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Module 1: Elements of Journalism

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Introduction to News

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Introduction to Journalism

Function of Journalism

Journalists

Journalists make their living from writing. Many people who see themselves as future novelists choose journalism as a way of earning a living while developing their writing skills.

Journalists work in many areas of life, finding and presenting information as news to the audiences of newspapers, radio, magazines, television or via the Internet.
Within these different media, there are specialist tasks for journalists.

Editors

Usually this is the person who makes the final decision about what is included in the newspaper, magazine or news bulletins.

He or she is responsible for all the content and all the journalists.

In small organizations, the editor may make all the decisions about what stories to cover and who will do the work. In larger organizations, the editor may have a deputy, often called the chief of staff, whose special job is to assign reporters to the stories selected.

Photojournalists

Photojournalists use photographs to tell the news.

They either cover events with a reporter, taking photographs to illustrate the written story, or attend news events on their own, presenting both the pictures and a story or caption.

Feature Writers

In small organizations the reporters themselves will write feature articles. The person in charge of features is usually called the features editor.

Larger radio or television stations may have specialist staff producing current affairs programs - the broadcasting equivalent of the feature article. The person in charge of producing a particular current affairs program is usually called the producer and the person in charge of all the programs in that series is called the executive producer or EP.

Reporters

These people gather information and present it in a written or spoken form in news stories, feature articles or documentaries.

Reporters may work on the staff of news organizations, but may also work freelance, writing stories for whoever pays them.

General reporters cover all sorts of news stories, but some journalists specialize in certain areas such as reporting sport, politics or agriculture.

Journalism requires a commitment of time -- to work, to write and to polish and improve skills. It requires dedication to the craft of writing, and to the task of informing, educating and entertaining the audience.

Function of Journalism

Journalists

The aspiring journalist will find himself working long hours to develop his story. At first each word may be extracted and placed on paper with great anxiety.

There is no easy road to writing well. It takes time and practice. Additionally, many newsworthy events don't occur during normal hours.

Function of Journalism

Journalists

People enter journalism for a variety of reasons but, money apart, the following are the four main motives: to write, be known, influence and knowledge.

Journalists must be interested in the world around them. They must want to find things out and share their discoveries with readers, viewers or listeners.

It will help if you already have a wide range of knowledge to build upon and are always prepared to immerse yourself and learn something new.

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Knowledge

Curiosity is a natural part of most people's characters and a vital ingredient for any journalist.Many critics accuse journalists of being shallow when in fact journalism, by its nature, attracts people who are inquisitive about everything. Most journalists tend to know a little bit about a lot of things, rather than a lot about one subject.

Knowledge has many uses. It can simply help to make you a fuller and more interesting person. Always bear in mind that knowledge can be used in a positive way, to improve people's lives, or in a selfish way to advance yourself.

To Influence

Knowing the power of the printed or spoken word or image, some people enter journalism for the power it will give them to influence people. In many countries, a large number of politicians have backgrounds as journalists.

There is a difference between the desire to influence events for your own sake, and the desire to do it for other people. You should never use journalism for selfish ends.

The best journalists are the channels through which information flows and they are the interpreters of events. This recognition, paired with the desire to influence, can produce good campaigning journalists.

To Be Known

Most people want their work to be recognized by others. This helps to give it value. Some people also want to be recognized themselves, so that they have status in the eyes of society.

It is not a bad motive to wish to be famous, but this must never become your main reason for being a journalist. You will not be a good journalist if you care more for impressing your audience than for serving their needs.

To Write

Reporters gather information and present it in a written or spoken form in news stories, feature articles or documentaries.

Reporters may work on the staff of news organizations, but may also work freelance, writing stories for whoever pays them.

General reporters cover all sorts of news stories, but some journalists specialize in certain areas such as reporting sport, politics or agriculture.

Function of Journalism

Language and Writing

Also you cannot be a truly great journalist without having a deep love of language, written or spoken.

You must understand the meaning and flow of words as the news story - the basic building block of journalism - requires a simple, uncomplicated writing style.

This need for simplicity can frustrate new journalists, even though it is often more challenging to write simply than to be wordy. Once you have mastered the basic news story format, you can start to develop a style of your own.

Deadlines

A professional journalist will not sit by and relax as deadline nears simply because his stories are done. He will help finish the product for the printing process.

As a reporter moves through his daily routine, whether on his beat or off-duty, he will be perceptive, inquiring and observant of his environment. Their constant questions must be:
• What is happening?
• Who is doing it?
• Why?
Function of Journalism

Language and Writing

No one can write intelligently about a topic unless they have researched it.

Fast-breaking news stories leave little time for background research, but the journalist must find and report the facts.

However, when a journalist is assigned to cover a speech or meeting they can check into the background of the speaker, the purpose of the speech and the results and topics of prior meetings.

Prepared

An enterprising reporter might arrange to get an advance copy of the speech so he can be more aware of how the speech is delivered. Indeed, the reporter can write much of the story prior to the actual speech.

Reporters must be cautious, however, for the speaker who discards his speech for another, or for speakers who make important impromptu remarks during the course of their speeches.

Function of Journalism

Accuracy In Journalism

Alert

People trust journalists with facts, either the ones they give or the ones they receive. You must not be careless with them.

All journalists must aim for accuracy. Without it you will lose trust, readers and ultimately your job.

The best way of ensuring accuracy is to develop a system of ordering facts in your mind. You should always have a notebook handy to record facts and comments, but your mind is the main tool. Keep it orderly.

Be Aware

With plenty of experience and practice, you will develop a special awareness of what makes news.

Sometimes called news sense, it is the ability to recognize information which will interest your audience or which provides clues to other stories.

It is also the ability to sort through a mass of facts and opinions, recognizing which are the most important or interesting.

Keep Alert

You should also keep alert. Never stop thinking - and use your imagination. This is not to say you should make things up: that is never permissible. But you should use your imagination to build up a mental picture of what people tell you.

You must visualize the story. If you take care in structuring that picture and do not let go until it is clear, you will have ordered your facts in such a way that they can be easily retrieved when the time comes to write your story.

Function of Journalism

What is Newsworthy

The same event can have different levels of interest in different societies, and will be talked about in different ways. For this reason, the content of the news can be different in different societies. The following four tips are designed to help journalists work out what is newsworthy:

How do journalists decide what is news and what is not? How do they distinguish between a big news story and a small one?

The answer is that they do it in exactly the same way as everybody else, they evaluate information.

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About People

Most news is automatically about people, because it is the things people do to change the world which makes news. However natural disasters can become news when they affect people's lives. When reporting these stories it is important to make sure that the story is centered on people.

Always start by asking yourself the question: How does this affect my readers, listeners or viewers? Whenever you have a story which tells of how something has happened which affects people and property, always put the people first.

Significant

Events which are new and unusual may still not be significant. Scientists may report that a new type of insect has just been found. The discovery is new, and the event is unusual, but it is unlikely to interest anybody. If this insect is now threatening peoples crops, it becomes a matter of concern to them. It is news because it is significant.

Once again, what is interesting or significant in one society may not be interesting or significant in another. The content of the news may be different, in different societies, but the way it is identified will be the same.

Is It New

Events which happened days or even weeks earlier can still be news, as long as they have not been reported before. If you are telling a story for the first time, it is new to your readers or listeners and therefore it can be news.
News of the death of Mao Tse-tung, for instance, was not released to the world by the Chinese government for several days; when they did release it, however, it was still very definitely news.

Unusual

The classic definition of news is this: "Dog bites man" is not news; "Man bites dog" is news.
This definition, though, is not universal.
What is usual in one society may be unusual in another. Again, we will expect the content of the news to vary from society to society.

In every society, though, whatever is unusual is likely to be news.

Function of Journalism

What it Takes

Career

There are many reason for becoming a journalist and many different types of journalists to become.

• It is a career with many challenges and rewards. Journalists must:
Have an interest in the world around them
Love language
Have an alert and ordered mind
Be able to approach and question people
Be polite but persistent
Be friendly and reliable

Function of Journalism

What it Takes

Hard work and self-discipline are at the heart of good journalism.

Journalists should be accurate, first with news, trusted, easy to understand, straight, aware, disciplined and realistic.
They should always be contactable and totally committed to finding original stories and telling them in a way that makes sense to the audience.

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Communication
Never underestimate the importance of good communications. It’s no use having a story if you can’t communicate it. Always know exactly how you’re going to be in touch with the office, whether it is by mobile phone, land-line, the internet, satellite phone or broadcast circuit.

Whatever it is, try to have a backup. Check and double-check your communications tools.

Be Disciplined
There are all kinds of deadlines. With breaking news, the deadline is now: you've got to get the information out straight away, usually in very brief form, and add to it as soon as you get more. Then there are the fixed deadlines for TV and radio bulletins, and newspaper print runs. Respect them.

An item for the one o'clock News is no good if it’s not ready until one minute past. A page lead for a newspaper is no good if you can’t get it into print in time. If you can’t meet deadlines, you are not fit for the job.

Know Your Market

Journalism is always aimed at someone.

• Who makes up your target audience?
• How old are they?
• Where do they live?
• Where do they work?
• What interests them?
• What are they worried about?
• What do they want to know?
• What information do they need to take a full part in society?

Remember you're there to serve them - not to impress your peer group.

Be First

Journalism is, by definition, timely. What’s the point of telling people things they already know? You are there to tell them things they don’t know.

So chase that news and get it first. Also you are offering your journalism as a thing to be trusted. You have to build up trust with your readers, listeners and viewers. They want to know that they can rely on you to be accurate.

Accuracy is the most important quality – even more than timeliness. Better to be second and right than first and wrong. But better still to be first and right.