Posts tagged ‘Reporting’

Moving Towards “So What?” Reporting

Harvesting the News – A Progression To Story!

News reporters gather information in three ways: by interviewing people, by researching the written record and by observation. The better you are at these, the better your stories will be. This news-gathering triad underlies all good reporting and good writing. In fact, good information, even poorly written, is better than soufflé writing, or writing with no substance.

1. The more ways you gather information, and the more information you gather, the better your story will be. You will move closer to the “actual reality” of the event. Remember your goal is to use any legal and ethical means to learn what’s really going on.

2. Let’s start with the simplest type of news gathering, the story gathered in only one of the three ways. It is based on what you are told, rather than what you discover for yourself. This is source-controlled, source-originated journalism. Let’s call it level 1 journalism.

3. Level 1 stories result from handouts, press releases, press conferences, speeches and statements. They result from what someone tells you. It is surface journalism. It is the work of a clerk, not a reporter. This type of reporting doesn’t have to be bad. It can be information from the city as to when the trash will be picked up, or when to register to vote.

4. But level 1 journalism has its problems. The material can be one-sided. It can be offered by the source for personal, political or economic gain. If the newspaper is filled with this kind of material, the reading public becomes apathetic and distrustful.

5. Worse than being one-sided, level 1 journalism can be wrong. Frequently, people don’t know what they are talking about, and sometimes they lie. So, what’s a reporter to do? Be skeptical. Good reporters question what they are told. They check and double check. They rely on what they are told, but they improve upon it by talking to more than one person, by searching the written record, by trying to see for themselves. As President Reagan said of the Russians, “Trust but verify.”

6. A word of caution: There is a difference between skepticism and cynicism. A skeptic is one who wants proof, but he or she is not prejudiced against face-value explanations. A cynic, on the other hand, refuses to believe face-value explanations and is ready to ascribe almost evil motives to those he or she covers. A good reporter is skeptical but not cynical.

7. When you take what someone tells you, and supplement it with information from your own research, your own observations, or with what others tells you, you move to level 2 journalism. You shed “air and light” on the subject, to use Lincoln Steffens’ phrase. You “climb the stairs,” according to A.J. Liebling. Remember the sign in the Los Angeles Times office: GOYA/KOD, Get off your ass, knock on doors.

8. By operating on the information you have been told, you move from level 1 journalism closer to the “actual reality.” You provide background, details, reaction from others, and your own observations as verification for what has been provided.

9. Suppose you were sent to cover a speech by the director of a university writing center on the subject of student writing. If you went to the speech and reported strictly what the speaker said, that’s level 1 reporting. If you talked with tutors, students, professors, other writing centers, if you visited there yourself, if you provided a history of the center, then that’s level 2 reporting.

10. If you take it one step further, if you attempt to answer the so what? question, if you provide some information on the causes and consequences of the issue, then that is level 3 reporting. Level 3 reporting tells the reader why things are as they are, why they work or don’t work.

–From Beginning Reporting

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From PBS:

Some key elements when considering “newsworthiness” are:

    • Timing: if it happened today, it’s news, if it happened last week, it’s not; with 24-hour news access, “breaking” news is important
    • Significance: how many people are affected
    • Proximity: the closer a story hits to home, the more newsworthy it is
    • Prominence: when famous people are affected, the story matters (i.e. car accident involving your family vs. a car accident involving the President)
    • Human Interest: because these stories are based on emotional appeal, they are meant to be amusing or to generate empathy or other emotions. They often appear in special sections of the newspaper or at the end of the newscast as a “feel good” story or to draw attention to something particularly amusing, quirky, or offbeat

Students know good news stories when they see and hear them. Key components of good news stories include:

  • Attention getting headline
  • A strong lead containing 5 W’s and H (who, what, when, where, why, and how) and an answer for relevance or a response “So What?”
  • Use of quotes (we like to hear what others have to say about the topic of the story)
  • Real facts (the truth and accuracy matter)
  • A strong summary
  • Arrangement of the story (presenting information from most to least important)

For your topic, ask:

  • As you read and learned more about the topic of this news story, did it make you want to learn more or take action in any way? Explain.
  • In your opinion, why it is important to be informed about news that impacts you and/or your community/world both directly and indirectly?

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More Important Tips

  • It’s About People
    News stories are all about how people are affected. In your sports story, you might spend some time focusing on one or more individuals, or on how the team morale is doing, or how the supporters are feeling.
  • Have an Angle!
    Most stories can be presented using a particular angle or “slant”. This is a standard technique and isn’t necessarily bad – it can help make the purpose of the story clear and give it focus. Examples of angles you could use for your sports story: “Seeking Savvy Satire: Where We Get Our News’ Fix” — “Citizen Journalism, Blogging, and Corporate ‘Unbiased’ Journalism: Will the Real Reporters Please Stand Up?” — “Gay Marriage, Straight Marriage: What Are the Alternatives?”
    “Team Tackles National Competition”
    “Big Ask for First-Year Coach”
    “Local Team in Need of Funds”
  • Keep it Objective
    You are completely impartial. Cite your sources. If there is more than one side to the story, cover them all. Don’t use “I” and “me” unless you are quoting someone. Speaking of quoting…
  • Quote People
    For example: “We’re really excited about this competition,” says coach Bob Dobalina, “It’s the highest target we’ve ever set ourselves”.
  • Don’t Get Flowery
    Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Don’t use lots of heavily descriptive language. When you’ve finished, go through the entire story and try to remove any words which aren’t completely necessary.
  • Reporting often involves research — going to libraries, reading about an idea, thinking about where to get more information and who to talk to (all things that Internet can help with). Most of all, reporting involves meeting and interviewing people who either know about the story or who are part of it. Those people are called sources.
  • Reporting is at the heart of a news story. Interviewing real people provides the meat of a good story — quotes of what they said. Talking to people often leads to unexpected information that can take a story in a whole different direction. And people often tell wonderful stories, called anecdotes, to illustrate what they are talking about.It is reporting that makes a news story so different from other forms of writing. And it is meeting people and learning surprising, unexpected — and sometimes amazing — things that makes reporting so rewarding. And any of those ingredients will make your news story interesting.

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Read here about finding your Angle and Whammy!

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July 23, 2008 at 3:42 am Leave a comment

Just the Facts, Ma’am?

Your hard news story lead answers the five W’s, yes, but without answering the “So what?” aspect, your story will read just like an item from the police blotter. What makes a news item go beyond just reporting the facts to become an actual news story?

You must find and focus on the angle that makes your crime, accident, or fire relevant to your readers. Otherwise, we could just read the police blotter to find out about the latest accidents at our local gas station or the fires that took place in the next town over.

Ask your news item to meet several of the following criteria to determine its newsworthiness:

a) Impact—How many people does the event affect? How seriously does it affect them?

b) Proximity—An event will be more important if is closer to the readers. An earthquake in a far-off land is not as interesting as one that is close to home.

c) Timeliness—Is the event fresh? Is it new? The news must be timely to be of use to readers.

d) Prominence—Names make news, and big names make big news. Ordinary people are intrigued by the doings of the rich and famous.

e) Novelty—This is the new in news, the unusual. The “firsts,” “lasts” and “onlys” have been the staples of the news business for many years.

f) Conflict—Conflict has been the currency of great literature, drama and movies for all time. From the stories of Shakespeare to those of Disney, conflict has played a crucial role. Newspapers are no different.

g) Audience—Who is the audience? The answer to that question helps determine whether an event is news at all, and if it is, where it will be played in the paper.

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And a little more to think about from Cerritos:

Timeliness — Something that just happened tends to be more newsworthy than something that happened some time ago. In today’s fast-paced communications environment you want to give the reader a sense that this is news NOW. In fact, when you write a news story you want to make sure it has a news peg. Think of a peg on the wall that you might hang a hat on. The news peg is the element that you hang your story on. It is the element that makes the story news NOW, as opposed to last week or next week. Timeliness is often the news peg.

Impact — How many people are impacted by the story. The more the merrier. This might also be called the “Who Cares?” element I talked about earlier. The greater the impact, even if it is an old story, the more likely that it is newsworthy.

Prominence — Like it or not, prominent people make more news. When spousal abuse leads to one partner injuring or killing the other, it is sad. When one of those partners is O.J. Simpson, you have an international news story. When a married man has an extra-marital sexual relationship with a woman half his age, it is bad for a marriage. But if the man is Bill Clinton, president of the United States, it can affect the world’s economy. If the who of a story is someone well known, you might have a story in the most common place of events.

Proximity — The closer to home a story takes place, the more newsworthy it is. The local politics of a small town in New York probably would not affect or interest our readers, but certainly the local politics of our hometown would. Even if you have a major story break half way around the world look for a local angle. For instance, if a plane crashes and kills 200 people, it certainly is news. But if one of the passengers was local, or used to be local, or has local relatives, you have a new story angle. Even if you don’t have that kind of connection to the story, you can ask, “How safe are planes that fly out of the local airport? Could what happened there happen here?” It will bring the story home for the reader, who is more likely to read it and say “Gee Whiz!”

Conflict — Sad to say, but bad news is often more newsworthy than good news. When war breaks out, it is more newsworthy than when neighbors get along. Even stories about peace are more stories about war, or a lack of it. A car driving down the street is not news until it comes into conflict with a telephone pole or a pedestrian.

The Unusual — Pulitzer, Dana and others had the right idea about news, too. Something that is out of the ordinary is news. A pumpkin is not news, unless it is as big as a small car. We are obsessed with records, too, that indicate, the biggest, longest, shortest, smallest, tallest, shortest, etc. something. There are thousands of news stories in the Guinness Book of World Records because of our obsession. A major league baseball player hitting a lot of homeruns is interesting, but is international news when a mark McGwire closes in on and surpasses a 37-year-old record for the most homeruns in a season.

Currency — News can create itself, too. Currency is similar to timeliness. But currency grows from other news elements. Something maintains newsworthiness over time because it first was deemed newsworthy for some other reason. While the fall of the stock market and its impact on world economy may have been newsworthy for several of the reasons listed above, its effects remain newsworthy over time because now they are current events.

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So What? SO WHAT!


The main idea of a news story and lead is called the “angle.”

It is also referred to in newsrooms as the “hook” because the angle is used to grab, or hook, the reader’s attention to make them want to read the rest of the student’s story.

Simply, it is the main point a student learned from their reporting and that the rest of their story will try to support.

Finding the angle of a news story forces a newswriter to be critical of a story idea and the reporting. A news writer will discover if there’s no angle in an idea or the facts that have been gathered before an editor, teacher or reader will.

Writing the lead and angle involves making some difficult decisions. A news writer must sort through the facts that were gathered from the reporting and decide what the theme is. There may be several different themes, but the writer must decide what the central theme of the story will be in the lead.

Then students must consider what form their story will take.

In sorting through a mass of material, Carman Cumming and Catherine McKercher of Carleton University tell reporters to think about “S-I-N” — which stands for Significant, Interesting and New. Students should look for either of those three things from their research and interviews and they will be able to find a compelling angle for their lead.

“Whammy”

The late Walter Steigleman, a journalism teacher in Iowa, told his students to look for the WHAMMY. He explained that the whammy is the single fact that makes your story unique.

Consider the following example, based on a radio interview with Vern Walters of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia with CBC’s As It Happens in early March 1996:

Vern Walters, a third-generation blacksmith from Lunenburg, has decided to retire and has put his shop up for sale, closing a 120-year-old family-owned business.

That lead has all the required elements. But a “whammy” is provided when it is learned that Mr. Walters is probably Canada’s only working maritime blacksmith — a blacksmith trained to do special blacksmithing to build and repair boats:

Vern Walters, one of Canada’s last remaining maritime blacksmiths, has put his shop in Lunenburg up for sale, closing a family- owned business begun 120 years ago by his grandfather.

That story also illustrates the human interest story, which focuses on an interesting or unique person.

The only way to really understand leads and angles is to try writing one. News writing is like learning to play a musical instrument — the more you practice, the easier it gets and the better you become.

“Angle” and “Whammy” taken from Journalism Toolbox.

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July 23, 2008 at 3:34 am 2 comments

Quick Questions to Consider

Hard news stories

Hard news stories are factual and answer the questions; who, what, where, when, why and how.

Hard news stories are written so that readers get the important information as quickly as possible.

The headline provides a brief summary of the story. Important facts are contained in the lead paragraph(s). Details are presented in descending order of importance in the remaining paragraphs.

Find a hard news story. Read it carefully.

Answer the following questions about your news story.

  • Who is the reporter?

  • What is the source of the story?

  • Other than those mentioned in the story, who does the story affect?

  • How do you think the reporter got the information needed to write the story?

  • Does the reporter tell both sides of the story? How?

  • Do you think the story is fair? Why?

  • Should the reporter do a follow up on the story? Why? Why not?

  • What is the best quote in the story? Why do you think so?

  • On the whole, how would you evaluate this story?

Make a chart like the one below. Complete your chart by showing where the information was found in the story.

Headline Lead Other Paragraphs
Who?
What?
Where?
When?
Why?
How?

July 15, 2008 at 3:52 am Leave a comment


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