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:
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.
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.
Only report what you know was said, and by whom. This means attributing statements to specific people:
The mayor says…
The district attorney says…
The neighbor says…
According to the Associated Press…
According to The New York Times…
According to the website….
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:
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.
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.
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.
A pitch describes the story you want to tell. You need to write a few short paragraphs that get attention and explain what you plan to do. Avoid writing in generalities like, I want to do a story about gentrification in Washington Heights. You want to focus on a specific angle. Are you reporting from the perspective of business and developers? Or, are you looking from the ground level up and the perspective of people who feel that their homes are threatened.
Your pitch might read like this:
Many Dominicans settled in Washington Heights during the 1970s and the neighborhood quickly filled with Dominican restaurants, bodegas and the sounds of Bachata. Multi-generational families filled the spacious apartments from Dyckman Street to 155th Street. But a study by the CUNY Dominican Institute found that the number of Dominican households shrunk by 21% in fifteen years. Rising rents forced many families to move to the suburbs or elsewhere.
I’ll talk to Melissa Suero and her family who have lived in the neighborhood since the 1970s. They worry about whether they can continue to live there. The rents are going up in the building and a developer just bought the building next door. I will also talk to the owner of the Mi Esfuerzo bodega. He opened his store in 1971 and has seen many changes. I’ll talk to other people in the neighborhood, and reach out to the developer who bought the building next door to where Melissa’s family lives. I’ll also try to talk to someone who has moved into the neighborhood more recently.
I’ll also take photographs to help illustrate the 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.
What’s happening here?
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.
Most news organizations have style and ethics handbooks. They expect reporters, editors and producers to follow the guidelines they lay out.
When it comes to writing, this means that reporters use the same abbreviations, punctuation and approach to writing.
Here’s an example from the Reuters Handbook:
Use sparingly. Inject color into copy with strong verbs and facts first. If you have more than two adjectives before a noun, rewrite the sentence. A reader struggles with “the one-eyed poverty-stricken Greek house painter.” Avoid adjectives that imply judgment: “a hard-line speech,” “a glowing tribute,” “a staunch conservative.” Depending on where they stand, some people might consider the speech moderate, the tribute fulsome or the conservative a die-hard reactionary.
When using an adjective and a noun together as an adjective, hyphenate them if it helps to avoid a realistic ambiguity: “a sliced egg sandwich” could mean two things; “a happy birthday card” cannot; “a blue-chip share,” “high-caste Hindus.” By extension, adverbs that end in “-ly” paired with adjectives modifying nouns do not need hyphens, since adverbs cannot modify nouns: “a poorly planned operation” cannot be misconstrued to mean an operation that is poorly and that is planned.
The Reuters’ handbook is a great free resource for you to use. If you wonder about capitalizations, abbreviations, or many other writing questions, please look here:
Houston and Dallas become latest papers to make historic moves
Editors of color face challenges beyond tight newsroom budget
With much of corporate America targeting greater diversity in its management ranks, news companies are taking steps to close the gap, offering a glimpse at what more representative leadership might bring in an industry that has lagged behind.
The Associated Press appointed the first woman and person of color to helm the news agency this month. In Texas, both the Dallas Morning Newsand the Houston Chronicle named their first Black top editors in July. And in TV, Black women now run the news divisions of ABC News and MSNBC for the first time.
These leaders are taking over to improve coverage and broaden their audiences at a time of crisis in the industry, with about 300 newspapers closing over the past three years and revenue expected to continue to decline. On top of those challenges, some of these editors say they face other obstacles their predecessors didn’t, like a perception they were promoted not because they were qualified, but because of the color of their skin.
Their staffs remain over-represented by White journalists. More than three-fourths (77%) of newsroom employees working at newspapers, broadcasters or digital publishers are White, compared with 65% of U.S. workers overall, according to a 2018 analysis by Pew Research Center.
The newspaper industry’s financial troubles have led to years of layoffs and hiring freezes. That’s long served as an excuse for the failure to hire more Black and Hispanic journalists, despite the benefits they bring in helping outlets better reflect their communities, according to Richard Prince, who runs a website that tracks diversity trends in the news business.
“But where there’s a will there’s a way,” he said.
Of the 20 largest U.S. daily newspapers, about half are now led by a woman or a person of color or both, according to Nieman Lab. In 2014, three of the 25 largest newspapers had women as the top editor and 15% of American newspapers had a person of color in one of the top three newsroom roles.
Path to Growth
For newspapers, more diversity could be good for business. Nearly half of Black adults say they follow local news “very closely,” a higher percentage than White or Hispanics, Pew found. Hiring more journalists of color helps newsrooms get away from homogeneous perspectives that can limit their audiences, potentially leading to subscriber growth, the thinking goes.
Black journalists understand the concerns of the Black community, said Monica Richardson, who was named executive editor of the Miami Herald in December.
“I know what it’s like to drive by a police officer and have that sense of fear on the highway,” she said.
Richardson has been holding “listening sessions” in the Black community around Miami in an attempt to mend fences. Her takeaway: “We have work to do.”
“There was trust that had been broken, either through a story or a lack of presence in covering communities,” Richardson said. “People felt like their stories weren’t being told.”
The push in the news industry comes amid an acknowledgment of the lack of diversity throughout business world. There are about 30 female chief executives officers and 5Black CEOs running companies in the S&P 500.
Many news organizations have pledged to hire more journalists of color. Bloomberg News has initiatives to improve representation in terms of gender, ethnicity and race at every level of the newsroom. Gannett Co.released data last year showing its staffs were often more White than the communities they cover and pledged to make its workforce as diverse as the country by 2025.
“Across the nation, newsrooms continue to struggle with a lack of diversity –– especially in leadership ranks, including some of our own,” said Maribel Perez Wadsworth, president of news at Gannett Media. “We must do better.”
‘Not Good Enough’
The Los Angeles Timespublished an editorial last year apologizing for its past failures to cover race and vowing to hire more minorities. At the time, the paper said 38% of its journalists were people of color, while Los Angeles County was 48% Latino. “We know that is not nearly good enough,” it said. In May the newspaper hiredKevin Merida, who is Black, to lead the newsroom.
The ability for such leaders to direct coverage is substantial. Dean Baquet, an African American, has run the New York Times newsroom for seven years. Last year Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for the 1619 Project, a series of articles looking at the history of the U.S. through the prism of slavery.
Some observers have taken a pessimistic view of the recent promotions, noting that women and people of color have been given leadership roles only after businesses start to decline.
Black editors say they can bring more racial diversity to their staffs and their audiences. They plan to recruit more journalists of color and make them feel comfortable at the office.
“It’s not only who you hire, but more importantly, what are you doing to ensure your news environments are inclusive?” said Katrice Hardy, who was named executive editor of the Dallas Morning News last month. “Because you could hire me, but the culture and environment will mean that I don’t want to stay.”
But Black women are also frequently the target of micro-aggressions, such as subordinates who question their competence, refuse to take their orders or offer them backhanded compliments, said Greenwell, who interviewed about 40 Black female journalists for her book “Ladies Leading: The Black Women Who Control Television News.”
“The good news is that they are there,” Greenwell said. “The bad news is they aren’t always afforded the deference they deserve.”
At the Dallas Morning News, which named Hardyas its first woman and Black journalist to be executive editor, the newsroom is 64% White while the community the paper covers is 49% White, according to data provided by the paper. Its newsroom leadership is 9% Hispanic, compared with a coverage area that is 26% Hispanic.
“We got these positions because we worked our butts off and we’re really good journalists,” said Hardy, who helped lead the Indianapolis Star to a Pulitzer Prize this year.
“We didn’t get them because we’re Black and Brown,” she said, “although finally the news industry has seen the need to promote people like us.”
In her previous newsroom jobs, Hardy said she was able to call up members of minority communities and “have conversations with folks who frankly had long stopped wanting to deal with us.” She sees such outreach as critical to the industry’s survival.
“If we do not grow a diverse audience of readers,” she said, “we’re going to die.”
Maria Reeve, the new executive editor of the Houston Chronicle, said she would like her promotion to inspire Black journalists.
“I hope younger reporters see what’s happening and can see that there is a path,” Reeve said.
You see the artic fox on the subway. You
see it in college hallways. You can find it in Starbucks. Fjallraven Kanken,
the popular backpack with the red and white logo that translates as “The Arctic
Fox,” is everywhere. The Kanken backpack has become popular among
college students. It has even gained popularity around the world as an iconic and
handy Swedish export.
“They are light and comfy. I have five of
them in different colors,” says Anamica, a fellow City College student. The Swedish manufacturer Fjallraven hit on
something in 1978 when it came up with the idea to create a backpack that is described
on its website as, “…simple, stylish, and functional.” The lightweight backpack
was originally designed for young Swedish school kids after many seemed to
develop back problems because of the heavy loads of books they carried. An old Swedish saying, “Straight backs are happy backs,” inspired the
On the City College campus, students who carry
the backpack agree with the saying. Even though the $50-$150 price range makes it a splurge,
people will buy them to keep up with a trend. Not only are they trendy but are
more practical than other backpacks. When you see them hanging in Urban
Outfitters and other retailers, they seem small. But the rectangular shape
allows you to stuff a lot in without destroying the shape.
Brianna, a shopper at Urban Outfitters
hesitated before buying a second Artic Fox.
She complained about her first bag. “It looks great, but I wouldn’t have
bought it if I knew it got dirty this quickly. It collects dust easily and
shows on light colors.” Yet many people like the backpack’s ecofriendly
material made of recycled polyester, G-1000 Eco and traceable wool. It’s also made of durable, lightweight Vinylon
F. The Kanken has a large main compartment with a wide opening, two side
pockets, a zippered pocket in the front, handle at the top, narrow, supple
shoulder straps, a sitting pad in the pocket and logo that doubles as a
reflector. And that helped
propel its popularity. The manufacturer likes to promote its environmental work
and that’s one reason that the bag was named after the endangered artic fox. It
says it is, “honoring the small highly adaptable predator that lives in the
Swedish mountains under the harshest conditions.”
The Fjallraven website states that, “Our core mission and driving force has always been, and
always will be, to enable and inspire more people to spend time in nature…we
don’t chase short-term goals, follow trends or compromise on quality.” Ironically,
many people on campus now wear them because they are trending, not because it
has anything to do with nature.
“I know what it’s like to have hopes and dreams when coming to the United States and to have them torn down at the border. I lived that experience not once but twice. What they are doing is just inhumane,” Julio A. said. The detention of immigrants, the policy of separating children from parents and the hostility towards immigrants upsets him, “Seeing that on TV had to break my heart,” he told us
The twenty-seven-year-old came
to the United States from Mexico seven years ago, and his struggle to get here
remains fresh in his mind. He works two jobs, including one as a busboy at a
restaurant in lower Manhattan. His fiancée Jessica
G. says, “He is honestly a great guy and the most hard-working man I know. He
works six days a week, two jobs to be able to live decently.”
The news stories about President Trump’s effort to stop
migrants at the U.S. border bring back memories of his own dramatic story, of his
failed attempts to enter the U.S., and how he finally made it. He described it
as “…the most terrifying experience I have ever lived, the worst part was there
was no turning back.”
From the time he was thirteen, it was common to hear people
talk about crossing the border with friends and relatives paying “coyotes” to
help get them to the U.S. In 2012, when he turned 18, he became curious about the opportunities he
could have if he crossed the border. His parents in Pueblo, Mexico, opposed the
idea, but it did not stop Julio from pursing his dream. He and a friend found a
coyote willing to help them cross for $8,000.
They flew from Puebla to Reynosa, Mexico where they expected
to meet a coyote at the airport. “Getting off the airplane, there was already
an off feeling. I felt my heart sink and breath getting shorter. Not only
because of what I was about to do but because Reynosa is a very dangerous city
owned by cartels and drug lords,” Julio recalled.
The coyote did not show up and Julio and his friend rented a
motel room. Four days later, the coyote contacted them. He told the young men
to go to the neighboring village where he would pick them up. Julio and his
friend were taken to a house with about thirty
others who hoped to cross. Four or five days later, unaware of how they were
going to cross, Julio, his friend and ten others hopped into a van. Three hours
later, they were at the Rio Grande, the river between Mexico and the United States.
When it comes to crossing, immigrants
describe it two ways: wet and dry. Wet is when one crosses through
the river and dry is when one crosses through the desert.
“At this point, I am regretting everything. The only thing I
can think of is of what I am leaving behind, which is my family,” Julio said.
At the river, Julio and another twenty people were herded on to a boat. He
said, “It’s pitch black and around 10 p.m. I can see the moon’s reflection perfectly on the river as we start. It’s like a
twenty or thirty minute cross when finally we reach the American side.”
Once they got out of the boat, trouble started. “Not two
minutes have passed when suddenly, two, three, four immigration vans from all
over start popping up with their sirens. Everybody started running for their
life. I ran into a bush but tripped over and the helicopter light spotted me,
making the ground guards catch me. Somehow, I managed to escape, ran for two
minutes, but tripped over again and got caught again,” he explained in sorrow.
In the span of seven to eight days, Julio was in three
different jail facilities until finally U.S. law enforcement officers set him
free in Mexicali, Mexico. There he managed to get in contact with a coyote who
told him he had no other choice but to try to cross again, if not he would lose
the money he paid. Scared and worried, Julio returned to the refugee house
where he had stayed before.
Three days later, he and ten other people returned to the Rio
Grande. When they arrived on the American side, they walked until they reached
a wall. Julio said he felt excited, “At
this point, I had made it much farther than the first time. In my head I said,
I am finally going to make it. As we start crossing that damn wall, the
migration vans are hiding on the left and right side on the other side of the
wall ready to catch you. Sirens go on and I run back to the river but the boat
He felt frightened but determined not to get caught again. He
managed to hide under a bush. A couple of hours later, he heard two other men
from his group talking nearby. Once all three united, one of them called the coyote
and asked him to send someone to take them back to Mexico. The coyote did not
want to risk sending a boat. So he sent a floating tire instead. Julio and the
two men grabbed on and swam back across the river to Mexico.
They swam for an hour and when they reached Reynosa, the coyote’s men took them back to
the house where they started. Julio was ready to give up, go home and stay in
Mexico. The coyote, again, told him he had no choice but to cross or lose all
the money he had paid. Julio decided to try it again rather than lose $8,000.
Julio made his third try to get to the United States at 10
p.m. the next night. He and 15 others huddled on the boat crossing the Rio
Grande. When they reached American soil, they did not walk towards the wall.
They headed in a different direction. Julio remembered, “It was a two-hour
walk, and no signs of migration vans. I felt a sense of relief to know I had
made this far this third time.”
They eventually found a fence and had to crawl under the
electrified wire to get into McAllen, Texas. “From there on it was all farms
and more farms, and just walking for hours until getting to Houston, Texas,” he
said. It took two days to get to Houston, and then he got into a van that brought him to New York City
Seven years later, Julio
reflected calmly and said, “The experience of crossing, of living on the
edge, of starving and failing shapes you differently. You grow into a different
person. Not even to mention once you get here, the starting over. Literally
starting over, no clothes, no shoes, no knowledge of where you are or whom you
are with. Learning a new language, looking for a job and starting in lowest of
the lowest position. It’s not easy, but it makes you a much, much stronger
person,” he said.
carries around a Mexican peso he brought with him when he left Mexico. It is
the only souvenir from that time. He says it reminds him of the struggle he had
to go through and even though he suffered, it made him the man he is today.
Julio is just one of the thousands who have crossed the border.
According to Pew Research center, as of 2016 there were 12.0
million immigrants from Mexico living in the United States. Roughly, 45 percent of them are
Genesis M., Julio’s coworker, and close friend, says, “Julio
is one of the realest persons I know. I also know he went through a lot to get
here, so to hear news stories about Mexicans being criminals and rapists, it
boils my blood because not everybody is like that. People sometimes can be so
I remember being eight years old in Pakistan seated on a peeling leather sofa under a slow ceiling fan, rubbing the wooden stock of a Kalashnikov. The weapon was a 7.62 x 39mm fixed stock assault rifle invented by the Soviet Union that eventually became the preferred weapon of the poorly-funded jihadist. The owner of the shiny weapon I took interest in, though, was my uncle, member of the Peshawar police force. My cousins and I would make Dua, chew paan together and listen to him recount seemingly fantastical stories rife with violence and acts of terror. We’d then go outside to the field behind his modest home and act these scenes out with toy guns.
Pakistan is home to a gun-friendly society. The number of firearms owned by civilians here is estimated to be at least 18,000,000, which works out to a rate of 11.6 guns per 100 people. This was clear to me from the beginning. Every friend’s house I visited had a gun that belonged to the family inside. Every Eid, bullets were sprayed in the air as celebration, and the same spectacle took place at every wedding. Guns have always been an intrinsic facet of the culture and deeply rooted in tradition, especially in the northwest in villages and small provinces far away from urban centers such as Islamabad and Lahore. Guns provide food, protection from the Mujahadeen, and a potential heirloom for sons and their own sons. But the misuse is apparent; With such easy access to weapons, criminals and militants have liberally stockpiled them to sell or to put to use.
The effect of the many guns is obvious: Pakistan is currently the number one country where the most violent crimes that result in murder occur. This is even more startling once you take into account that reporting and documenting homicide is much less common there compared to the Western world.
Fortunately, there has been a push towards reformation and restriction of gun ownership in the country. Pakistan’s National Report (2016) under the UN Program of Action (PoA) on Small and Light Weapons (SLAW) shows that Pakistan of late has been a vocal proponent of arms control at the national level, sub-regional and regional as well as the global level. An elaborate legal, administrative and regulatory regime now exists in Pakistan to check the flow of weapons. A very strict criterion for issuance of arms licenses has been established by the 2012 Arms Control Policy. The authority for approval for possessing automatic weapons exists solely with the Prime Minister. Although there are still challenges to overcome and problems to solve, the country is in much better shape than it was a decade ago.
My friends from around the country have varying opinions on firearms and their views seem to reflect the national debate about gun reform. Katie Wolfe from Montana said, “I shot my first gun in the backyard when I was probably six. I got my hunter’s license when I was 14 and received a rifle as a gift when I was 16 and a shotgun as a gift when I was 17.”
There have been 288 school shootings in the United States since 2009. That is 57 times as many as other nations such as Canada (2), France (2), and Japan (0). Aside from school shootings, a gunman murdered nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Then in 2016, 49 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and in 2017, 58 people were killed and more than 850 were injured at a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Christopher Delgiorno, who lives in Las Vegas, said he shot his first gun when he was either eight or nine years old. He said “It’s not like everybody is strapped up but you see a lot of people open carrying in the gym, the park, etc.” But he thinks gun laws need to be made stricter to prevent school shootings and he said, “Everyone needs to be involved in prevention throughout the whole process. Instead of just arming teachers or increasing security, we need more mental and social health programs in schools and communities.”
Katie Wolf had a different opinion. She said “I don’t think the gun laws should be made any stricter. I think we could require a class to be taken to teach how to safely use a gun and encourage adults to keep them locked up where kids cannot get to them.”
In order to change some of the gun laws around the country, Americans will have to come to some sort of agreement. As of 2015, eighty-two percent of weapons used during mass shootings were purchased legally. The problem is not handguns or hunting rifles, but in most states people can purchase an AR-15 at the age of 18. This military style weapon can shoot over 100 rounds per minute. Yet because guns play a big role in the lives of millions across the country, it will be difficult to get everyone on the same page. Jacob Benavides of Texas said, “The gun culture runs so deep that people don’t even think about whether they like them or not; guns just exist, and they always will.”