Sometimes journalists become lazy. When this happens, the news they produce becomes superficial and shallow. They take information at face value. They fail to dig deeper. This is weak journalism.
In fact, in some cases, it stops being journalism, and becomes a production process where information is republished without any analysis.
Journalists need to focus and be proactive in the evaluation of the journalistic material being processed and written.
There are ways journalists can focus on the stories that really matter to their target audience, and invest time and effort in order to explore those stories fully, using a proactive journalism tool.
There are five features in proactive journalism:
Observe, Analyze, Context, Learn and Reflect.
Observing is what most journalists do every day. They watch, listen, sense and absorb information, which they then put together to form a news story.
But even this simple step is often executed badly. Perhaps they are in a rush, or under pressure.
But if journalists just reproduce what they have been given, they are letting both their audience and their media organization down. They can do better.
This is where you need to offer information that will help the audience understand the significance of the news event you are covering.
You need to look for patterns. Has this story happened before? When? What was the outcome? You also need to look for local, regional, national and international comparisons where appropriate.
You need to find out where it fits into the bigger picture. You need to uncover the relationships between what you are covering and previous events.
During this process you need to ensure that you have included all significant voices and views. You need to challenge all assumptions, especially your own.
Most of all, you need to ensure you apply editorial integrity, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and accuracy to your news gathering.
It could be that the story you thought you had has changed. It could be that the exiting top line you had thought up for a headline is no longer valid. It could be that the story is weak and needs to be dropped, or it could be that the story is the strongest your newsroom has covered this year and is going to win a prize.
You need to list all the significant elements of a story and then assess the likely impact on the lives of the people involved.
You should also consider the reach of the story in terms of how many people it will affect. Once you have expanded the material you have on the story, you need to step back and reflect on what you have found.
What you have been told
What you have observed
What you have learnt
What you have deducted
The learning process means that you retain an open mind and strive to find new ways to explore the issue you are uncovering. Make a list of all the points you don’t understand, and go through those points one by one until you are absolutely clear.
As you do, you will uncover new angles, and you will become aware of information gaps that you will need to fill before you broadcast or publish the information. At this stage you will have three elements to your story.
What you have been told
What you have observed
What you have learnt
There are certain types of workflow's, job roles and responsibilities that can make a newsroom run smoothly.
Workflow, Roles and Responsibilities
A journalism newsroom operates like a content factory, responsible for all intake, production and output.
It gathers and processes raw material, creates different products, and then ensures they are delivered to the target audience.
There are a number of important roles that should be represented on the superdesk. These are roles, not necessarily individuals.
You will need an intake editor role. This is the person who is responsible for everything coming into the building. You will need an output editor role. This is the person who provide the quality control for everything going out of the building and who liaises directly with production.
You will need someone from the interactive team, they will report regarding all developments on social media. You will also need someone to manage resources, and someone representing planning.
The superdesk is the newsroom’s central command-and-control. It’s where all the main news decisions are made. Both intake, and output need to be close together. Ideally, representatives of both will sit around the same desk.
They need to be able to communicate and collaborate in order to respond swiftly to changes in news priorities.
It will also depend on where you need to prioritize effort, the most popular platforms/devices used by your target audience, and the resources available to you.
Those sitting around the super desk need to be breathing the same air, hearing the same news alerts, and be taking part in impromptu news meetings, called to deal with the unexpected.
Choosing who sits at the superdesk will depend on your overall strategy and who the main decision makers are in your news organization.
Having someone from the interactive team sitting on the superdesk means that the online and mobile coverage will be able to respond faster to breaking news developments and it will provide a different perspective on news gathering and how news should be covered.
Similarly, having someone from the social media team, will alert the superdesk to developments on the various social media platforms used by the target audience.
This will ensure that the online and other digital versions of your output are not just an after thought, but are a central part of all you do.
The planning editor is responsible for managing the news organization’s in-depth, well-planned, investigative journalism. They will attend all the main news meetings held at the superdesk and offer at least one piece of original journalism a day, probably more than that.
They will listen to what is happening on the day and will ensure that all the major stories are followed up.
The planning editors role will not only take the pressure off the journalists working on the daily output, but it will also guarantee that there is a continuous stream of content produced on all platforms.
The output editor looks after quality control. They are also responsible for ensuring deadlines are met. Nothing gets past the output editor that could damage that brand.
They ensure that material is accurate, objective, impartial and fair. Their job is to focus on production values. They need to ensure all platforms are served.
They are in constant communication with the intake editor. Between them the main news decisions for the whole news operation rest.
The intake editor acts as the eyes and ears of your news business. They are responsible for all the material that comes into your news production process.
This will include the news gathering efforts of your own team of journalists. It will also involve responding to stories that are being fed by wires services, and monitoring the stories being covered by the competition.
The intake editor has the authority to call an instant, stand-up impromptu meeting when there is breaking news, in order to help the output team adjust to new developments. They are, essentially, looking out of the building at all the elements that will inform and feed your news operation
The resource manager needs to respond quickly once the intake editor has alerted the superdesk of a new story development, and the editorial team on the superdesk decides that resources have to be shifted from a lesser story.
Most newsrooms have a resource manager sometimes called the production manager. This is the person who is responsible for all the resources required to produce the journalism.
This could be the journalists, camera crews, the vehicles, and the editing and production suites.
Some newsrooms have a cross-promotions producer. Their job is to ensure that all output areas are aware of what others are doing and that content is exploited for the maximum benefit of the news brand and the audience.
They will work across TV, radio, print, online and mobile where appropriate.
In some cases they will design teasers, in other cases they will make sure the material is produced by others.
Essentially, they will ensure there are no wasted opportunities.
Newsrooms need to design their own version of a superdesk so that it makes business sense for their media organization.
Once you have reorganized, the workflow is fairly simple.
As has already been stated, the superdesk is your newsroom’s central command-and-control. Once news decisions are made the instructions are sent to production - via a representative attending the superdesk meetings.
The production teams then ensure that the appropriate platform-specific value is added to the story based on audience needs, device/platform capabilities, and strategic business logic.
That means that if they are working on the web or mobile versions they will add interactive timelines, info graphics, photo galleries, video, and other digital assets, where appropriate. If they are working on the TV version they will create TV packages that can cross-promote the digital assets being offered on the other platforms.
Production will no longer be carried out in isolation but as a part of a coherent and coordinated presentation on multiple devices.
Assessing a Stories Value
Different stories have different value to both your audience and to your business.
Some stories might be small, breaking news stories where it might be possible to set out the main facts in a short piece with little or no in-depth analysis. Other stories require further development, and a proactive approach to news gathering and news production.
It doesn’t make sense to treat all stories equally. Which means that senior editors, news producers and reporters have to decide how much effort a story is worth. This is where a story weighting system is invaluable.
Most news organizations will have some form of story weighting system. The basic weighting model has three story types: S1, S2, S3.
You might decide there are other story types, but there is a benefit in keeping the system simple.
Once a story has been given a weighting and a label, everyone in the news organization will know what is required and what will be involved.
Once the story weighting rules have been set and circulated, all in the news process understand what is required. Such a system speeds up the whole process of news planning and improves the efficiency of news meetings.
Once a story has been given a weighting and a label, everyone in the news organization knows what will be involved.
The editors won’t have to sit down with each producer and reporter in order to tell them what they want in terms of elements; the story weighting system will have already set that out.
S3 Type Story
This story type will be a general news piece that requires little effort. It will be a straight-forward breaking or developing news item.
For TV, it will probably be a voice-over script, perhaps with an piece to camera at the end. In interactive terms, it’s probably a straight 300-word read with an image or graphic.
An S3 story shouldn’t take too long to produce.
S2 Type Story
This story type is also important, but perhaps not the lead or second lead story. It will be a story that demands fewer resources and less effort.
For example, an S2 story type might have a shorter package for TV, with perhaps two clips putting different sides of the story, it will involve some footage, a graphic and there will probably be a piece to camera.
In interactive terms it will probably be a 300-500 word read with some video clips. There will be some social media response and one or two related stories.
It will take less time and effort to produce than an S1 and, therefore, the journalist producing it will be working to a shorter timetable.
S1 Type Story
An S1 story will probably be an exclusive, or a massive breaking/developing news story which is of importance to your audience. Therefore, it makes sense for you to ensure that you allocate sufficient resources to the story in order that it is told properly.
For example, an S1 story might involve a lengthy package on TV with lots of footage illustrating the issue being covered, there might be some graphics, and it could include a piece to camera (stand up), at the end.
In interactive terms, an S1 story might involve several related stories, video clips, an infographic, a bullet-point fact file, interactive maps, a photo gallery, and, perhaps, a poll/vote. It will certainly include social media engagement.
The parameters will have been set earlier as senior editors aim to cover the needs of the target audience, manage the newsroom resources that are available, priorities output, and ensure content is produced for all devices.
It helps editors brief reporters and producers because they already know what is expected.
And news delivery deadlines are clearer, and therefore more likely to be met.
The story weighting system means that everyone attending the news meeting, or checking on the news prospects during the day, is able to see exactly what is required, the resources to be allocated, and the time it should take to produce the material.
It also prioritizes effort on the stories that are of most value to the target audience.
This, in turn, makes the management of news far more systematic and focused on business priorities, which, in turn, leads to greater efficiency, a saving in costs, a stronger editorial proposition, and more informed and motivated staff.