What is Journalism

What is Journalism

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  1. What is Journalism?

    A journalist is one who gathers information and writes a relevant, readable article for public consumption.  The profession of journalism may include the broadcast, photo and magazine categories, just to mention a few. In a nutshell, this occupation is responsible for writing news or feature stories that are timely, informative and factual.

    For anyone with a penchant for knowledge, this profession may prove very rewarding! While it’s important to note that the print medium of newspapers appears to be dwindling and drifting away from hard copy paper to a Web format, this trend has opened literally hundreds of opportunities for the information-seeking adventurer.

    People still need their news whether it’s the latest political election, disaster clean-up, or entertainment scandal. If anything, the advent of immediate Internet connectivity, cell phones and apps, laptop computers and thousands of Websites has helped boost the need for trendy and useful stories like never before.

    News is News

    For anyone interested in writing news articles, it’s important to know how to follow a story from start to finish. Sometimes, if the subject matter seems dry, this action can become quite a chore. It’s helpful to try and find something that is of interest to you and expand. For example, when covering a municipal budget meeting (if numbers are not your thing), try and jot down some of the line items within each department that will be utilized once the new fiscal year begins. For example, what equipment does the Public Works Department need and how will it benefit the public?

    A notebook of ideas from one public meeting or interview can grow legs and generate dozens of future articles. Even a unique feature story can come out of an otherwise not-so-appealing budget meeting. Think of how the city bids on used work trucks at auction. Try writing a story on how the city’s new grass mower will improve the public ball fields.  A journalist can get a lot of mileage from one story and easily skate through those slow news days.

    The Investigative Attitude

    One does not necessarily have to be intimidating or aggressive for this job. In fact, a soft-spoken person with a sensitive soul can be just as effective, if not more so, than a hard-nosed curmudgeon. Carry the mindset that your job is to obtain information and write a news story.  Prepare your bag of questions before an interview and stay in control.  A novice interviewer can easily get pushed under the bus. That’s okay because experience is the best teacher. Be patient.  Eventually you will strengthen your skills and be able to discern when a subject is holding back or being less than truthful. In many cases, sources are willing to talk and share their side of the story.


    Two sides and Hold the Ego

    Every story has two sides and sometimes three or four depending on the issue. Stay unbiased, or neutral, and never insert yourself into the article. It’s good to care about your story because then your writing will carry some meaning to the reader as well.  It can be difficult, at times, not to take on the role of champion. After all, your words carry weight and the reader trusts you to deliver the truth, whether it’s the contaminated water plume near the daycare center or the neglected herd of skin-and-bone horses left to die after a home foreclosure.  

    Many times, it may feel like your sources rely on you to help ensure that their agendas see a happy ending.  Keep a level head and remember that you are serving the public at large!

    Speaking of immersing yourself into a story, be sure and get those quotes. Talk to people. Touch and feel your story. Once you are in front of the computer, throw down those raw words – especially if you are angry, sad, or caught up in the situation. Once the rough content is down on paper or the screen, take the time to structure the story and remove any editorializing on your part.

    Tools of the Trade

    Journalists should have on hand some essential items as reference material. These tools can be helpful:

    • Professional Journalists Code of Ethics
    • AP Stylebook
    • Dictionary/Thesaurus
    • Pen and Notebook
    • Tape/Digital Voice recorder (optional)
    • FOIA – Freedom of Information Act
    • First Amendment
    • Handbook on writing and grammar (your preference)

    It’s not possible to include everything on the craft of journalism in one sitting. In the next series of articles, you will understand how to navigate the very rewarding and sometimes difficult paths in the world of journalism.  You will learn how to handle and control a tough interview, use the inverted pyramid and the 5 Ws, know the difference between libel and slander, polish the lead (pronounced LEED) sentence, meet deadlines, avoid the passive voice, write for cable access news television, cover a political debate, write for the Web, and much more!

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