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Transcript of Journalism Course
The rule of the 5 Ws and H
How do you decide what is newsworthy? What is worth covering, and what isn’t?
If you are knocked down by a car and break a leg, a limited number of people will be interested -- your family and friends, of course, your employer, your insurance company, and just about nobody else. The incident is unlikely to make a news item.
- If the president of your country is involved
in a road accident, that is front page news
and very possibly the lead item
in broadcast news bulletins.
Does it fit my output? If you are writing for a sports magazine, you will probably not be too interested in finance, crime, science, international trade or health, unless that is, there is a sports angle.
What interest is there likely to be in what the individuals in the story are doing? If it's a choice between you and the president, you lose every time.
Will this story appeal to many of my readers, viewers, or listeners? There's not much point in carrying serious financial news in a celebrity-centred popular newspaper.
How unusual is this event or development? Something unexpected is more likely to make the news than a routine happening.
Even if the story is not recent, and the event many years old, it can still be worth running if the information has only just come to light.
Is there a big appetite at the moment for stories on this subject? Sometimes, for no apparent reason, there is great interest in a particular kind of story, such as animals attacking people or unseasonal weather.
Is it reliable, trustworthy, independent, honest, believable?
If you have doubts, can you carry out checks?
Have we just had too many stories on this subject? Let's look for something else before we lose our audience through boredom!
Is this story new or has it been published before? If so, by whom? Will it have been widely circulated, or will most people be learning about it for the first time?
The different responses to these two events are a matter of judgement, of news judgement. A range of considerations comes into play every time you have to decide if a story is newsworthy or not. Here are some of them:
"I have six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who."
Who - are the people involved?
What - happened?
When - did it happen?
Where - did it take place?
Why - did the event to take place (the cause)?
How - did it happen?
Keep in mind
It depends on WHAT you are reporting, HOW, and HOW much space you have to do it
A climate change protester, John Smith, today drove the wrong way down the highway in Rome in a protest against the building of a new runway at Fiumicino airport.
A climate change protester caused mayhem today by deliberately driving the wrong way down a motorway.
GRAB readers' attention
STIMULATE their curiosity
TELL the essence of the news
GO straight to the point
the 5 Ws and H don't have to be ALWAYS in the first paragraph (LEAD)
You must keep your language clear and simple so that your readers or listeners can understand.
Sentences should be short - no longer than 20 words or three concepts (ideas).
Sentence structure should be simple; it is best to write in the active voice.
Explain any new words whenever you use them.
Your language must not only be easily understood, it must be fair. You should not use words which give a biased view of a person, an event or a situation.
Types of articles
People use fact and opinions to make decisions; you must help by showing clearly which is which
You must attribute all opinions and any facts for which there is no commonly accepted proof
Commentary columns should be clearly distinguished from news
Never repeat unchecked rumour or speculation
If you suspect someone is lying to you, check what they say with an independent source
Writing a story...
Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.
Its first loyalty is to the citizens.
Its essence is discipline of verification.
Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
It must strive to make the news significant, interesting, and relevant.
It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
from The Elements of Journalism, a book by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel
Reporters are expected to be as accurate as possible given the time allotted to story preparation and the space available, and to seek reliable sources.
Events with a single eyewitness are reported with attribution. Events with two or more independent eyewitnesses may be reported as fact. Controversial facts are reported with attribution.
Corrections are published when errors are discovered
Defendants at trial are treated only as having "allegedly" committed crimes, until conviction, when their crimes are generally reported as fact (unless, that is, there is serious controversy about wrongful conviction).
Opinion surveys and statistical information deserve special treatment to communicate in precise terms any conclusions, to contextualize the results, and to specify accuracy, including estimated error and methodological criticism or flaws.
Reporting the truth is almost never libel, which makes accuracy very important.
Private persons have privacy rights that must be balanced against the public interest in reporting information about them. Public figures have fewer privacy rights in U.S. law, where reporters are immune from a civil case if they have reported without malice. In Canada, there is no such immunity; reports on public figures must be backed by facts.
Publishers vigorously defend libel lawsuits filed against their reporters, usually covered by libel insurance.
Privacy and defamation
Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone's privacy.
Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
Balance a criminal suspect's fair trial rights with the public's right to be informed.
Harm limitation principle
You must assess the reliability of all sources of information; this determines:
What information you use
How you present it to your readers or listeners
Avoid agreeing to keep information off the record unless there is no alternative
protect your anonymous sources
Gazettes and bulletins
(early 17th century)
...being a watchdog
Freedom of the press
Newseum - The freedom forum memorial
When using resources, quote your sources
Useful web resources
Direct: facts, documents, istitutional sources, press releases, press conferences
Indirect: other media, news agencies, witnesses, anonymous sources
acquire new documents
look for other opinions and points of view
check your source's reliability
Developed in 16th & 17th century England
Supports and advances the policies of the government in power
Ownership can be either private or public
Adopted in England after 1688, and in the U.S., and is influential elsewhere in the world
Purpose is to inform, entertain, sell, as well as discover truth and check on government
Ownership is chiefly private
Practiced in the US in the 20th century
Purpose is to inform, entertain, sell, but also to raise conflict to the plane of discussion
Ownership is private
Developed in the Soviet Union, although some of the same things were done by Nazis
Purpose was to contribute to the success and continuance of the Soviet socialist system, and especially to the dictatorship of the party
Ownership was public
With the support of the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Union
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.