If there is anything I enjoy after Coke, then it has to be News Production generally and News Reporting in particular. In fact, I can say that the smartness, eloquence and brilliance of newscasters which radiate beyond the Radio box are some of the things that sparked my interest in Radio.
However, venturing into the industry and having worked as a Reporter and Newscaster, I think that the News Reporters and Newscasters should be more appreciated and celebrated. This is because it takes a lot of effort, skill and professionalism to deliver a News bulletin with the astonishing finesse that comes with it.
Behind the refined presentation of the News that you hear on Radio is a lot of rigorous journalistic work which is bound by guidelines, rules and regulations. Meanwhile, there is also the space for your creative juice to flow throughout the process of reporting a news story.
This is why News Reporting is referred to as an Art and a Science. Regardless of the news subject, news value or format and technology that delivers the information, there is a process to gathering the facts and organizing them to tell the story and the process is called News Reporting.
Like I said, I have worked and still working as a Reporter. So I will be discussing this topic as one. As Reporters, telling the truth about whatever is happening around us is our job. But it’s much more complicated than it might seem to be to a lot of people. People think you just have to hold a microphone, throw few questions at the elements of a News story and that’s all; you’re done reporting. It’s pretty much more than that.
Reporters have a huge responsibility of filling the desire of the common man at the other side of the Radio with the truth. They have invested so much trust in Radio generally and the News Caster specifically to deliver accurate information to them. What they just do not know is that before the News Caster comes the News Reporter. And the News Caster is only going to reel out whatever information the Reporter has provided.
This is in why in News Reporting, our knowledge of the facts, concepts, and ideas that we are reporting on and our command of the language of report is expected to be at such a high level as to be worthy of the trust invested in us by our fellow citizens.
Basically, an excellent command of the language of reporting is very important. The common man can afford to mix up the difference between the verbs ‘imply’ and ‘infer’; but while reporting, a News Reporter must not.
Especially in this complex time when fake news and yellow journalism is so rife; and everyone is consciously sitting on a certain sentimental precipice waiting to be triggered. Our language skills as Reporters must be akin to a physician’s knowledge of medicine or a pilot’s knowledge of aviation. Carelessness by a doctor or pilot is not tolerated. So it is for the News Reporter as well with respect to our command of the language of News reporting.
In any case, the tool of our trade especially for English reporters is a language that keeps evolving but often seems to lack logic in its evolution.
If not, how else can you explain why cars park on a driveway and drive on a parkway? Or why a hamburger is devoid of ham and a pineapple lacks both pine and an apple. The plural of tooth is teeth, so why is the plural of booth not beeth? A vegetarian eats vegetables; what does a humanitarian eat? Why do ‘slow down’ and ‘slow up’ mean the same thing? Why do overlook and oversee mean the opposite? How did apartments get that name when they are not actually apart but fastened together?
The origins and evolution of words can be fascinating but for the day-to-day Reporter, accuracy in the use of those words is paramount. Consider these two sentences for example:
“He steadfastly refused to compromise.”
“He stubbornly refused to compromise.”
Both sentences are colored by an adverb. ‘Steadfast’ suggests adherence to principles while ‘stubborn’ suggests stiff thinking.
However, in news reporting, where objectivity is our guide, the sentence would be written best without ‘steadfastly’, ‘stubbornly’, or any other adverb. That’s because a good News Reporter focuses on selecting strong but appropriate verbs. The question of whether it is steadfast or stubborn can be left to commentators or at most the listeners. Our role as Reporters is that of a neutral observer.
Here’s another simple example;
‘‘He said he was home the night of the robbery.’’
‘Said’ is neutral, imparting no hint that our subject may be lying.
Now suppose we change that verb and write in our report: “He claimed he was home the night of the robbery.” We have injected doubt into his denial and we should be able to justify that choice of verb by a sentence either before or after, that gives the listener solid reason to question the denial. Something like an actual discovery that ‘the CCTV however revealed that he was drinking all night at the bar down the street’ will justify the use of the word ‘claimed’.
These are just a few of the hundreds of language distinctions we must have at our command. The truth is that every language reflects the creativity of its speakers and writers. As Reporters who profess to use it professionally, we are obligated to develop our skills to a very high level. Just like a tutor of mine once said; ‘A reporter has to connect with words the way a painter connects with colors, a musician connects with notes, and a dancer with steps.’
Because we are practicing journalism at a terrifying but fascinating time and in a society laced with foiled lines where any word carelessly spoken can provoke an extreme reaction from any part of the country. So Reporters have to be careful so as not to affect the sensitivity of any tribe, group, religion or ideology.
This we have to do by constantly learning the profession that we practice. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jack Fuller once wrote that a lifetime is not enough for all the learning a writer needs.’ So it is for a journalist especially a News Reporter who is the only one that I still believe practices journalism in the broadcast media section of journalism in this country. OAPs are either paying lip service to the job or simply doing PR.
Preferences in News Reporting and Judgment
As Reporters, you will often hear that some reporters, producers or editors have what they call ‘good news judgment.’ But you wonder what that is about, right?
News Judgment is a relative logic of broadcasting the news story that will interest your audience at the time that it will interest them. And I say it is relative because FRCN stations might not broadcast a particular news story the same way private radio stations will do. Even, The Beat 99.9 FM will not broadcast a certain news story while Lagos Talk 91.3 FM will do. A radio station in Port Harcourt will probably not broadcast a certain news story while reporters in Enugu are scrambling to get a piece of it.
This is because each broadcast station adopts its own News Values. These may be spelt out in a statement of principles, mission statement etc. but more often than not, these values are unwritten but still clearly understood.
What the Reporters who are deemed to have a good news judgment typically do is to brew a keen understanding of the kind of stories their station considers important. There are preferences for each Radio station and these preferences are shaped by several considerations. These considerations include;
Demographics and Culture
What is the age breakdown of the community? What is the racial composition? What are the Principal industries? What are the Core problems? Stories that might find a rapt audience in a rural community might fall flat in an urban area.
Often these station values for News Reporting are set by the General Manager and News Director. As a perceptive reporter, you should be a good student of all these factors, not in the spirit of trying to cosy up to the bosses but because it makes a lot of sense not just to know your community thoroughly but also to know how your station covers it.
Many News Reporters end up being frustrated or fired because they failed to learn what is important to their News Director. I’ve been there before and I know how it feels when you think you’ve covered a particular news story to the best of your journalistic ability but your News Director says; ‘Gentleman, what’s this?’ I’ll keep the remaining part of what he said anyway. Trust me, even I freaked out on hearing them.
The smart reporter understands the news director’s values, priorities and style and learns to craft bulletin that meets with those preferences. That’s not to say you must devote yourself to pleasing the boss but it is rather to make sure your efforts fit into the big picture. Well, more often than not, your News Director is almost always right; all thanks to experience.
So How Do You Decide What Is News?
Well, I have been asked this particular question a couple of times. And each time, I really don’t seem to have the perfect answer to it. Maybe, the response of the late David Brinkley will be apt here. He said, ‘News is what I say it is’.
What do you think? Sounds a bit pompous, right? I think what Brinkley sir was trying to say was that there is no absolute principle to determine what actually makes a news story. And I think I agree with him. What may seem like an awesome news story idea to you as a reporter may be dismissed as twaddle by your news director.
Nevertheless, people say, no news is news. The truth is there is a certain degree of News story in everything that happens around you. All you need to do is have a clear picture of the perfect angle to pick the happening from while reporting. This should be done in a way that will make the news story worthy of your listeners’ time. With this at heart, you’ve set the foundation for a good news story that is well reported. In any case, stories that are well reported are those that have the greatest impact on the listeners.
5W and H of News Reporting
This is a concept that I think even the newest adventurist into News Reporting knows about. The 5W and H is a fundamental way to sort out your news story when it seems to be getting a bit complicated. With all the facts and figures that you have to take note of, News Reporting might get cumbersome at some point. However, there is no better way to stick to the infamous 5W and H principle.
Wiki says that the 5W and H are questions whose answers are considered basic in information gathering. They constitute the formula for getting the complete story of an incidence.
According to the principle, a News Report can only be considered complete if it answers these interrogative questions.
Who is it about?
When did it happen?
Where did it happen?
Why did it happen?
How did it happen?
Overtime, this tactic has proven to be very useful as the answer to all the questions always bring out a fact. And this fact is necessary to include for a report to be considered complete. The simple trick is actually that none of this question is a polar question. It can’t be answered with a yes or no!
Parameters of a Good News Story
Once you have honed in on a particular news story, some work remains before you start your News reporting. You must consider several factors before you begin reporting: These include;
What’s the scope of your news story? Will it require live reporting from the scene of the incidence or just some recorded bites from people who are around there?
What is the time frame for your news story? Will you need archive tapes?
What is the best way to tell the news story? Is it by a profile, a round up, an update, a scene-setter or something else?
Is this a dispute, a tragedy, a comic incident? Setting the right mood for a news story is important. You don’t want to sound comic while reporting an incidence of homicide.
This perhaps is the most important element. What’s your news story about? Why are we asking for the listeners’ attention? Somewhere fairly high up in most news stories is a sentence that tells your listeners; ‘Here’s why I am telling you this.’
Elements of a Good News Story
A good news story typically has most if not all the following elements:
An event that happened this morning has a much better chance of making today’s newscast than something that happened yesterday or last week – unless we can update the story.
Did the event happen in our town? Did it happen in our county? The fuel laden tanker that exploded on Otedola bridge is much more important to your listeners in Lagos than if the same incident happened at a town 100 miles away.
What are the implications of the event we are reporting? What will happen? If the answer to those questions is ‘not much’, then perhaps we have a story with much flash but little power.
Is the central figure in our story widely known? If Dino Melaye escapes assassination, that’s a big story. If a worker at a local factory experiences the same, it’s unlikely to even make the newscast.
Are two groups at odds over a proposal? Not every news story must have disagreement at its core, but a good percentage of news originates from disputes of one kind or another.
Many of the most memorable news stories contain a strong element of drama. INEC postpones the general elections few hours to the commencement of the election. A President adopts all tactics to keep himself from being legitimately ousted from office. Man impregnates three blood sisters. These are dramatic news story that will make your reporting juicy.
A story can be lacking many of the above elements, but if the listeners find it intriguing, that’s often enough. Conversely, there is always an interesting side to a news story so if we fail to make significant events interesting, then shame on us as News Reporters.
The Concept of Hard News and Soft news
Hard news refers to the up-to-the-minute events, accidents, announcements and developments that require immediate reporting. In News Reporting, the challenge is to transform these happenings into stories with a beginning, middle and end – something more than a recitation of facts spiked with voices and a solemn stand-up.
Subject matters that are usually considered as hard news include politics, war, economics, crime, disaster etc.
Soft news, or features, are the stories that add flavor to the newscast but typically are not spun off daily developments. Nevertheless, they can be the most memorable to your listeners.
If a train derails in town and one of the tanker cars explodes, that’s hard news that we have to tell today. But how a three-legged dog helps a woman in a wheelchair with her chores is a story we can tell tomorrow or next week.
Broadcast news comes from four basic sources: from news services such as the News Agency of Nigeria; from media outlets such as newspapers, other radio and TV stations; from press releases provided by a wide variety of corporations, agencies and special interest groups; and direct from the station’s reporter as a primary source.
However, it is worrisome that with the advent of the internet, broadcast stations are doing less of the ethical journalism and the practice now is to sit in one corner of the newsroom and copy whatever a particular print platform has published on their website. Most Radio stations have few or no field reporters who actually go out to ‘scavenge’ if need be for interesting news story. I actually don’t know if we should be grateful for technology or not.
Quickly, lemme just touch some of this few concepts that apply in the news room. The news producer is the person who is most directly in charge of the newscast. He coordinates the whole production process of the news.
Segment producers are in charge of specific stories or newscast segments. This includes the politics segment producer, sports segment producer, the business segment producer, lifestyle segment producer etc. They work independently to produce the news content for their individual segment and submit same to the news producer.
Some stations also have an executive producer who supervises the News Producer himself.
So, I hope you have learnt something new today about News Reporting. Perhaps, the next tutorial will be on News Casting. Maybe! But I sure know that the lessons in this tutorial would have prepared the foundation for us to move on to News Casting anytime. Yes, News Reporting is an interesting journalistic piece of work. But only for those who have the balls to fulfill the responsibilities of a reporter.
With this, we’ve come to the end of this tutorial on The Art and Science of News Reporting and I enjoin you to anticipate the tutorial on News Casting which is coming up pretty soon. (Doesn’t that sound like a News Outro?)
Kindly share your opinion or questions about this topic or any other topic using the comment box below, let’s talk. You can also share this tutorial with your friends. Don’t forget to Follow Us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Let’s build a community.
Yes, guess what! Another Quiz drops tomorrow and this time you have the chance of winning 1.5GB of data. While waiting for that. You might want to try out #TheRadioQuiz: Episode 001.
Start your journey of becoming the next Radio Superstar OAP today! Enroll Now for Amazing FREE Tips to Get You Started.