Teaching Yourself to Become a Reporters
News is an unpublished account of real-time human activity, which seeks simply to interest, inform, or teach the readers about current affairs. The very first requirement of news, then, is that such news must not have previously been published elsewhere. Rather, it must come straight to the public’s attention for the first time. As with a hot cake coming out of the oven, it has to be baked in public. But the public doesn’t need to know and shouldn’t be allowed to know that the cake was baked in public, because then the news agency has committed some violation of their own principles.
But why do they do that? It’s not as if newspapers or magazines are running an advertising campaign, hoping to convince their audience that they need to buy their publications. They don’t expect anyone to buy a newspaper just to read an advertisement–even the advertisers want their product to be well-known! But news agencies go to great lengths to ensure that their readers will be interested enough in their stories to want to read the next day’s news.
News agencies have several standards by which they judge the quality and importance of any given story. First, the news story has to be a substantial news story. Many newspapers today try to justify the excessive length of some articles by claiming that some things are more newsworthy than others. (Dog bites make interesting stories, but a “breaking news” announcement about a school stabbing is probably not newsworthy.) A good story, however, often receives multiple printings, gets picked up by several news outlets, and is reported throughout the world.
Second, the news story has to have some real substance. Too many journalists talk about the story as if it were an episode of “The Apprentice” or a form of “Doomsday survival television.” In reality, news reports should contain information that is relevant to readers and have some kind of concrete human interest. News organizations frequently take a position on an issue that has broad appeal, such as abortion or genetically modified food, but only because readers are concerned about these issues and want to learn more. A news story about an unusual pet or the latest in human activity should be noteworthy.
Finally, any good news story has to be anchored by solid reporting. Many journalists have newsrooms where they rely on reporters to develop primary sources for stories based on interviews, facts, and other data. Reporters should do their best to make sure that the people they interview are speaking honestly and providing true details. Even when the reporting is thorough and well-researched, a reporter still needs to write something relevant and interesting about recent events.
There are lots of good books and websites devoted to teaching journalists how to improve their craft. While it can’t hurt to read them and implement some of the tips presented, there are lots of other aspects of news coverage that require firsthand experience from seasoned professionals. Learning how to tell the difference between what is reported and what is simply hearsay is part of good storytelling skill and one that many reporters lack. With enough practice and determination, however, virtually anyone can become a reliable news source, even if they don’t consider themselves professionals.