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THE NATURE OF NEWS

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1.0 INTRODUCTION

“News” is the raison d’etre of any newspaper. This is why newsroom is the first port of call for all cub-reporters. The would-be the journalist must therefore have knowledge of the technicalities involved in writing news story as observed in this unit.

2.0 OBJECTIVES

On successful completion of this Module/Unit, you should be able to:

  1. Define what ‘News is; 
  2.  Identify what is known as News Determinants 
  3.  Distinguish between types of News. 
  4. Explain the values of good News Reports. 

3.0 MAIN BODY

3.1 Introduction

News forms basic content of every mass medium. In this unit, you are led to understand the concept of news. The criteria for selecting what event should be news are also discussed. The nature of news is further explained in the discussion of news types. The philosophical base of assessing the quality of news output is further discussed under examination of news values. the

3.2 What is News

The word “news “ means different things to different people taking into consideration the varying levels of political, social, economic, cultured or geographical orientations in the world. However, it is worthy to note that the term has over the years been understood as “something which is extra – ordinary, a rare occurrence or, something different from what is believed to be normal. An old demonstration of this view is usually signified in the statement: “A dog bites a man, and: A man bites a dog “ The first sentence “ A dog bites a man “ is seen to be a normal natural phenomenon but, the second sentence “ Man bites a dog “ is and seen to be unusual, unheard of, and so unnatural. In this case, believed that the second sentence (that which is unusual) qualifies to be it is addressed as News. Other attempts to give meaning to the concept of news include the following:

  1. That news is what the editors in the mass media organizations say it is. Or what the “opinion leaders” say it is. This thinking takes root from the gate-keeping role of editors in the process of information dissemination. 
  2. That news is any event that concerns the audience because it is closer to them than events that happen far away from their community, state or nation. territory, 
  3. That news is “random reactions” by the mass media to random events. 
  4. That news is an account of event as covered by the establishments rather than the event itself – at least given that there media are multiple number of events that always occur around us. 

However, news, in the context of our study should be seen as an account of an event amongst events which constitutes a new kind of impute or information that changes the status of what had existed.

3.3 News Determinants

The fact that there is no concrete agreement as to what News is or should be among scholars, does not mean that there is no loosely consented yardsticks or criteria of determining why an event should be or should not be considered newsworthy. In any case, majority of media practitioners have come to embrace the following criteria or determinants of news. These are:
• Timeliness
• Proximity
• Prominence
• Consequence
• Human Interest.

3.3.1 Timeliness

A well known axiom within the world of journalism is that “Nothing is as dead as yesterdays news”. Although this lends itself mostly to the deadline of the print medium given that the broadcast media often repeat the previous day’s event in the early morning broadcast, perhaps, with modified slants, the element of timeliness suggest some form of currency or immediacy in reporting events. It emphasizes speed in the output of the media institution so that the citizenry may be informed and

make decisions in response to the appropriate time frame. Because information is a form of energy, people need it to urgently make their business or political decisions. Therefore, it must be made accessible to people as fast as possible. In order that the “freshness” of an account is not lost totally, some – observers are of the view that the journalist should avoid the use of “yesterday” in their reports, unless it is very necessary to do so. For instance, a report of a bomb blast in Lagos state this morning appears fresher and current than a report of the same bomb blast in Lagos last month.

3.3.2 Proximity 

Proximity has to do with nearness. As a news determinant, it is in the judgment of the media worker, a criterion for selecting, those events that are situationally and locally relevant to the audience. news
Proximity thus has the geographical and psychological implications. For example, reports about Nigerians in Nigeria, are likely to be of interest to readers in Nigeria than reports about Americans in Nigeria. Also, reports about Nigerians in America will be a thing of Nigerians in Nigeria than reports about Cameroonians in America. interest to

3.3.3 Prominence

The common saying that “All men are equal but some are more equal than others” may also pass for prominence as a news determinant. But this time one can re-phrase the statement to read: All men “newsworthy” but some are “more newsworthy” than others. The are difference in the status of newsworthiness can either be attributed to the position, rank or class people occupy, their entertainment, an instance here is when the president of a country shakes hands with children on

the street. An event of this sort, is very likely going to attract a news paper’s front page banner, compared to the many hand shakes of a man or woman who is not prominent enough to be recognized. In any case, what is true of persons is also true of places, organizations, institution,

etc. Certain persons because of their status in the society, are newsworthy than others. For example’ a news story that claims that ‘a more man was shot dead in Aso Rock, Abuja’ does not attract as attention as reporting that ‘The President of Nigeria has been shot dead much in Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.

3.3.4 Consequence Consequence as a determinant of news event means that the interest of the public is upper- most in weighing the implications or effect of an event reported. The numerical strength of those affected by an event also fits into this report. For instance, if an accident involves 80 people in

number, the report is likely to be considered for publication than an accident that involves a person or two. Other stories that are selected using this criterion include those of price changes, epidemic, often pestilence, national strike like NLC, and ASUU strikes in Strikes of this nature often have far reaching implications on Nigeria. population. the

3.3.5 Human Interest

This refers to interest in human beings and events because they concern men and women in situations, which might confront anyone else. It concerns the lives and welfare of people, animals or otherwise. Thus, the extremes of “pathetic” and “humorous” experiences of life are inclusive. A news story about a dog rescuing a baby from a swimming pool when the parents of the child were attending to other needs, represents a good example of one of the perspective of human-interest news.

Self Assessment Exercise 1.1

For each of the news determinants, cut out stories from the daily newspaper that best represent the values of the determinants.

3.4 Types of News

The difficulty that is normally associated with the distinction between types of news is not strange to many. This is simply because all the noticeable types of news share certain common characteristics that do not permit any clear direction. Nevertheless, the differences are most obvious in the scope and the nature of treatment or effort expended on event of such importance. In broad terms; there are three major types of news reports namely:

  1.  The straight forward news 
  2. Investigative news reports
  3.  Interpretative news reports 

3.4.1 Straightforward News Reports

These are the products of the conventional answer to five Ws and H. It is normally short and sometimes lengthy in content but generally; it constitutes the bulk of news types that form the content of most commercial newspapers. In this kind of report, reporters are not expected to inject their opinions. Rather, they are only expected to answer the basic questions of 5 Ws and Has objectively and straightforward as possible.

Straightforward news story may be based on hard, soft / human-interest events. Hard news are stories that deal with topical issues that are tied to governmental affairs concerning economic, social and political issues. They are usually filled with facts and figures. They also form the core of most newspapers straightforward news coverage. Soft news stories deals with social and ceremonial events in the society, like investitures,coronation, birthdays, marriages etc. While the Human interest arouse emotional feeling all though mostly generated from conflict, controversy, crime, disasters, accidents, adventure, children etc.

3.4.2 Investigative News Reports

An investigative report is a better quality reporting that is distinct from the straightforward news type. Its degree of thoroughness is greater than that of straight news report. It normally deals with reports on serious subjects and normally, involves obstacles that are common on straight news type. Generally, it is distinguishable from the the news because: straight

  1. It involves a lot of interviewing
  2.  It involves the digging of facts. 
  3. The reporter is tied up to rewards 
  4. It is time consuming 
  5. It calls for handwork 
  6. It cost much money 
  7. It demands more patience; persistence yet, may be frustrating. 
  8.  It is also risky 

Like the straightforward news type, an investigative reporter is expected to editorialise or inject or interpret fact in the story. These facts not are not to be twisted or fabricated but must be based on information dug from many sources. The investigative report is usually long and written to expose and explain Issues in details. In order that the much-needed details are accurately sourced for, the investigative reporter relies heavily on such techniques as:

(a) Direct observation of an event in order to get first hand experience, without the intrusion of other peoples (eye witness perceptions or biases. i.e. being a participant observer or being part of an action
maybe robbery, gangster operation, and cult etc) in order to know what goes on.
(b) Searching for primary and secondary documents from record keepers or institutions. The investigative reporter must have a solid documentary base on local/ international records of interest, official and unofficial.(c) Reliance on unsolicited information from informants, government
and other publicity seeking interest groups. (d) Interviewing people to get information. Interview is the bedrock of news gathering business. Success in this exercise also depends on the
investigative reporter’s adherences to the basics of investigative interviewing, which are:
– Preparation
– Control
– Information.

  1. Preparation: This involves a reporter’s knowledge of the background of the subject matter or topic, the people involved in the interview or story: the list of questions, sorting of and arrangement of facts and opinion in order to extract or separate the neutral information from the factual one in a controversial issue. 
  2. Control: This includes all forms of courteousness in the mastery and handling of an interview. It calls for a direction of purpose and a sense of responsibility that does not reveal the ill preparedness of the reporter or his lack of knowledge of the subject matter. 
  3.  Information: This involves all the amount of attention a reporter can give the interviewee to elicit facts about the subject matter. It demands a sound and careful listening skill and attitude. 

3.4.3 Interpretative Reporting

In the report of events, most reporters are often confronted with the urge of analyzing the implications of several issues in an event. This is the thrust of interpretative reporting. It is a kind of news report that demands the reporter’s injection of his opinion, or some form of editorialization or comments on the issue reported. Like the investigative report, the interpretative reporter requires additional facts for easy clarification, detailed explanation and logical analysis. An interpretative reporter also has a wide variety of approaches, which he may use to give his story an interpretative slant. These include:

(a)Side-bar short: supplements or pieces of information that highlight the main feature of an issue. It can be blocked or boxed at the side or the newspaper or magazine.
(b)An interpretative article developed from the views comments or  opinions of experts.
(c) Historical background of the event that provide a kind of go between the present and the past.
(d)Speculative or predictive analysis of the event by the reporter. Although it can be dangerous in intent and result. It is unreliable as the future is usually not understood firmly by anyone. normally
(e)The personality profile: This an attempt to provide a feed forward information before the primary message by introducing the personality involved in, behind the event itself.

3.5 News Values 

News values refer to those qualities of the news that give meaning and integrity to the sound journalistic practice. The fundamental and philosophical components of such a sound journalistic practice are:
• Objectivity
• Accuracy 
• Balance
• Currency and
• Brevity, conciseness and clarity.

3.5.1 Objectivity

Though greatly misunderstood and misapplied, objectivity subsumes all other virtues of journalism, whether or not it is viewed from the moral, artistic or intellectual angle. Objectivity not only concerns the individual journalist but also the institution of journalism practice. In this sense, objectivity is not just considered as a ‘goal’ but also as a process. When considered as a goal, objectivity is seen as that impossible idealistic task that cannot be attained. But when seen as a process, it is possible task which can be attained, but not without subjective intrusions. However, for the purpose of journalism practice, objectivity is the ability of the reporter to bridge the knowledge gap between the thing/ event he/she reports and the (real) event/thing itself. In other words, requires that a complete, unbiased, truthful, comprehension and objectivity intelligent account of an event be given in a context that give meaning to the reader. Dennis, Ismach, and Cilmor (1978)

3.5.2 Balance

Balance derives its essence from objectivity. It simply draws the journalists closer to the task of appropriating the focus, prominence, time, space and privilege of any news event with fairness treatment, and equality.

3.5.3 Currency

Currency is a virtue of news just as anyone who asks for news wants to know the status of an event he either did not know about or wants to know about. Currency calls for immediacy, freshness and recency in the report.

3.5.4 Accuracy

Accuracy as a news value connotes exactness and truthfulness. This virtue does not only put a spotlight on the journalists understanding of his/her profession but also puts to test the confidence and integrity of the reporter. Accuracy stresses that all the facts about persons, their ages, address, their duties etc are correctly reported.

3.5.4 Brevity, Conciseness and Clarity

This virtue complements the often-overstressed essence of communication – to share meaning and understanding. The entire essence of a report stands to be defeated if meaning is not shared. Meaningful reports are those that are brief (because people do not have all the time to read/listen or watch news) concise (because readers need direct and straight guidance) and clear (devoid of ambiguity or double meanings).

Self Assessment Exercise 1.1

Cut off or photocopy two stories each from any of the current national dailies that fit into the description of (a) the straight news, investigative and (3) interpretative report.

4.0 CONCLUSION

The news story is the form in which the journalist reports events. The primary goal of such report is to convey information accurately, briefly and clearly. These are the hallmarks of good news reporting.

5.0 SUMMARY

So far, you have learnt the following from this unit, that:

  1. That news is basically an account of an event as viewed by the reporter and polished by his editor. 
  2. That the criteria for determining what is news and what is not news are: timeliness, proximity, consequence, prominence and human interest. 
  3. That news is of many types, but the principal three are (1) straight news report (2) investigative report (3) interpretative report. 
  4. That good news report must expressly reflect the values of objectivity, balance, currency, accuracy and brevity. 

6.0 TUTOR MARKED ASSIGNMENT

Write an interpretative news report on the issue “Aids and your style”. It should not be more that two pages, type written and on an A4 life size of paper.

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