Practical Newspaper Reporting
Now in its Fourth Edition, this classic textbook has grown up alongside the newspaper industry. Today, as ever, it provides students of newspaper journalism with a toolkit for gathering news and filling ever-increasing space with first-rate copy for print and online. Informed by over half a century’s professional experience and fully revised to give a nuanced account of the skills required in an online environment, this book is an essential companion for your journalism degree and beyond.
- Front Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: News and how to Find it
- News is what Someone Decides to Publish as News
- News is not Necessarily New
- News Must Interest Readers, Fit the Paper's News Framework
- How do Gatekeepers Decide what to Publish?
- Good News and Bad News
- Hard News and Soft News
- Finding News: News Services
- Other News on the Internet
- Calls and Contacts
- The Diary
- News from Public Relations
- News from the Mail
- Your Own Newspaper or Service
- Other Publications
- The News Behind the News
- Follow up what you see and Hear
- Chapter 2: Pursuing News: What do I Need to Know?
- Find the Real Story: It may not be how it Looks
- Have a Questioning Mind
- Ways of Finding Out
- The Freedom of Information Act
- FOI in the Provincial and Suburban Press
- Be Alert
- Don't Overlook the History
- Covering Controversies: Finding the Key Fact
- What Makes a Usable Picture?
- Types of Picture
- Maps and Sketches
- A Note on Captions
- Chapter 3: Interviewing
- Becoming a Friend to the Eminent
- If you haven't Much Time
- ‘How do you Feel?’
- Prepare Well
- Conducting an Interview
- How did it all Come About?
- Listen – don't Interrupt
- What if your Informant is Unhelpful?
- Nine Rs from the Chicago Police
- ‘Don't say I said it’
- If they ask to see what you Write
- Chapter 4: Newswriting: What am I Trying to Say?
- Learn from Other Writers
- Everything Flows from the Opening
- Start with Facts Rather than Comment
- Keeping the Intro Short
- Different ways to Start
- Form a Thread of Ideas
- The Glider who Crashed
- Be Accurate and Fair
- Use Crisp Quotes
- Achieving Pace
- Questions about Numbers
- General Knowledge
- Ending Well
- Re-Read what you Wrote
- Check the Illustration
- Writing Corrections
- Chapter 5: Newswriting: Choosing the Words
- Be Clear at First Reading and Engage the Readers
- Redundant Adjectives
- Use Words Right
- Keep Jargon at Bay
- Journalese: Downturn Hits Tax Loophole
- Elegant Variation
- His and Their
- Credit Crunch Price Cut War
- How Unique is Unique?
- Chapter 6: Newswriting: Getting the Words in Order
- Related Words Should be Close Together
- Ordering the Clauses
- Was, is and Will be
- Write Succinctly
- Simpler, Less Clichéd Writing: Some Suggestions
- Avoid Muddled Thinking
- Both of them Hit each Other
- Long Sentences
- Split Infinitives
- Only and Mainly
- Relative Clauses
- Chapter 7: Newswriting for the Internet
- Readers must want to Read what you Write
- Getting Online: HTML
- Stories on a News Site
- Headlines and Standfirsts
- BBC News Online
- How the Internet is Changing Reporting
- Interactions and Links
- Bringing in the Cash
- Video Reporting
- The Daily Telegraph Newsroom
- The Law Online
- Chapter 8: Sportswriting
- TV has Amplified the Hunger for Sports News
- A Week in the Life
- Covering a Match
- Match Reports
- Don't Forget the Crowd
- Different Approaches
- ‘We only Just got Away with it’
- An Evening at the Cricket
- Where Match Reports go Wrong
- Sportswriting Through the Week
- Looking it up
- Chapter 9: Reporting the Courts
- Shining a Light on Life
- Fairness and Accuracy are Essential
- Before a Crime Becomes a Court Case
- Magistrates Courts
- Requests and Restrictions
- Beyond the Hearing
- Youth Courts
- Crown Court
- Telling the Story
- A Trial at Snaresbrook
- Make the Most of what you have Heard
- Features after the Trial
- County Courts
- Family Courts
- Tribunals and Inquiries
- Sharia Courts
- The Police
- Chapter 10: Government and the Media
- Political Parties
- Single Issues
- Local Councils
- Protecting Children
- Stories in the Minutes
- The Cabinet Meets
- The Council Meeting
- An Area Committee
- Council Officers
- Council Finance
- Capital Spending
- Primary Care Trusts
- A Hospital Trust
- Local Involvement Networks (Links)
- Writing about Local Government
- Translate the Officialese
- Stormont, Holyrood, Cardiff and Westminster
- Parliamentary Questions
- Speaking to MPs and Ministers
- Is it all Too Cosy?
- Chapter 11: Reporting Business
- A World of Stories
- Different types of Business
- Understanding Accounts
- Tesco 2008/9
- The Ruby in the Footnote
- How a £114 Million Surplus can also be a £2730 Million Loss
- Why Businesses go Bust
- Terms you may Need to Understand
- Other Business Organizations
- Trade Unions
- Chapter 12: Investigative Reporting
- Time and Haditha
- Where's that Public Money Gone?
- Investigations in the Provinces
- Doing it Right
- Fairness and the Reynolds Defence
- Most Stories to Investigate Come from People
- A Guide for Investigative Reporters
- How Time Wrote the Haditha Story
- When Newspapers have Lost
- Investigative Reporters who have been Murdered
- Chapter 13: Features: Illuminating the World
- Choose your Subject Carefully
- Don't Sit on the Fence
- Ways to Begin
- Feature Construction
- Mummy's Boy to Business Man: A Feature Analysed
- Diaries and Gossip
- Comment: The Daimler of Destiny
- The News and Feature Angle
- Chapter 14: Religion and Diversity
- Conflict Makes God News
- Don't Call the Vicar the Rev. Smith
- The Roman Catholic Church
- The Church of England
- The Church of Scotland and the Free Churches
- Reporting a Diverse Society
- The Media's Three Blind Spots
- Terrorism and Journalism
- Chapter 15: Ethics: What you Write could Get Someone Killed
- How Reporting can Affect People's Lives
- A Lack of Trust?
- Impartiality and Independence
- Be Accurate and Fair Despite Everything
- Protecting Sources
- Free-for-all on the Internet
- The PCC and the Code of Practice
- How the PCC Interprets the Editors’ Code
- The NUJ's Code of Conduct
© David Spark and Geoffrey Harris 2011
First published 2011
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Abbreviations used is this Book[Page xi]
BJR British Journalism Review BT Belfast Telegraph Digging Deeper Digging Deeper, A Canadian Reporter's Research Guide, Robert Cribb, Dean Jobb, David McKie and Fred Vallance-Jones, Oxford, 2006. FT Financial Times McNae McNae's Essential Law for Journalists, Tom Welsh, Walter Greenwood and David Banks, Oxford, 2007. Daily Mail MEN Manchester Evening News NE The Northern Echo PCC Press Complaints Commission YP Yorkshire Post
Practical Newspaper Reporting, first published in 1966, was the second book commissioned by the National Council for the Training of Journalists. The first was a collection of essays and reminiscences by prominent writers. This completely rewritten fourth edition has a new chapter on how the internet is changing journalism, and extended chapters on investigative reporting and on religion and diversity. It looks in greater detail at controversies over ethics. It reviews the ferment of ideas that the internet's impact has inspired.
It has a new publisher, Sage Publications. I am very grateful to Mila Steele of Sage for taking it on after the original publishers, Heinemann/Focal Press, withdrew from publishing books about newspapers. I am very grateful also to my wife, Audrey, who has put up not just with 18 months’ writing but an eight-month rewrite reflecting the growing importance of the internet.
I would also like to express gratitude for the kind comments on the book jacket from Sir Harold Evans and Sir Simon Jenkins, and for the encouragement I received from my fellow author, Geoffrey Harris; from the book's previous editor, Freddie Hodgson, and from Barry Lowe of Thames Valley University and David Kelly, former managing director of North of England Newspapers.
Sadly, Geoff, well known for his training of journalists for Mirror Group and United Newspapers, died in September 2009, before this came out.
I am very grateful to those who have helped, especially Karl Schneider, editorial development director at Reed business magazines, who gave me a new insight into reporting on the web. Other helpers I would like to thank include Peter Barron (editor), Lauren Pyrah and other members of the staff of The Northern Echo; Syed Belal Ahmed, Mohammed Azam, Guy Black (the Daily Telegraph), Karen Burke (Methodist media office), Charlie Campbell (Wanstead Guardian), Dayo Duyile (Nigeria), Matthew Engel (Financial Times), Dave Evans (Ilford Recorder), Eddie Gibb (Redbridge Borough Council), Tom Ilube (Garlik Consultancy), Swarn Singh Kandola, Steve Kingham (the Sun), Mike Morrissey (my contemporary at The Northern Echo), Martin Mulligan (Financial Times), Rita Payne (former Asia editor at BBC World TV), N. Ravi (The Hindu, for his contribution to Chapter 15), Amitabh Soni, my son Ian Spark (for his advice on pictures), Phil Vinter (video editor, Birmingham Mail), Nick White (MTP plc, who wrote the comments on Tesco's accounts) and my Westminster Press contemporaries Hugh Lawrence (who wrote the section about reporting Westminster) and Milly Lewy.
George Viner of the National Union of Journalists criticized the original Practical Newspaper Reporting for not covering the national press. There are many quotations from the nationals this time. Young journalists are bound to look to the nationals as both models and future employers and so I have [Page xiii]discussed national as well as regional practice, warts and all. I have avoided attributing the warts to named writers.
In 1966, reporters still wrote on typewriters. Now they write on computers and are expected to take pictures, compose videos, write blogs. They may even compose TV programmes. Their words are distributed not just in print but online. ITN provides a service for iPhones.
In ‘The Future of Journalism’ (at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/Future_of_journalism.pdf), published by the BBC College of Journalism in 2009, Kevin Marsh, the college's editor, proclaims the death of the story, hitherto the heart of a writing journalist's work. He argues that the story tells a partial truth – what the journalist has seen and learned before an arbitrary deadline – about something classed as news. At its best, the story has reduced the asymmetry between people and power, by spannering the truth out of the powerful. But, in Marsh's view, national newspapers have undermined the credibility of the story by publishing slanted and untrue copy. The internet offers a far wider pool of information. If journalists are to gainsay Marsh, they must convince the public they are trustworthy.
For there is a job to do, a need for trustworthy helpers in the ocean of information. Les Hinton, chief executive of the Wall Street Journal's publishers, says the internet has unleashed an epidemic of amplified ignorance (BJR, September 2009). In the same British Journalism Review, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger stresses the continuing value of reliable professional journalists: We can reach an extremely large audience – in the Guardian's case some 30 million unique users around the world. At our best, we can report quickly, knowledgeably, accurately, readably, comprehensibly and trustworthily.
Members of the public have come forward as citizen journalists, sending in words and pictures electronically from every corner of the world and every scene of mayhem. Tina Brown of the web-based Daily Beast told Andrew Marr (BBC1, 7 06 09) that many Beast stories are researched and sent in by obsessives. The Beast lacks control over their obsessions and it can't call on them when they're doing their day job. To provide a comprehensive news or information service, you still need paid and dedicated staff. But who will pay them?
In the regional press, staff numbers have fallen steadily. During the profitable years before the credit crunch, many managements failed to strengthen their journalism see Local papers: an obituary, Matthew Engel, BJR, June 2009).
According to Claire Enders of Enders Analysis, advertising in the local and regional press was down a third in the first quarter of 2009 (FT, 18 06 09). She expected half the local and regional papers to be gone in five years. This is serious for democracy. American researchers have shown that fewer candidates ran for municipal office and fewer voters voted after the Cincinnati Post died in 2007 (FT, 23 05 09).
The audience and the advertisers are migrating from newspapers and television to the web, especially its social sites. Google earned more than ITV in 2008 (FT, 30 07 09). The Financial Times also reported (28 08 09): Volkswagen launched the latest version of its Golf GTI without using television or print advertising, relying almost entirely on free ‘buzz’ online.[Page xiv]
Many newspapers have been attracted by the web's offer of near-free distribution. But they have lost car advertisements to the Autotrader site, houses to Rightmove (‘We have a million homes for sale or rent’, says its TV advertisement). The BBC, warm and dry in the good ship Licence Fee, makes for the shore. Meanwhile, ITV and the press flounder in deep water, losing buoyancy from advertising and sales all the while.
Andrew Currah of Oxford University (What's Happening to Our News, Reuters Institute, 2009) found that newspaper managements launched websites not knowing how they would make enough money. He found it unlikely that the digital marketplace would ever provide a robust enough economic foundation for news services fulfilling the civic functions which newspapers now fulfil. He was hopeful that editors could nevertheless build online audiences for distinctive journalism, and not simply follow the whims of the mouse-clicking public. But such services would need subsidy or cross-subsidy, he believed.
The digital audience has proved, in the main, financially disappointing for the news media. The Guardian's international online success has come at a price. Guardian News and Media lost £90 million over a year (FT, 5 08 09).
According to McKinsey, quoted by Curragh, web readers spend under 3 per cent of their online time on news sites. Mostly, they go there via Google rather than directly. Or they may be attracted by a recommendation on Facebook. Having arrived, they stay only a few minutes. People spend eight times as long reading a newspaper. So there may be life and money in newspapers yet, despite the rising cost of producing them.
Les Hinton, of the Wall Street Journal, wrote in the September BJR: I don't know why paper gets such a bad rap. If it were invented today, it would be the wonder of the age. Light. Totally portable. Drop it and it doesn't break. No batteries. No reboots. And the Wall Street Journal is selling more printed copies.
Rupert Murdoch announced (FT, 6 08 09) that he was going to charge users of all News Corporation's websites. News sites with something special to offer already charge, from the Wall Street Journal (a million subscribers) to Malaysia's independent Malaysiakini (minimum fee £3.50 a month). But, for sites in competitive fields, charging is dodgier. They could lose clicks and, with them, advertising. The most popular British news site, the BBC's, will still be free. One way or another, journalists and the media, not just the BBC, must bring in enough money to pay their way. No one is yet sure how they will do it.
Derek Smail, chairman of African Media Investments, speaking at a Commonwealth Journalists Association meeting in London (27 01 10), pinned his hopes for a commercially successful relaunch of the banned Daily News, Zimbabwe, on a link with mobile phones. Dominic Young, director of strategy and product development at Rupert Murdoch's News International, expressed confidence that, ‘as long as journalists provide what people want, they will survive in the new age’.