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Great sports writers (short article)
How to be your editor's favorite reporter (short article)
The practice of journalism has developed a culture all its own. That culture has expectations of professionals and non-professionals who would engage in journalistic endeavors. Understanding that culture is the point of this chapter.
Journalism is traditionally practiced through news organizations such as newspapers, broadcasting stations or news web sites. These organizations have their individual modes of operations and cultural expectations, but they are part of a larger culture in which the profession is practiced.
Freedom of expression. The National Paralegal College has an excellent page on freedom of expression and symbolic speech. The definitions are worth noting. (Link supplied by Kristi of the Massachusetts Teachers Union.)
Changing quotes. One of the continuing practical problems that arises often in the nation's newsrooms is how to handle direct quotations. Sometimes they contain profanity. Sometimes they don't make sense, but they are said by someone important in the story, and reporters and editors must consider using them anyway. Sometimes they sound one way said aloud and appear to mean something different when in print. And sometimes they are spoken by people who are not used to being quoted by the news media, and they have language that is not normally found in a news story. Such as the case with the quotes "They was good friends" and "They killed my young'un for slam nothing." Reporters and editors at the Raleigh News and Observer struggled with those, and their struggles resulted in an interesting column by the newspaper's public editor. (Posted Aug. 8, 2006)
The story the journalists held. The Washington Post has an interesting op-ed article by Michael Berlin, a professor emeritus at Boston University and former United Nation correspondent for the New York Post and Washington Post, about a story that he and several others had that was important and of universal interest. But neither he nor his journalistic colleagues reported the story until government officials gave them the go-ahead. More (Posted July 21, 2006)
Confidential sources, New York Times style. Bryon Calume, public editor of the New York times, devotes his column this week to assessing the new rules at the times for using confidential sources. Two major changes have occurred since Bill Keller took over as executive editor. One is that an editor must know (and approve) the identity of the person to whom confidentiality is granted. The second is that readers should be told why the source as requested confidentiality. This is a good policy for openness, but it can also lead to some awkward writing. It has given rise to some phrasing such as "a senior White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because most staff members are not authorized to speak about the vacancy" and "two Pentagon officials who have worked on the project and were granted anonymity so they would describe the changes before an official announcement expected later this week." Sometimes, as readers have pointed out to Calume, the reasons given by the Times reporters in the story are undercut by the information itself. Still, despite its awkwardness, the Times is trying to be more transparent for its readers, and other news organizations should follow its lead (as they inevitably will). (Posted Nov. 22, 2005)
The odd odyssey of Judith Miller. New York Times reporter Judith Miller got her Get Out of Jail card last week, but her release wasn't exactly free. She had come to an agreement to testify after being released from her confidentiality obligation by her source. And she has had to endure some pretty stinging criticism from fellow journalists who have questioned her motives. The bigger question -- and one that David Ignatius raises in his column in the Washington Post -- is where were the Times editors in all of this?
More (Posted Oct. 5, 2005)
Update: Miller and the New York Times have finally published their version of the controversy and an account of Miller's testimony before the grand jury. This account is bound to raise questions and send critics howling. But one often-overlooked question is why Miller felt she had to determine whether or not her source's release from her pledge of confidentiality was voluntary. All in all, this whole situation is probably a setback for the cause of a federal reporter's shield law. More (Posted Oct. 16, 2005)
Women as news sources. Women do not make it into news stories as sources as much as men do. That is the basic finding of a new study conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The basic finding is probably not surprising, but what is impressive and important is how widespread and consistent is the tendency of journalists to use men rather than women as sources of information. The study looked at 16,000 news stories in 45 different news outlets. Researchers coded the gender of the sources quoted in the stories and found that “men are relied on as sources in the news more than twice as often as women.” This is the case despite the fact that news organizations have made efforts to get more women into the ranks of reporters and editors and women are taking more active roles in business and public life. “The numbers suggest that the representation of women as sources in the news has a significant distance to go towards reflecting their role in American society generally,” the study says. (Posted May 24, 2005)
The "essentially accurate" standard. Abraham Lincoln began the Gettysburg Address with the words, "About a century ago, the dudes that started it all . . ." Well, ok. Those weren't exactly the words, but they are "essentially accurate." That's the standard that Detroit Free Press sportswriter Mitch Albom imposed upon himself in handling direct quotations for his column. Apparently, some of the editors at the newspaper were willing to live with that standard, too. But that is not the standard that those of us who teach journalism want to pass on to our students. What we want is for our students to be meticulous in their pursuit of accuracy. More. (Posted May 17, 2005)
The question of deception. When the Spokane Spokesman-Review recently exposed nefarious behavior on the part of Spokane's mayor, the newspaper used some deception in its reporting. The reaction of many editors would lead you to believe that "Thou shalt never deceive" is one of the most sacred of Journalist Commandments. But it's not. Deception isn't always a good idea, but it has a good history and support from one of the profession's major codes of ethics. More. (Posted May 16, 2005)
Scoop crazy. Every good journalist wants a scoop. Working in a world with relatively few rewards, the journalist seeks the occasional and often Pyrrhic victory of getting a story before anyone else gets its. Then, if the story is important enough so that other media outlets pick it up, professional practice demands that the other guys attribute the story to you. It’s their acknowledgement that, for a brief moment, you’re a better journalist than they are.
To those outside the culture of journalism, or not sympathetic to it, the desire for a scoop may sound a little crazy. But the desire to be first is a real and effective spur to journalistic practice. Sometimes, however, it can throw other journalistic practices out of kilter.
Such an instance occurred last week when New York Times reporters and editors struck a deal with Columbia University over a report that Columbia produced concerning anti-Semitism among its faculty. The deal was that Columbia would give the Times the report a day early if the Times would agree not to interview any of those who made the complaints about anti-Semitism in its story. Daniel Okrent, public editor of the Times, outlines what happened in his column this week. More
State of the Media 2005. The Project for Excellence in Journalism has produced another extensive report on many aspects of the news media. The authors of the report have used extensives studies of media content and practices and surveys of the public to come to their conclusions.
They make five points about what is happening in the field and how journalism is currently practiced: journalism is moving toward a model that is "faster, looser and chaper"; the fact that people prefer news that fits their partisan biases is "widely exaggerated"; journalists may have to widen the scope of their searchlight, making themselves more transparent and expert; some evidence exists that news organizations are investing in new audiences; the three major broadcast networks are facing a decisive moment in their history and reexamining their roles in the production of news.
The report includes a close analysis of each of the individual news industries: newspaper, magazine, television, radio and online. The authors of this study have done the field a great service, and the report meirts great attention. The State of the Media 2004 is also available for study, and in it the authors identified eight major trends in journalism. (Posted March 15, 2005)
Reporting religion. Journalists don’t have an easy time with religion. Religion and religious topics are not particularly welcomed in a newsroom. That is why years such as 2004, when religion is a big part of some of the year’s biggest stories (gay marriage, the presidential election, Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of Christ,” etc.) are tough for journalists. Why then are editors and news directors eliminating their religion beats or assigning untrained reporters to them? That’s the question that Julia Duin, religion reporter for the Washington Times, poses in an excellent centerpiece article for Poynter.org. Duin says that if religion beat reporters are hired at all, they come with little experience, and the situation does not seem to be getting better. Duin’s article contains a link to the web site for the Religion Newswriters Association. If you have a student interested in this area, this web site would be a good place to keep up with the latest developments. (Posted Jan. 6, 2005)
Update: Since the posting of Duin's article, a couple of other journalists have chimed in with their thoughts, and they're worth reading too. Steve Buttry, national correspondent for the Omaha World-Herald, offers a counterpoint to some of Duin's ideas about improving religion coverage, and Diane Conolly discusses her assignment as a novice to the religion beat. Conolly is the editor for ReligionLink.org, a excellent resouce for reporters and others interested in coverage of religion. A number of other people have posted comments about all of these articles on the Poynter site. (Posted Jan. 12, 2005)
Do reporters have more fun? Chapter 8 in Journalism: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How emhasizes how difficult it is to be a reporter. That's certainly true. But it's also fun. That's what Jack Hamilton says:
. . . as much responsibility as our profession carries, we have a comparative advantage in having fun. Being a journalist is endlessly exhilarating. Most people stop taking field trips after they leave grade school. Journalism is one field trip after another. We can knock on any door and ask questions. And if they don't let us in, we can go around to the back.
John Maxwell Hamilton was a foreign correspondent, reporting for ABC radio and the Christian Science Monitor, and also worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank. He is dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University and of author of several books including Hold the Press: The Inside Story on Newspapers (with George A. Krimsky). Hamilton is right, and students should be reminded about how much fun they can have if they decide to become a reporter.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Reporters depend not only on the First Amendment freedom to publish but also the implied First Amendment freedom to gather the news. Issues surrounding how reporters work -- and the legal and quasi-legal obstacles they encounter -- are covered by an organization called the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Check out this organization's web site (http://www.rcfp.org) on a regular basis if you want to keep up with the world of reporting.
Sports reporters. Many people aspire to be sports writers simply because they enjoy watching sports. Being a sports writer is a noble aspiration, but the very best sports writers have gone beyond the games they watch and lifted their writing -- and their readers -- into the realms of literature. Three of the best of the 20th century were Grantland Rice, Red Smith and Shirley Povich. Rice wrote the most famous sports lead paragraph of all time comparing the Notre Dame football backfield to the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse. Read more about them.
Interviewing. One of the skills a reporter must develop is the art of interviewing. The text pays a good deal of attention to helping students develop this skill. For more information about interviewing, start with this article, The Art of Asking Questions from the Poynter Institute.
Math. Many journalists say (sometimes jokingly, sometimes not) that they got into the profession because they would not have to deal with a lot of math. For most working reporters, however, that turns out not to be the case. They have to deal with math every day. A good reporter should know how to figure a ratio, an average, a median and a percentage. Here are some web sites that will help you out:
• Investigative Reporters and Editors (with a terrific math test)
• University of North Carolina math competency test for journalists
• Poynter.org: Why Math Matters by Chip Scanlan (with additional links)