in detail, thereby explaining its characteristics profoundly. It also has an example of a straight news story.)