Journalism begins with information. Gathering information is the first job of the journalist.
That information must meet certain conditions.
Most importantly, it must be factual and accurate. Journalists seek information that is factual – events that actually happened, what people really said and did, how people really feel. They try to sort out the actual from the fantasy – that is, what people think or hope or wish had happened from what actually happened.
Obtaining and disseminating accurate information is the chief goal of journalists. Much of the process that journalists use to gather information is mean to ensure the accuracy of the information they have.
Accuracy is a concept that will come up again and again as we discuss what it means to be a journalist. Journalist fear inaccurate information because it means that they have failed at their job.
Another condition of the information that journalists gather is that it be significant. By significant, we mean that it should be meaningful to a sizeable number of people. The fact that your pet (dog, cat, rabbit, whatever) is sick is important to you and your family, but it is not meaningful to those outside your immediate circle.
If your pet is being affected by a condition that is affecting many other pets, however, that information is significant, and it is something that a journalist might be interested in.
Closely associated with significance is the condition that the information should be interesting to some portion of the audience. Not everything that appears in the news media is of interest to everyone, of course. The comings and goings of many celebrities are of absolutely no interest or importance to many, many people. Yet, we will hear about them because there are a significant number of people (you, perhaps) who want to know this information.
Judging how interesting information is to an audience is tricky business for journalists. They must often go beyond their personal interests and inclinations and be aware that there are many people who expect the news media to provide information about a wide range of topics. Sports is a case in point. Many people care nothing for sports and will never read a sports story or listen to a sports broadcast. Yet, obviously, sports gets major attention from the news media because there are enough people who are interested in it to make a difference to news organizations. And there are enough people who are not only interested but deeply interested for sports to be a major part of the news media’s offerings.
Journalists should develop a wide range of interests, but they should also recognize the audience’s interests range far more widely than their personal interests.
Yet another condition of the information a journalist gathers is that it be current information. In fact, it should be the most up to date information that is available about an event or topic.
This factor of the timeliness of the information is terribly important for news organizations and for the journalists themselves. It is an important part of modern journalism that information be the latest, most up-to-date information that can be obtained.
And by up-to-date, what we really mean is up-to-the minute.
Old news is not news, as journalists like to say; it’s history. What happened last week is not nearly as interesting to the journalist as what happened yesterday. And what happened yesterday is not as interesting as what happened in the last hour or the last give minutes.
That is one of the things that makes journalism so difficult. Journalists are in a constant race to shorten the amount of time between obtaining and disseminating information, and that is especially as the web as become a major medium of journalism. The web is always on and always available. Audiences expect the web of be consistently and constantly updated with new information.
In module 1.2 of Digital Journalism 010 <link>, we referred to news values by which a topic or event may be judged. Much of what we have said in this section coincides or overlaps with that, and you should review that material as you consider what is in this module.
A word about writing
Writing is a vital part of the journalistic process, and we pay a great deal of attention to the forms and techniques of journalistic writing in the next section of JN-21.
But writing and reporting are intertwined, and as you begin to learn about information and reporting, you should also be learning about writing journalistically. In fact, your instructor may be covering these sections together, and doing makes a lot of sense.
Knowing what you have to write and the way you write it influences the information that you obtain to produce an article or report. For instance, most stories for print or the web require the inclusion of direct quotations from a live source. Consequently, in reporting on the story, the journalist will try to find someone who can provide that direct quotation.
In reporting for the web, as we will see in a later section <link>, it is important to include a list if that is possible and appropriate. Lists are easy for readers to see and comprehend quickly. So, the journalist writing for a web site will be on the lookout for some items that can be made into a list.
As you learn about journalistic information, pay attention to the kind of information you will need and the form that it should take so that it can be included in your reports.
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