What The Heck?

Barbara Nevins Taylor and Spring 2019 Introduction to Journalism Class at City Hall behind George Washington's desk at New York's City Hall

A Quick Tips for Covering Any Story

Whether you cover the opening of a food pantry, a fire that takes the lives of young children, a city council hearing, or a press conference in the Knicks locker room, you want to take a breath when you arrive at the scene.  Stop, look around and think about what is really going on.

Ask yourself:

  • What’s happening here?
  • What’s important?
  • What’s interesting?
  • How does this affect the people there?
  • How does it affect people in the broader community?
  • Is there something that people aren’t telling me?
  • How can I tell this story?

The best reporters analyze a situation quickly and sum up the essence. Once you understand what’s going on, you can think about a creative and interesting way to tell the story.

Reporting Basics

 

Reporting 

Journalism means more than taking handouts or reporting what’s said in news releases. Good journalism rests on a set of principles. Solid stories require accurate information and balance in reporting it.

Think about answering a story’s basic questions:

  • who
  • what
  • when
  • where
  • why

 

HOW

Then examine how the story happened.

How do we connect the dots to tell a good story with a beginning, middle and end?

The inverted pyramid.

Traditionally journalists use the model of the inverted pyramid construct a story.Inverted Pyramid

 

But increasingly, news organizations encourage reporters to use better storytelling techniques, using characters and interesting details to get the reader, viewer or listener interested. Television stories often start with small details, or personal stories and we see that more and more in print, digital and radio.

Accuracy

Only report what you know was said, and by whom.  This means attributing statements to specific people:

  1. The mayor says…
  2. The district attorney says…
  3. The neighbor says…
  4. According to the Associated Press…
  5. According to The New York Times…
  6. According to the website….

 

Wikipedia

Wikipedia and many other websites aren’t always reliable sources.  If a site quotes another source, it’s important to go to the primary source to make sure that you have accurate information.

Just because somebody says something doesn’t mean it’s true.  Even high-ranking public officials may be misinformed, or may have an agenda that obscures the truth.  Even when you’re under deadline pressure, try to confirm everything that you’re told with additional sources.  It’s a good idea to have at least two sources.  Remember:  truth is an absolute defense against libel.

 

Elements of a Good Story

Ancient Greek writers developed a basic storytelling formula and they understood the importance of characters:

  • villains
  • victims
  • heroes

You’ll find victims, villains and heroes at the center of every good drama.  Audiences recognize the victim’s pain, hiss at the villain, and cheer for the hero. Most of what we cover will not be as dramatic as a classic Greek tale, and news coverage demands that we balance two sides of a story. Until the jury returns a guilty verdict, it’s unfair to characterize the accused as a villain. But if the actions of the accused are villainous, you report the facts and the audience, like the jury decides.

Highlight Characters

In daily news reporting, we don’t always have the luxury of a developing a story around a character. We do have to report the facts. But where we can, we want to highlight characters.

Often they reveal themselves in what they say, how they act, and through the expressions on their faces.

Readers, viewers and listeners want to engage with the real drama in real people’s lives. We feel their pain, their anger, their frustration and their triumph. We cheer them, get angry, or feel their pain. We’re indignant or inspired.

Characters drive stories and make them memorable.

Organization

Whether you begin with just the facts, an engaging character or an interesting detail, you   need to let your reader, viewer or listener in on the point of the story pretty quickly.

Journalism uses the nut graf , or paragraph, to explain the heart of the story. The nut graf should come pretty close to the top of the report. It helps to tie everything together.  It helps you keep the focus and continue to the ideas in your story.

Once you explain the point of the story, you can move on flesh it out with facts and details.

 

 

How News Organization Get News

TV crews set up in the Russell Building, Washington, D.C.

https://www.cnn.com/videos/cnnmoney/2018/08/17/trump-attack-on-journalist-baquet-intv-axe-files-vpx.cnn

News organizations gather information with teams of reporters and editors. But they also use outside sources including wire services, or news agencies, to provide information.

These news agencies have their own teams of reporters, videographers, editors and producers who cover breaking news, politics, business, sports, entertainment, culture and more. They have investigative teams that frequently break important stories.

 

The Associated Press, a not-for-profit news cooperative, has teams in 100 countries and provides content to more than 1500 news outlets. Those news outlets contribute to the cost of news gathering and can use the material that the AP provides.

AP

Reuters describes itself as the “world’s largest multi-media news-provider.” Part of the Canadian Reuters Thompson Company, traded publicly on the New York Stock Exchange, it says it serves more than a billion people every day.

Reuters

Bloomberg, a privately-owned company, provides business and other news, digitally, through video, audio and on TV.  It has a big business providing news to Wall Street firms and other financial companies.

 

Bloomberg News

 News agencies headquartered in countries around the world also report and provide important information.

Lester Holt on NBC News set

ABC, NBC, FOX , CNN,  NPR , BBC  and other broadcast groups have services to provide content including video and audio to smaller TV and radio stations around the country.

Government Agencies

Police departments, fire departments and some government agencies have public information offices that put out alerts and updates about breaking news.

NYPD Counter Terrorism Officers

NYFD at 10 Alarm fire

The NYPD, for example, has an office called D.C.P.I., run by the Deputy Commissioner,  Public Information.

Hurricane Harvey

During hurricanes and disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) put out regular bulletins including those warning people to watch out for scams and frauds.

Social Media

Increasingly, news organizations look to social media to stay up with breaking news. They monitor social media platforms and then verify information from the posts, or tweets.

Other News Outlets

Newspapers, radio stations, television news organizations and digital news companies monitor one another.  If one breaks a story, others may pick it up and give credit: The New York Times , ABC News,  the BBC , Al Jezeera, ESPN, etc. reports, or they may assign a reporter and try to advance the story themselves.

Reporters and editors in news organizations work as a team, but they also compete with each other and other organizations to get stories. Sources provide an important stream of information that reporters and editors verify and expand.

Public Relations and Communications Directors

Public relations firms representing companies and clients, communications and p.r. people from companies, sports teams, not-for-profits and every type of organization you can imagine contact news organizations and individual reporters to push stories.

Reporters and editors often pick up these stories, verify and expand them.

News organizations and reporters often reach out to p.r. people to provide an expert who can help flesh out a story. They also use public relations representatives to help get access to government buildings, hospitals, sports arenas and private spaces.

DailyNewsScreenshot

 

News Sources

  • People we talk to every day.
  • Family and friends.
  • The crossing guard on the corner.
  • Reporters get assigned to beats — the police, the courts, city hall, the White House, the arts, celebrities, fashion, food, movies, books, business.
  • Reporters develop sources and the best reporters get information from those sources regularly.
  • Reporters get access. Access to a crime scene, a fire, politicians, a mayor, a closed meeting with a group of people making a big decision, athletes, a sports team, celebrities and more.

Good Reporters, Editors and Producers Always:

Ask Questions

Research

Ask more questions

Take notes

Ask More questions

Fact check and ask more questions

 

Opinion vs. News

Photographers waiting in the rotunda of the Russell Building in the United States Capitol, Washington, DC. Photo by ConsumerMojo.com

What’s the difference between an opinion piece and a news story? 

An opinion piece gives you information from the point of view of the writer, or presenter. It may include facts, and reporting, but it differs from a news story in that it lays out an individual’s ideas and often their biases.  Opinion is, essentially, someone’s argument for a certain point of view about a specific topic.

When we read newspaper editorial pages, we see two types of opinion. We get the collective opinion of the editors and we also read, on the OpEd page — the page opposite the editorials — what individual columnists have to say in their byline pieces.

A news story reports the facts without the opinion of the reporter, writer, producer or presenter. It can contain attributed or quoted opinions of people interviewed. So a news story can contain opinion and tell a compelling story. But it should not include the opinion of the newsgatherer or the news organization.

A Pew Research Center poll, in 2018, found that younger people were better than older people at figuring out what’s factual and what’s opinion.

Pew said, “About a third of 18- to 49-year-olds (32 percent) correctly identified all five of the factual statements as factual, compared with two-in-ten among those ages 50 and older. A similar pattern emerges for the opinion statements. Among 18- to 49-year-olds, 44 percent correctly identified all five opinion statements as opinions, compared with 26 percent among those ages 50 and older.”

Pew Research Poll Opinion vs. Fact.png

You can take the quiz and see how you do.

https://www.pewresearch.org/quiz/news-statements-quiz/

How Journalists Cover the News

Mayor Bill di Blasio in the Blue Room at City for a Press Conference

This is an excerpt from a talk in June 2020 sponsored by the Paley Center for Media hosted by Charles Whitaker, Dean of Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University with CNN Correspondent Omar Jimenez, CBS Correspondent Weijia Jiang and critic Michael Eric Dyson. The clip was assembled for a journalism class at CCNY.

The First Amendment

Protestors in Washington Square Park, Photo by ConsumerMojo.com

The Bill of RightsThe First Amendment to the United States Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, guarantees freedom of religion and speech, the press and the right of people to gather to protest and complain to the government.

In its own words:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to freely assemble, and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

After the founders of the United States wrote the U.S. Constitution, some of them realized they had left out critical guarantees to safeguard the type of nation, free of tyranny, they and others wanted.

The newly minted senators and congressmen debated about whether “checks and balances” would protect the rights of the people, or whether they needed to write amendments to the Constitution.

Freedom of the press was one of the priorities for Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson wrote a letter to another lawmaker saying,

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Some wanted to rewrite the Constitution but worried that people would think that they intended to tear up what they wanted to protect. They turned to U.S. Virginia Representative James Madison, a good thinker and a good writer.

James Madison

Madison argued that, “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

In 1789 Madison drafted amendments and presented them to the House of Representatives. The House approved 17 amendments. The Senate approved 12 and the states ratified 10 in December, 1791 as the Bill of Rights.

Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States and James Madison became the fourth.

Finding Data

Data graphic

 

https://www.statista.com/page/covid-19-coronavirus

 

Johns Hopkins University

https://communityprofiles.planning.nyc.gov/

New York State Covid-19 Tracker

Covid-19 Modeling University of Washington

https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/data/tools.pagehttps://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/data/tools.page

911 Response Time

Nassau County Health Data

Suffolk County Health Data Questionnaires

https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/

HPD Violation look up

Construction accident look up

https://marketingplatform.google.com/about/data-studio/

 

 

 

History Informs Journalism – Asian Americans

Cartoon showing an Uncle Sam figure taken aback by a skeleton in the closet representing the Chinese Exclusion Act

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 suspended Chinese immigration for ten years. It was extended for another ten years in 1892.

Chinese migrated to the U. S. in the in the mid 19th century.  An estimated  15 to 20 thousand worked on the Transcontinental Railroad.  They faced discrimination from the American and Irish immigrants who also worked under harsh conditions to build the railroad.

Chinese immigrants also came to California to try to make their fortune after gold was discovered in 1848.  An estimated 25,000 Chinese left China for the U.S. specifically to work the gold mines.

By the end of 1851, Chinese workers made up one-fifth of the population of the four counties where people mined.  In 1870 there were 63,000 Chinese people in the United States and 77 percent were in California.

Thousands of white Americans also came to California looking for riches. But they didn’t realize that it was hard work and that they Chinese immigrants did the back breaking labor to make what they could. When the gold started to run out, the serious racism and attacks began.

An Opinion Piece From USA Today

Yang & Anti-Defamation League CEO: Avoid coronavirus racism and scapegoating

We have to join together to fight this virus effectively. Now is not the time to be torn apart by hatred.

Andrew Yang and Jonathan A. Greenblatt
Opinion contributors

We’ve seen politicians seeking to politicize the virus — decrying it as the “Wuhan virus” for example, or suggesting that foreigners solely are responsible for spreading it; we’ve seen Asian Americans and Jewish Americans and other minority communities blamed for the pandemic; we’ve seen some pundits pointing the finger at prominent Jews as if the virus was the product of some conspiracy; and we’ve seen internet chatter from white supremacists suggesting the disease is spreading in America thanks to an influx of foreigners.

Interview Technique

Whether you interview someone in person, via video chat, or phone, the principles for a good interview remain the same.

  1. Prepare before your interview. Make sure you know as much about the topic and your interview subject as possible.
  2. Use your social skills when you begin the interview. Be friendly without being fawning especially if it’s a celebrity. You want to be on relatively equal footing with your interviewee whether it’s a child, a neighbor, a celebrity, or the president.
  3. Be nice even if you are about to ask tough questions. Be polite.
  4. Often interview subjects feed off of your energy. Make sure that you are energetic without being overbearing.
  5. Try not to read from a list of questions.
  6. Get right to it. Make sure you have the correct spelling and pronunciation of the person’s name in advance.
  7. Don’t waste their time with trivial details.
  8. Make eye contact.
  9. Ask your question and listen to the answer. Listening is really important. The interview subject may say something that needs an immediate followup. She may have given you the answer for the tenth question you have in mind but haven’t asked yet.
  10. You may have to interrupt if the person goes on and on and doesn’t answer the question. Keep the interview in your control. Be firm. But stay pleasant.
  11. Quit when you understand that the interview subject has answered your questions and really has nothing else that is relevant to say.