1. Chapter 13
News Gathering and Reporting
This chapter will prepare students to:
• Understand the most important theories of the press
• Describe the qualities that characterize news
• Identify the three main types of news stories
• Understand how the digital revolution has affected news gathering, reporting, and
the news business
• Discuss the similarities of broadcast, print, and online journalism
• Describe the changes in the news audience over the past several years
Chapter main points:
1. The qualities that characterize news are timeliness, proximity, prominence,
consequence, and human interest. Economics is also important.
2. News media are searching for new business models.
3. There are three main types of news stories: hard, soft, and investigative.
4. The digital revolution has increased the number of available news sources,
encouraged the growth of blogs, contributed to the rise of citizen journalism and
hyperlocal news, and supplied new tools to reporters.
5. The Associated Press is a wire service that provides stories to print and
6. Print, broadcast, and online journalism have their unique strengths and
7. All forms of news media strive for credibility.
8. Online news enables audience members to select from more news sources and
customize their news.
9. The audience for news has been declining across all media.
The state of the American news media improved in 2010, after two years of cutbacks and failing
revenue. Some experiments with new revenue models show signs of blossoming. As news
consumption becomes more mobile, news companies must follow the rules of the device makers
2. (e.g., Apple) and software developers (e.g., Google) to deliver their content. Although the model
and method of delivery may change, Americans still want the news and they now have more
control than ever over what information they consume and how and where they consume it.
This chapter will look at how the digital revolution has transformed the basic principles of
journalism, the technology of news gathering, and how stories are reported.
THEORIES OF THE PRESS
Fundamental issues concern the relationship between the government and those who report the
news. Various theories of the press have developed to articulate and explain this relationship as
political, economic, and social conditions have changed. All theories fall somewhere between
two fundamental principles: the authoritarian theory and the libertarian theory.
The prevailing belief of the authoritarian theory, which arose in 16th-century England, was that
the ruling elite should guide the masses, whose intellectual ability was seen as inadequate. Public
dissent and criticism were considered harmful to both the government and the people, and was
not tolerated. This practice was implemented with licensing, censorship, granting of exclusive
printing rights, and harsh punishment of government critics. Iran and Syria are two countries that
still endorse the authoritarian theory.
The libertarian theory is directly opposed to authoritarianism. Libertarians assume that human
beings are rational and capable of making their own decisions and governments exist to serve
the individual. They believe that citizens have a right to hear all sides of an issue and that the
government can best serve the people by not interfering with the media. This theory fit well with
the rugged individualism of early America.
Two more modern approaches emerged in the mid 20th century. The social responsibility
theory incorporates both approaches. This approach holds that the press has a right to criticize
government and other institutions, but also has a responsibility to preserve democracy by
properly informing the public and by responding to society’s needs and interests, The press does
not have the freedom to do as it pleases; it is obligated to respond to society’s requirements. The
United States, Britain, Japan and many other countries are examples of countries that subscribe
to this theory.
The fourth theory, the communist theory is a variant on the authoritarian scheme. It holds that
the media are “owned” by the people as represented by the state. Their purpose is to achieve the
goals of the state as expressed through the Communist Party. China, Cuba and North Korea are
about the only places where this theory is in practice, and the official version often bears little
resemblance to the actual practices.
DECIDING WHAT IS NEWS
3. News values help journalists decide what stories merit coverage and to what degree. News
values have been formed by tradition, technology, organizational policy, and economics. The
common elements that characterize newsworthy stories are:
1. Timeliness News must be fresh, immediate, and current. The digital revolution has
put a premium on timeliness.
2. Proximity The closer a news event is to your home, the more important you perceive
it to be. In addition to geographical proximity, a news story might have
psychological proximity, which occurs when you identify with the story
topic (health, college, jobs) regardless of the story’s geographical origin.
Social media sites give a new dimension to psychological proximity as
people can define individuals with whom they feel a psychological
3. Prominence The more important a person is, the more valuable he or she is as a news
source. Even infamous criminals have news value, hence the frequent
media coverage of their past lives and recent exploits.
4. Consequence Events that affect a great many people have built-in news value. The
Internet has given audience members more influence in determining the
consequence of certain news items, as the news media can monitor the
“clickstream” to monitor readers’ view of what is important.
5. Human Interest Stories arousing some emotion in the audience have news value. They
may be uplifting, bizarre, ironic, or dramatic.
Economics, in addition to the five traditional news values, also plays an important role in
determining whether a story is reported. For example, an investigative story might turn up empty
but still be run to justify the cost of doing it; in the same manner, a city editor might assign
reporters to quick and easy stories rather than to stories that may take much longer to cover.
Likewise, the expensive investment in news gathering technology (helicopters, studio vans, and
satellite feeds) also plays a deciding factor in whether a story gets aired. A story that can be
covered live is more likely to be covered; a fire that can be seen from the station's helicopter can
suddenly become newsworthy.
THE NEWS BUSINESS
Historically, advertising pays for most of the cost of gathering and distributing news, even
though there is no necessary connection between advertisers and news. This business model
worked as long as the news media drew the audiences that advertisers wanted to reach.
“Decoupling” of advertising from the news occurred when the Internet became popular and
advertisers discovered that they had other, more efficient ways to reach an audience; revenue
started to flow away from the traditional news media to the Web.
4. News media are looking for new business models, such as exploring a non-profit ownership
model and investigating micropayments for access to some of their content.
NEWS REPORTING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
The digital revolution has prompted significant changes in news reporting: more sources of
news, blogs, citizen journalism, hyperlocal news, converged journalists and new reporting tools.
More Sources of News
The Internet has increased the available number of news sources. Audiences can go to general
news sites covering broad topic areas (CNN.com, usatoday.com); news aggregators offering
a digest of news from other sources (Google News, Huffington Post); specialized news sites
offering content with a tight focus (ESPN); or blogs.
Several characteristics of blogs are important.
• Blogs represent another source of news, free from traditional economic, corporate,
political, or advertising considerations. There are blogs devoted to all sorts of topics, and
blogs offer alternative points of view to traditional media.
• Blogs can have an agenda-setting effect, and can help keep events in the news cycle.
• Blogs can provide a check on traditional media and hold traditional media to higher
levels of scrutiny.
• Blogs provide an additional outlet for reporters to explain why they reported a story in
the way they did.
• Blogs have made it possible for everyone to become a reporter, and paved the way for
In citizen journalism, ordinary citizens become amateur reporters. This trend was facilitated by
digital and cell phone video cameras and high speed Internet access. Traditional news media
encourage citizen journalism, and many media outlets ask audience members to submit photos
and video clips. Citizen journalism is popular with the mainstream news media in part because
it’s free content, but it also empowers the audience. News organizations no longer have a
monopoly on what is reported and how.
5. Hyperlocal news refers to news coverage for a very small community. It can be a single Zip
Code or interest group in a defined geographic area. Most hyperlocal news appears on Web
sites. Publishers of hyperlocal news hope that the extremely local focus and the coverage of
topics ignored by the traditional media will draw in people who generally do not consume news.
MySpace and Facebook have examples of hyperlocal news, and visitors can find news of interest
to them and their close circle of friends.
Making money from hyperlocal news is a challenge. Most web sites sell inexpensive ads to local
merchants or entrepreneurs who can’t afford traditional media ads.
The Converged Journalist
The converged reporter has the skills of a print, photo, and video journalist. They can write,
shoot and post photos online, and do video reports. The term backpack journalist describes the
next generation of digital reporters. These are "do it all" journalists who carry a digital camera,
laptop computer, and satellite phone. They produce stories for print, television, and online
media. Reporters who work out of their cars and cover local community news are called mobile
journalists, or mojos.
From the journalist’s perspective, the Internet allows reporters easier access to documents,
databases, government records, and expert sources. However, journalists must learn the
appropriate skills to take advantage of all the Internet has to offer. These skills are generally
referred to as computer-assisted reporting.
CATEGORIES OF NEWS AND REPORTING
News can be broken down into three broad categories: (1) hard news, (2) features or soft news,
and (3) investigative reports.
Hard news is the realm of traditional fact-oriented journalism; it embodies the famous
journalistic question set of who, what, where, when, why, and how. Hard news generally
embraces all but the human interest values, with emphasis on the values of timeliness and
consequence. Hard news stories make up the bulk of news reporting, and tend to be the lead
stories in broadcast news or appear in Section 1 of a newspaper.
Print Media usually deliver news in the traditional inverted pyramid format, wherein the facts
of a story are reported in a descending order of importance. The first sentence of a hard news
story is the lead, a sentence that summarizes the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the
story. This format has been criticized as predictable and old-fashioned, but has survived and will
probably serve as the model for online reporting.
6. Broadcast/Cable Media follow a square format in which the level of important facts remains
the same throughout the story and often ends in a summary statement of the story’s relevance
to the viewer. TV news uses both hard leads (factual, no nonsense approach) and soft leads
(feature-like approach designed to grab the viewer’s interest). In addition to being written
largely to complement the story’s video tape, broadcast news is written in a simpler, more
conversational style than print news.
Online Media don’t follow a single writing style. Some sites simply post a slightly edited
version of the printed story. Others might post headlines with a few main points, offering a link
to the full story. Generally the newspaper inverted pyramid format is followed, and photos,
videos and links to related sites are integrated into the text. Broadcast stations generally have
shorter stories, written in broadcast style, with related video clips.
Soft news, or features, covers a wide range of topics. Soft news usually relies heavily on the
human interest news value, stories that appeal to people’s curiosity, sympathy, skepticism,
or amazement. Soft news stories are entertaining. They can be about places, people, animals,
mysteries, oddities, or products. Many TV and print vehicles are based primarily on soft content,
such as Entertainment Tonight, or the “Life” section of USA Today. Prime time newsmagazines
such as 60 Minutes contain substantial amounts of soft news, as do the early morning network
Many techniques are used in reporting features. Print media features rarely follow the inverted
pyramid style. Features are more common on TV than in radio.
Investigative stories unearth significant information about matters of public importance through
the use of non-routine information-gathering methods. Corruption, political scandals, business
cover-ups, drug trafficking, and institutional inefficiencies are typical targets. The investigative
piece requires considerable time and money, so it is usually longer than the typical news item.
Such stories may run as an extended series over a period of several days; broadcast media might
air the story as a 10-15 minute documentary segment on a newsmagazine program.
Bloggers have also entered the realm of investigative journalism.
THE NEWS FLOW
A characteristic of traditional mass communication is the presence of many gatekeepers. These
gatekeepers are evident in print and broadcast news. However, online reporting may have only
one or just a few gatekeepers.
7. Print Media
There are two main sources of print news: staff reports and wire services. There are other
contributing sources (syndicates, columnists, public relation handouts, and government reports),
but they are generally less important.
The city editor heads a paper’s reporting staff, assigning stories to reporters. There are two
types of reporters: the beat reporter who specializes in covering a topic such as fire and police
departments, government, schools, or business; and the general assignment reporter, who covers
whatever assignments come up. The reporters' stories are sent to the city editor who approves
them and sends them to the copy desk for further editing. The managing editor and assistant
managing editor are responsible for the overall daily preparation of the paper.
Broadcast news sources are similar to newspaper sources. Special wire services cater to
broadcast media, and local reporters are assigned to cover nearby events. Many broadcast
stations also subscribe to syndicated news services and if affiliated with a network have access to
network news feeds.
In terms of organization, the news director is responsible for the news program itself, while the
executive producer oversees other producers in charge of various news programs (morning,
evening, and late night). Typical responsibilities for a news program producer include:
Working with the producer is the assignment editor who assigns stories and monitors reporters
and the TV production crews. Equally important people to the program include the news
reporters and anchors (the “glamour” jobs), camera crews, sound editors, writers, artists, and tape
editors. Most broadcast reporters are general assignment reporters, though large market stations
might have a few beat reporters.
The news flow and production process is essentially similar to that of the traditional media.
Top executives decide on the site's structure and specialty elements (sports, weather, financial,
entertainment). Editors determine the content, and staff members take care of the technical work.
If the site is affiliated with a broadcast or cable network, some of the network material may
be included but it may be edited differently. Some online news sites employ reporters who do
original reporting for the Web site.
AP stands for the Associated Press, a wire service that provides much of the news about what is
going on outside of one’s local community.
8. In short, a wire service works like this: a correspondent covers a story and sends it along to the
local bureau chief; if the story is deemed newsworthy enough, the bureau chief forwards it to
the state bureau. The evaluation process is repeated again for the next higher levels, regional,
national, and global. The purpose of a wire service is to provide newspapers with correspondents
and coverage that the papers couldn’t otherwise afford. Newspapers pay for wire service news on
a sliding scale: the bigger the paper’s circulation, the more they pay.
The AP has about 240 bureaus around the world, and in 2010 served about 16,000 customers
worldwide, including about 1,700 newspapers, 5,000 radio and TV stations, and more than 500
international broadcasters. It has shifted its focus in recent years to supplying more content to
cable TV and the Web. In fact, broadcasters and digital media have replaced newspapers as the
primary source of the AP’s income.
The AP has competition, most notably wire services from the New York Times, the Los Angeles
Times, and the Washington Post. Some newspaper groups and a few international wire services
(Britain’s Reuters and France’s Agence-France-Presse) provide additional competition.
MEDIA DIFFERENCES AND SIMILARITIES
IN NEWS COVERAGE
Print or broadcast journalism: which is better? Proponents of print journalism said that broadcast
news was shallow, while print could handle in-depth and lengthy reports. Advocates of broadcast
journalism said that print media lacked the visual dimension and was old-fashioned and dull.
The debate has subsided now that both emphasize their Web versions, which look similar: they
both have headlines, story summaries, links to full stories, photos and video.
Similarities Among the News Media
Despite their differences, editors and reporters in each medium share the same basic values and
• honesty: stories should be as truthful as possible
• accuracy: fact checking must be done for every story
• balance: journalists must make sure they tell all sides of a story
• objectivity: news reporting should be untainted by bias and without personal comment
• maintaining credibility: the news reporting should be from believable, reliable, trusted
Credibility, above all other factors, is paramount in earning and keeping the public's trust. One of
the problems with online citizen journalism is that a media consumer can never be sure if citizen
9. journalists subscribe to the same values as professional reporters in terms of checking facts,
cross-validating sources, providing an objective stance and following codes of the profession’s
READERSHIP AND VIEWERSHIP
The audience for network news, local news, newspapers, and news magazines has been shrinking
– and getting older – for about 30 years. On average, so has the audience for cable news.
The average age of the typical TV newscast viewer is around 60. With the exception of the
Internet, there has been a noticeable decline in exposure to all sources of news. Some news
consumers have dropped out entirely, while others go online to traditional or nontraditional sites.
The smaller the audience, the smaller the revenue from advertising, which is reflected in cut
personnel and closed news bureaus. At the same time, the audience has become less likely to
trust the media.
NEWS GATHERING AND REPORTING
Job prospects for aspiring journalists are fairly bleak. as many news organizations are cutting
back staff and reducing hiring. However, specialized news sources, such as Bloomberg News,
and online journalism may be a growth area.
-- End of Chapter 13 --