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Journalistic writing is, as you might expect, the style of writing used by journalists. It is therefore a term for the broad style of writing used by news media outlets to put together stories.
Every news media outlet has its own ‘house’ style, which is usually set out in guidelines. This describes grammar and style points to be used in that publication or website. However, there are some common factors and characteristics to all journalistic writing.
This page describes the five different types of journalistic writing. It also provides some tips for writing in journalistic style to help you develop your skills in this area.
The Purpose of Journalistic Writing
Journalistic writing has a very clear purpose: to attract readers to a website, broadcaster or print media. This allows the owners to make money, usually by selling advertising space.
Newspapers traditionally did not make most of their money by selling newspapers. Instead, their main income was actually from advertising. If you look back at an early copy of the London Times , for example (from the early 1900s), the whole front page was actually advertisements, not news.
The news and stories are only a ‘hook’ to bring in readers and keep advertisers happy.
Journalists therefore want to attract readers to their stories—and then keep them.
They are therefore very good at identifying good stories, but also telling the story in a way that hooks and keeps readers interested.
Types of Journalistic Writing
There are five main types of journalistic writing:
Investigative journalism aims to discover the truth about a topic, person, group or event . It may require detailed and in-depth exploration through interviews, research and analysis. The purpose of investigative journalism is to answer questions.
News journalism reports facts, as they emerge . It aims to provide people with objective information about current events, in straightforward terms.
Feature writing provides a deeper look at events, people or topics , and offer a new perspective. Like investigative journalism, it may seek to uncover new information, but is less about answering questions, and more about simply providing more information.
Columns are the personal opinions of the writer . They are designed to entertain and persuade readers, and sometimes to be controversial and generate discussion.
Reviews describe a subject in a factual way, and then provide a personal opinion on it . They are often about books or television programmes when published in news media.
The importance of objectivity
It should be clear from the list of types of journalistic writing that journalists are not forbidden from expressing their opinions.
However, it is important that any journalist is absolutely clear when they are expressing their opinion, and when they are reporting on facts.
Readers are generally seeking objective writing and reporting when they are reading news or investigative journalism, or features. The place for opinions is columns or reviews.
The Journalistic Writing Process
Journalists tend to follow a clear process in writing any article. This allows them to put together a compelling story, with all the necessary elements.
This process is:
1. Gather all necessary information
The first step is to gather all the information that you need to write the story.
You want to know all the facts, from as many angles as possible. Journalists often spend time ‘on site’ as part of this process, interviewing people to find out what has happened, and how events have affected them.
Ideally, you want to use primary sources: people who were actually there, and witnessed the events. Secondary sources (those who were told by others what happened) are very much second-best in journalism.
2. Verify all your sources
It is crucial to establish the value of your information—that is, whether it is true or not.
A question of individual ‘truth’
It has become common in internet writing to talk about ‘your truth’, or ‘his truth’.
There is a place for this in journalism. It recognises that the same events may be experienced and interpreted in different ways by different people.
However, journalists also need to recognise that there are always some objective facts associated with any story. They must take time to separate these objective facts from opinions or perceptions and interpretations of events.
3. Establish your angle
You then need to establish your story ‘angle’ or focus: the aspect that makes it newsworthy.
This will vary with different types of journalism, and for different news outlets. It may also need some thought to establish why people should care about your story.
4. Write a strong opening paragraph
Your opening paragraph tells readers why they should bother to read on.
It needs to summarise the five Ws of the story: who, what, why, when, and where.
5. Consider the headline
Journalists are not necessarily expected to come up with their own headlines. However, it helps to consider how a piece might be headlined.
Being able to summarise the piece in a few words is a very good way to ensure that you are clear about your story and angle.
6. Use the ‘inverted pyramid’ structure
Journalists use a very clear structure for their stories. They start with the most important information (the opening paragraph, above), then expand on that with more detail. Finally, the last section of the article provides more information for anyone who is interested.
This means that you can therefore glean the main elements of any news story from the first paragraph—and decide if you want to read on.
Why the Inverted Pyramid?
The inverted pyramid structure actually stems from print journalism.
If typesetters could not fit the whole story into the space available, they would simply cut off the last few sentences until the article fitted.
Journalists therefore started to write in a way that ensured that the important information would not be removed during this process!
7. Edit your work carefully
The final step in the journalistic writing process is to edit your work yourself before submitting it.
Newsrooms and media outlets generally employ professional editors to check all copy before submitting it. However, journalists also have a responsibility to check their work over before submission to make sure it makes sense.
Read your work over to check that you have written in plain English , and that your meaning is as clear as possible. This will save the sub-editors and editors from having to waste time contacting you for clarifications.
Journalistic Writing Style
As well as a very clear process, journalists also share a common style.
This is NOT the same as the style guidelines used for certain publications (see box), but describes common features of all journalistic writing.
The features of journalistic writing include:
Short sentences . Short sentences are much easier to read and understand than longer ones. Journalists therefore tend to keep their sentences to a line of print or less.
Active voice . The active voice (‘he did x’, rather than ‘x was done by him’) is action-focused, and shorter. It therefore keeps readers’ interest, and makes stories more direct and personal.
Quotes. Most news stories and journalistic writing will include quotes from individuals. This makes the story much more people-focused—which is more likely to keep readers interested. This is why many press releases try to provide quotes (and there is more about this in our page How to Write a Press Release ).
Most news media have style guidelines. They may share these with other outlets (for example, by using the Associated Press guidelines), or they may have their own (such as the London Times style guide).
These guidelines explain the ‘house style’. This may include, for example, whether the outlet commonly uses an ‘Oxford comma’ or comma placed after the penultimate item in a list, and describe the use of capitals or italics for certain words or phrases.
It is important to be aware of these style guidelines if you are writing for a particular publication.
Journalistic writing is the style used by news outlets to tell factual stories. It uses some established conventions, many of which are driven by the constraints of printing. However, these also work well in internet writing as they grab and hold readers’ attention very effectively.
Continue to: Writing for the Internet Cliches to Avoid
See also: Creative Writing Technical Writing Coherence in Writing
Before you can be a good journalist, you must first be a good writer. This means you must know how to put words together so that they make sense, flow, and are correctly punctuated. Another important element of news writing is grammar and style. Grammar is the structure of the writing that takes into account the syntax and linguistics, while style is the writing's distinctive appearance and sound . Grammar is decided according to hard and fast rules, but style is more personal and puts your mark on the piece of work. Although very different, they are both essential to quality work and will be discussed together in this section. Please note that this section is meant to refresh your basic grammar skills, and is not comprehensive.
There are few things that will turn a reader away quicker than poor writing. Grammar is the most basic example of this: When words are misspelled, or there is a mismatch between nouns and the proper tense of verbs, or you have used punctuation incorrectly – you are going to lose your audience faster than if you wrote something that offended them on a personal level. Why? Because they'll never get to a point where they will read the content. Poor grammar marks you as an amateur, and you won't be long for the newsroom with that label! So let's conduct a crash course in grammar!
The basic parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.
A noun is a person, place or thing.
Examples of a person: doctor, lawyer, man, woman
Examples of a place: hospital, playground, living room, outer space
Examples of a thing: toy, hammer, automobile, microscope
A noun can be singular or "one."
A noun can be plural or "more than one."
Examples of a singular noun: girl, house, pen, motor
Examples of plural nouns: girls, houses, pens, motors
A noun can be proper . That means it names something specific. They begin with capital letters.
Examples of a proper noun: Tom Jones, Mississippi, Washington Monument, Big Mac
Collective nouns are a group.
Examples of a collective noun: government, team.
If the group acts as a single entity you use a single verb. The government is in charge.
If group members act individually you use a plural verb. The team members said they will lose.
Examples of subject pronouns that come before the verb: I, you, he, she, we, they, it
I am going to work. You are going to work. He is going to work. She is going to work. We are going to work. They are going to work. It is going to work.
Examples of object pronouns that come after the verb: me, you, them, us,
Mary followed me to school. Mary followed you to school. Mary followed them to school. Mary followed us to school. Mary followed it to school.
*Know when to use its and it's.
its shows possession.
Example : That is its home.
it's is short for the words it is
Example : It's going to be a great day!
Example of an action verb: ran, jump, think, cry, yell
I ran up the hill. You jump on the chair. They think about their mother.
Example of a state of being verb: is, are, was, were
Examples of an adjective: big, small, fast, slow, yellow,
That is a big balloon. That is a small balloon. That is a fast balloon. That is a slow balloon. That is a yellow balloon.
Examples of an adverb: hardly, barely, sadly, simply
Begin each sentence with a capital letter. T rains are an interesting way to travel.
Use a period at the end of a statement. Trains are an interesting way to travel .
Use a question mark at the end of a question. Are trains an interesting way to travel ?
Use an exclamation mark to indicate excitement. Trains are an interesting way to travel !
A comma ( , ) is used to indicate a pause between parts of a sentence or items in a list.
Joan bought apples , peaches , and bananas at the store.
In the scheme of things , is it more important to reflect , or to forge head on into the future?
Use a colon ( : ) at the beginning of a list or to separate a quote from the speaker.
The losers were: Thomas Paine, Henry James, and Samuel Patterson.
Judge Thompson said: "Don't drink and drive again or you will go to jail."
Use a semi-colon ( ; ) to separate phrases with commas in them.
The DIY instructors are: Micah, knitting; Ralph, decoupage; and Martin, woodworking.
An apostrophe ( ‘) can show possession or indicate missing letters or numbers.
Jim ' s shoe is untied. The ‘49ers are going to go all the way this year!
A hyphen ( - ) ties words together while a dash ( - ) is used for emphasis.
My mother-in-law is always calling – and it drives me crazy.
Quotation marks are used to enclose the actual words of a speaker.
" Let's keep driving till we reach the end of the road, " John said.
Other basic rules of writing include:
Make sure that each sentence has a subject and a verb. That makes it complete. If you are missing either one of these components then you end up with a fragment and not a full sentence. Sometimes writers try to put too many ideas into on sentence making it a run-on. Read through your sentences as you finish them to make sure they make sense.
A paragraph is the basic component of journalistic writing. It is several sentences on the same subject put together. An article is a series of paragraphs on the same subject, but each paragraph offers different specific points. A paragraph begins with an opening sentence, and the following three to five sentences offer supporting details about the opening sentence. These form the body of the paragraph. Finally, there is a concluding sentence.
Here is an example of a paragraph about famous landmarks.
There are several famous landmarks in our area that bring thousands of tourists here every year. Some people come to see the natural, soaring peaks that ring the western border of the state. Others come to enjoy the clear blue waters of Everywhere Lake. They fish, swim, kayak, and boat. Still other visitors bring their camping gear and hiking equipment, so they can enjoy the many parks that are open to the public. Our popular sites are a great source of income for the government and citizens.
Can you pick out the opening statement? Of course, "There are several famous landmarks in our area that bring thousands of tourists here every year."
Do you recognize the body of the paragraph – or the supporting details in the next three sentences? "Some people come to see the natural soaring peaks … Others come to enjoy the blue waters …They fish, swim, and kayak… Still other visitors bring their camping gear…"
The concluding statement is the wrap-up, or indicates that the paragraph is complete. "Our popular sites are a great source of income for the government and citizens."
The journalist should practice writing paragraphs using this structure: opening statement, three to five supporting details, concluding statement.
Paragraphs are the building blocks of articles. When combined with other writing techniques the journalist should become skilled at creating original and informative work.
Writing style is the way writers compose their work. It may be formal or conversational, but over time, as the writer hones his or her craft, it is a reflection of their personality and the way they interact with the audience. A writer's ability and tendency to pen a written piece that sounds uniquely like him or herself is known as voice. Tone is the attitude that shines through the words. For example, the tone of a piece of writing may be funny or serious, emotional or dispassionate. That would depend on the purpose of the writing. Sometimes, tones may be interwoven, such as when giving a speech. The speaker does not want to be too boring, so he or she may break up the oration with bits of humor. At the same time, they may want to be informative, so the writing would be instructive.
Style is one of the most difficult and elusive components of the writing process to understand, yet is the very essence of what makes good – nay, exceptional – writing that touches the reader. Let us consider the elements of style in greater depth in this section.
First, the journalist should write in an active voice, if at all possible. That means there is a subject of the sentence that precipitates action; the action is not done to someone. For example:
The writer won the Pulitzer Prize.
NOT: The Pulitzer Prize was won by the writer.
OR: The doctor operated on the child's liver.
NOT: The child's liver was operated on by the doctor.
Do you see the difference? The sentence jumps into action by saying who did what.
Now, of course, not every sentence can be written this way – and when you are writing in-depth articles or investigative pieces, you will want to pepper the writing with different sentence lengths and structures. But, for the beginning journalist, entering hard hitting news, relying on the active voice in your writing will serve you well.
Next, one of the hardest parts of explaining style is teaching the writer about "voice." Voice is your personal thumb print on the writing. It sounds like you are talking, only the words are not coming from your mouth, they are appearing on the paper. Still, the reader can imagine the person behind the words, The reader feels like you are right there talking to him or her, and that you care very much about the subject on which you are writing.
Teaching a journalist to write with voice – and style - is very challenging. After all, the aim of most articles is to deliver information without bias or opinion; yet when the opportunity presents itself to let the reader see who you are behind the writing – it is a good way to develop an audience and develop the skill. Think about some of your favorite writers. You can probably identify their work, even if you were not told they penned it. That is because their voice shines through. Now, there is no doubt this is easier to do in fiction, but there are also opportunities in journalism. For example, human interest stories, narratives, and investigative work offer the writer opportunity and license to make the work more personal, by letting just a hint of you, the writer, shine through.
It is possible to learn how to become an engaging journalistic writer, whose work is not only functional and effective, but brilliant. There are two things you must do to become masterful in the craft – read. And write. There is no way around it. And we are not talking about reading online news. We are talking about reading lengthy pieces of writing. Books. Textbooks, nonfiction books, fiction books. That is the only way you will develop an ability to string words together – by having those very tracks laid down in your brain, as an example. When you read, you are working the muscles of your mind – and that is essential; it is nothing short of a requirement to becoming a good writer. But, then, so is writing. You are not going to wake up one day and be a good writer, if you have not practiced and practiced. Every professional must practice their craft and the same is true of the journalist. It can be a lonely existence, to be sure. But if you have chosen to write for a living, it is the only way to get there.
The world of writing is filled with average, adequate journalists – brilliant ones are one in a million, and news organizations that are lucky enough to land one will do just about anything to keep them. These are the writers with bylines and popular followings – and that translates into subscription and advertising dollars. It also translates into substantial salaries for exceptional writers, and while we enter the field of journalism with the most altruistic of intentions, everyone has to make a living!
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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts
Journalism and Journalistic Writing: Introduction
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Journalism is the practice of gathering, recording, verifying, and reporting on information of public importance. Though these general duties have been historically consistent, the particulars of the journalistic process have evolved as the ways information is collected, disseminated, and consumed have changed. Things like the invention of the printing press in the 15 th century, the ratification of the First Amendment in 1791, the completion of the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858, the first televised presidential debates in 1960, and more have broadened the ways that journalists write (as well as the ways that their readers read). Today, journalists may perform a number of different roles. They still write traditional text-based pieces, but they may also film documentaries, record podcasts, create photo essays, help run 24-hour TV broadcasts, and keep the news at our fingertips via social media and the internet. Collectively, these various journalistic media help members of the public learn what is happening in the world so they may make informed decisions.
The most important difference between journalism and other forms of non-fiction writing is the idea of objectivity. Journalists are expected to keep an objective mindset at all times as they interview sources, research events, and write and report their stories. Their stories should not aim to persuade their readers but instead to inform. That is not to say you will never find an opinion in a newspaper—rather, journalists must be incredibly mindful of keeping subjectivity to pieces like editorials, columns, and other opinion-based content.
Similarly, journalists devote most of their efforts to working with primary sources, whereas a research paper or another non-fiction piece of writing might frequently consult an encyclopedia, a scholarly article, or another secondary or tertiary source. When a journalist is researching and writing their story, they will often interview a number of individuals—from politicians to the average citizen—to gain insight into what people have experienced, and the quotes journalists collect drive and shape their stories.
The pages in this section aim to provide a brief overview of journalistic practices and standards, such as the ethics of collecting and reporting on information; writing conventions like the inverted pyramid and using Associated Press (AP) Style; and formatting and drafting journalistic content like press releases.
Journalism and Journalistic Writing
These resources provide an overview of journalistic writing with explanations of the most important and most often used elements of journalism and the Associated Press style. This resource, revised according to The Associated Press Stylebook 2012 , offers examples for the general format of AP style. For more information, please consult The Associated Press Stylebook 2012 , 47 th edition.
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The inverted pyramid.
- Common AP Style Tips
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Associated Press Stylebook Online (needs a subscription): apstylebook.com
Associated Press Style Resources (free): https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/735/02/
Example Articles: http://www.nytimes.com/
Common AP Style Tips: http://research.ewu.edu/c.php?g=403887&p=2749023
Many organizations use the Associated Press Style (AP Style) in their communication within their company and to the public. AP Style is important to know and understand for work in many different sectors, not just in newspaper and media organizations.
Journalism writing is simply writing well and adhering to AP Style. The real trick is to learn how to write concisely. Most readers don’t finish reading an entire article from beginning to end, so journalists must adjust to quickly conveying important information. There are two ways journalists combat this: concise sentences and the inverted pyramid.
The inverted pyramid is a traditional and often the most-used organizing structure for journalistic writing. The inverted pyramid places the more newsworthy information — the information people really need to know — at the very beginning of the article. The middle of the pyramid, and the middle of the article, is filled with other important information necessary to telling the story. The very bottom of the story is the least important information of the story.
When journalism content was strictly print based, journalists used the inverted pyramid for writing. Page designers would hand place the layout of each newspaper page. If the story was too long to fit in the allotted space of the page design, they would simply cut off the bottom of the article. By placing the least important information at the bottom of the story, journalists ensured the least important information was the part that was cut while the more important remained.
The beginning one to two sentences are referred to as the “lead” of the article. In the lead, most of the 5 W’s are answered: who, what, when, where and why. Because the lead needs to be kept short (one to two short sentences), some of that information may be forced to be included further down in the article.
The middle of the article, and the middle piece of the inverted pyramid, is referred to as the body. The body of the article is the bulk of information that tells the rest of the story that wouldn’t fit in the lead. It contains information pertinent to the story.
The very end of an article is referred to as the tail, which is the bottom segment of the inverted pyramid. The tail is the least important information that pertains to the article. For example, the tail may contain information for an upcoming event related to the article or contact information for the reader to ask more questions.
By Inverted_pyramid.jpg: The Air Force Departmental Publishing Office ( AFDPO )derivative work: Makeemlighter (Inverted_pyramid.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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- Last Updated: Jul 21, 2021 3:00 PM
- URL: https://research.ewu.edu/writers_c_journalistic_writing
Journalism Glossary: A List Of Words That Every New Journalist Needs To Know
August 7, 2021 (Updated February 3, 2022 )
Reporting from a newsroom comes with its own set of vocabulary – and it can often feel overwhelming for new journalists who aren’t accustomed to the jargon. I certainly struggled on my first day as a trainee journalist on an NCTJ course, after we were presented with a list of words. Our task was to work out their definition without the support of the internet or a dictionary.
The list included words like splash, standfirst and bounce rate. I glanced at the list and realised I only knew the meaning of one word, which was ‘call to action’. Even though I had completed work experience prior to starting the course, the words came as a surprise to me.
What Even Are Journalistic Words?
Abbianca Makoni , a news reporter at the Evening Standard, agrees. Speaking to Journo Resources, she says: “When I first started my journalism apprenticeship, I was not sure about the meaning of words such as beat, NIBs (news in brief), copy, and filing.
“This made it difficult for me to understand what was being communicated across the newsroom. It was only until an editor sat me down and explained what the terms meant, that I understood.”
She also believes that journalists should be given training on newsroom lingo, particularly in their first year, so as not to alienate them.
For me, when I first looked at the list of news terms on my course, I felt disappointed with myself because I had not thought about the language that journalists use on a daily basis.
Before starting the course, I had spent my time focusing on some of the other modules, like media law and public affairs, and it did not occur to me to devote some time to learning journalism vocabulary.
Our group decided to discuss the terms together, rather than concentrating on the competition element of the task. We worked our way through each word, exploring possible definitions as we went along. And, in the end, we fared quite well in the contest.
It actually taught me one of the golden rules of journalism – if you’re ever unsure, ask around. Especially if you’re among other new trainees, chances are there will be words that they are not familiar with either. Sharing your knowledge among one another and asking senior or permanent members of staff will ensure you’re up to scratch with what you need to know.
Making Time To Learn Journalism Definitions
Throughout my time on the course and during work experience in the newsroom, I was exposed to more journalism terms as I attended the courts, tribunals, and press conferences.
Toby Porter , news editor and chief reporter at the South London Press, tells me that it’s about making the newsroom as efficient as possible.
“The job of a journalist is to convey information as quickly as possible in as short a space as possible,” he explains.
“Knowing all this jargon enables you to communicate in the quickest possible way with a news editor so that person can make decisions.
“The quicker you can do it, the quicker they can get on with other tasks. It’s a shortcut and journalists need shortcuts all the time to free up time to cover more stories.”
In The Newsroom Journalism Words Come To Life
After completing the NCTJ news reporting course, I was offered a work placement on the foreign desk of a national newspaper.
In the newsroom, the words that I learned came to life. It felt like bingo, striking off the words I heard instead of numbers.
When the editor asked me to monitor the news wires and write some NIBs I knew exactly what to do. I also understood exactly what was required of me when I was asked to add some colour to a news agency story during an environmental protest.
So, to make sure you have a grasp of the vocabulary that whizzes around newsrooms, here’s a handy guide to get you started.
Sharron is one of our 2020/21 Journo Resources fellows, and writes practical features for the website. Sharron studied her NCTJ with PA Training and has worked for various UK outlets.
The elements of journalism
In their book The Elements of Journalism , Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel identify the essential principles and practices of journalism.
Here are 10 elements common to good journalism, drawn from the book.
Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth
Good decision-making depends on people having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context. Journalism does not pursue truth in an absolute or philosophical sense, but in a capacity that is more down to earth.
“All truths – even the laws of science – are subject to revision, but we operate by them in the meantime because they are necessary and they work,” Kovach and Rosenstiel write in the book. Journalism, they continue, thus seeks “a practical and functional form of truth.” It is not the truth in the absolute or philosophical or scientific sense but rather a pursuit of “the truths by which we can operate on a day-to-day basis.”
This “journalistic truth” is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Then journalists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning, subject to further investigation.
Journalists should be as transparent as possible about sources and methods so audiences can make their own assessment of the information. Even in a world of expanding voices, “getting it right” is the foundation upon which everything else is built – context, interpretation, comment, criticism, analysis and debate. The larger truth, over time, emerges from this forum.
As citizens encounter an ever-greater flow of data, they have more need – not less – for suppliers of information dedicated to finding and verifying the news and putting it in context.
Its first loyalty is to citizens
The publisher of journalism – whether a media corporation answering to advertisers and shareholders or a blogger with his own personal beliefs and priorities — must show an ultimate allegiance to citizens. They must strive to put the public interest – and the truth – above their own self-interest or assumptions.
A commitment to citizens is an implied covenant with the audience and a foundation of the journalistic business model – journalism provided “without fear or favor” is perceived to be more valuable than content from other information sources.
Commitment to citizens also means journalism should seek to present a representative picture of constituent groups in society. Ignoring certain citizens has the effect of disenfranchising them.
The theory underlying the modern news industry has been the belief that credibility builds a broad and loyal audience and that economic success follows in turn. In that regard, the business people in a news organization also must nurture – not exploit – their allegiance to the audience ahead of other considerations.
Technology may change but trust – when earned and nurtured – will endure.
Its essence is a discipline of verification
Journalists rely on a professional discipline for verifying information.
While there is no standardized code as such, every journalist uses certain methods to assess and test information to “get it right.”
Being impartial or neutral is not a core principle of journalism. Because the journalist must make decisions, he or she is not and cannot be objective. But journalistic methods are objective.
When the concept of objectivity originally evolved, it did not imply that journalists were free of bias. It called, rather, for a consistent method of testing information – a transparent approach to evidence – precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of the work. The method is objective, not the journalist.
Seeking out multiple witnesses, disclosing as much as possible about sources, or asking various sides for comment, all signal such standards. This discipline of verification is what separates journalism from other forms of communication such as propaganda, advertising, fiction, or entertainment.
Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover
Independence is a cornerstone of reliability.
On one level, it means not becoming seduced by sources, intimidated by power, or compromised by self-interest. On a deeper level it speaks to an independence of spirit and an open-mindedness and intellectual curiosity that helps the journalist see beyond his or her own class or economic status, race, ethnicity, religion, gender or ego.
Journalistic independence, write Kovach and Rosenstiel, is not neutrality. While editorialists and commentators are not neutral, the source of their credibility is still their accuracy, intellectual fairness and ability to inform – not their devotion to a certain group or outcome. In our independence, however, journalists must avoid straying into arrogance, elitism, isolation or nihilism.
It must serve as an independent monitor of power
Journalism has an unusual capacity to serve as watchdog over those whose power and position most affect citizens. It may also offer voice to the voiceless. Being an independent monitor of power means “watching over the powerful few in society on behalf of the many to guard against tyranny,” Kovach and Rosenstiel write.
The earliest journalists firmly established as a core principle their responsibility to examine unseen corners of society. “ ”
The watchdog role is often misunderstood, even by journalists, to mean “afflict the comfortable.” While upsetting the applecart may certainly be a result of watchdog journalism, the concept as introduced in the mid-1600s was far less combative. Rather, it sought to redefine the role of the journalist from a passive stenographer to more a curious observer who would “search out and discover the news.”
The watchdog role also means more than simply monitoring government. “The earliest journalists,” write Kovach and Rosenstiel, “firmly established as a core principle their responsibility to examine unseen corners of society. The world they chronicled captured the imagination of a largely uninformed society, creating an immediate and enthusiastic popular following.”
Finally, the purpose of the watchdog extends beyond simply making the management and execution of power transparent, to making known and understood the effects of that power. This includes reporting on successes as well as failures.
Journalists have an obligation to protect this watchdog freedom by not demeaning it in frivolous use or exploiting it for commercial gain.
It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise
The news media are common carriers of public discussion, and this responsibility forms a basis for special privileges that news and information providers receive from democratic societies.
These privileges can involve subsidies for distribution or research and development (lower postal rates for print, use of public spectrum by broadcasters, development and management of the Internet) to laws protecting content and free speech (copyright, libel, and shield laws).
These privileges, however, are not pre-ordained or perpetual. Rather, they are conferred because of the need for an abundant supply of information. They are predicated on the assumption that journalism – because of its principles and practices – will supply a steady stream of higher quality content that citizens and government will use to make better decisions.
Traditionally, this covenant has been between news organizations and government. The new forms of digital media, however, place a responsibility on everyone who “publishes” content – whether for profit or for personal satisfaction – in the public domain.
The raw material cast into the marketplace of ideas sustains civic dialogue and serves society best when it consists of verified information rather than just prejudice and supposition.
Journalism should also attempt to fairly represent varied viewpoints and interests in society and to place them in context rather than highlight only the conflicting fringes of debate. Accuracy and truthfulness also require that the public discussion not neglect points of common ground or instances where problems are not just identified but also solved.
Journalism, then, is more than providing an outlet for discussion or adding one’s voice to the conversation. Journalism carries with it a responsibility to improve the quality of debate by providing verified information and intellectual rigor. A forum without regard for facts fails to inform and degrades rather than improves the quality and effectiveness of citizen decision-making.
It must strive to keep the significant interesting and relevant
Journalism is storytelling with a purpose. It should do more than gather an audience or catalogue the important. It must balance what readers know they want with what they cannot anticipate but need.
Writing coaches Roy Peter Clark and Chip Scanlan describe effective newswriting as the intersection of civic clarity, the information citizens need to function, and literary grace, which is the reporter’s storytelling skill set. In other words, part of the journalist’s responsibility is providing information in such a way people will be inclined to listen. Journalists must thus strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
Quality is measured both by how much a work engages its audience and enlightens it. This means journalists must continually ask what information has the most value to citizens and in what form people are most likely to assimilate it. While journalism should reach beyond such topics as government and public safety, journalism overwhelmed by trivia and false significance trivializes civic dialogue and ultimately public policy.
It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional
Journalism is our modern cartography. It creates a map for citizens to navigate society.
As with any map, its value depends on a completeness and proportionality in which the significant is given greater visibility than the trivial.
Keeping news in proportion is a cornerstone of truthfulness. Inflating events for sensation, neglecting others, stereotyping, or being disproportionately negative all make a less reliable map. The most comprehensive maps include all affected communities, not just those with attractive demographics. The most complete stories take into account diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
Though proportion and comprehensiveness are subjective, their ambiguity does not lessen their significance.
Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience
Doing journalism, whether as a professional writing for a news organization or as an online contributor in the public space, involves one’s moral compass and demands a personal sense of ethics and responsibility.
Because “news” is important, those who provide news have a responsibility to voice their personal conscience out loud and allow others to do so as well. They must be willing to question their own work and to differ with the work of others if fairness and accuracy demand they do so.
News organizations do well to nurture this independence by encouraging individuals to speak their minds. Conversation and debate stimulate the intellectual diversity of minds and voices necessary to understand and accurately cover an increasingly diverse society. Having a diverse newsroom does little if those different voices are not spoken or heard.
It’s also a matter of self-interest. Employees encouraged to raise their hands may “save the boss from himself” or protect the news organization’s reputation by pointing out errors, flagging important omissions, questioning misguided assumptions, or even revealing wrongdoing.
Having a sense of ethics is perhaps most important for the individual journalist or online contributor.
Increasingly, those who produce “the news” work in isolation, whether from a newsroom cubicle, the scene of a story, or their home office. They may file directly to the public without the safety net of editing, a second set of eyes, or the collaboration of others. While crowdsourcing by the audience may catch and correct errors or misinformation, the reputation of the author and the quality of public dialogue are nevertheless damaged.
Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news
The average person now, more than ever, works like a journalist.
Writing a blog entry, commenting on a social media site, sending a tweet, or “liking” a picture or post, likely involves a shorthand version of the journalistic process. One comes across information, decides whether or not it’s believable, assesses its strength and weaknesses, determines if it has value to others, decides what to ignore and what to pass on, chooses the best way to share it, and then hits the “send” button.
Though this process may take only a few moments, it’s essentially what reporters do.
Two things, however, separate this journalistic-like process from an end product that is “journalism.” The first is motive and intent. The purpose of journalism is to give people the information they need to make better decisions about their lives and society. The second difference is that journalism involves the conscious, systematic application of a discipline of verification to produce a “functional truth,” as opposed to something that is merely interesting or informative. Yet while the process is critical, it’s the end product – the “story” – by which journalism is ultimately judged.
Today, when the world is awash in information and news is available any time everywhere, a new relationship is being formed between the suppliers of journalism and the people who consume it.
The new journalist is no longer a gatekeeper who decides what the public should and should not know. The individual is now his or her own circulation manager and editor. To be relevant, journalists must now verify information the consumer already has or is likely to find and then help them make sense of what it means and how they might use it.
Thus, write Kovach and Rosenstiel, “The first task of the new journalist/sense maker is to verify what information is reliable and then order it so people can grasp it efficiently.” A part of this new journalistic responsibility is “to provide citizens with the tools they need to extract knowledge for themselves from the undifferentiated flood or rumor, propaganda, gossip, fact, assertion, and allegation the communications system now produces.”
This guide, like many of the others in API’s Journalism Essentials section, is largely based on the research and teachings of the Committee of Concerned Journalists — a consortium of reporters, editors, producers, publishers, owners and academics that for 10 years facilitated a discussion among thousands of journalists about what they did, how they did it, and why it was important. The author, Walter Dean, was CCJ training director, and former API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel who previously co-chaired the committee.
Need to Know
Useful insights for people advancing quality, innovative and sustainable journalism.
Need to Know: November 15, 2023
Low trust of U.S. news on climate change, machine learning fuels smart paywall, and tell us about your election coverage needs
The rise of design in journalism suggests an increasing awareness of the need for a practice that helps journalists to head toward point B, even when they don’t know what or where point B is. Design is a practice that can aid journalists as they seek to create new products, new ways of telling stories, and new ways of engaging with the audience. Design is, after all, a practice of invention: It offers processes and strategies for grappling with the uncertainty and fear that come from working in hard-to-define problem spaces with as-yet-determined solutions.
It’s important to think of design as a way of tackling the new and unknown, rather than a way of doing any one specific thing. The future of journalism is still unknown. In coming years, we could see young people move away from the digital obsessions of their parents and older siblings, turning their backs on chat apps, alerts, and email newsletters. Or we could see people forget that analog ever existed, finding chat apps quaint as they increasingly consume media in immersive environments that nobody today can imagine. If design is the change “from existing conditions to preferred conditions,” as Herbert Simon wrote in 1969, it should always be useful, no matter the particulars. It is a process, not a prescription.
As our world grows increasingly complex, a systems perspective—which lies at the heart of design—becomes increasingly relevant. If journalists are to effectively tell the stories of the complex problems that threaten our future, whether about climate change, income inequality, or the instability of a globalized economy, they would be well served to become literate systems thinkers. Also, as news organizations continue struggling for survival, seeing how they fit into a larger media ecosystem seems of vital importance.
Lastly, as traditional walls continue to break down within legacy news organizations—and new organizations launch that never had those walls to begin with—the collaborative nature of design, and its democratizing effects, may be sufficient to justify its adoption.
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Journalistic Style and Definitions
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Journalistic writing is a genre that is used to report news stories in a variety of formats, such as magazines and newspapers.
Characteristics of Journalistic Writing
Journalistic writing reports news and information in many different media formats. The news is often reported in short and simple sentences, and the purpose is to inform the reader about events and other news. Writers of the journalistic genre are trained to write and report in a certain way that both entertains and informs, and is easy to understand. Journalistic writing can include pictures with captions and direct quotes, and is written in the third person; it is generally not about the writer’s opinion, but sometimes it is included.
There are clear and concise steps to writing a journalistic piece. First, the journalist must find a topic or subject that is worthy and of interest. Second, research and interviews must be conducted. Journalists take notes or recordings, and if direct quotes are involved, they must be written and used accurately. Third comes the write-up of the story. It is important in journalistic writing to have an interesting lead that draws the readers in, a well-organized body with events in chronological order, and a powerful conclusion to wrap up the story. Finally, a strong and captivating title that catches the eyes of the reader is crucial.
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Examples of where journalistic writing would be found.
- The New York Times
- The Chicago Tribune
- The Wall Street Journal
- The Washington Post
- The New Yorker
- Time Magazine
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Ethics in Journalism
The dilemma between journalists and ethics.
- Code of ethics
- Seek the truth– minmize harm
- Personal Moral Code
According to Society of Professional Journalists , a code of ethics is meant to guide journalists in making the best ethical decision. A code promotes the highest professional standard for journalists of all disciplines (Society of Professional Journalists). However, there are problems with SPJ’s code of ethics, the code requires journalists to seek the truth – report it, but also minimize harm. In this blog we learn harm that sometimes not only is this unavoidable but sometimes – necessary and a journalist’s duty. The code also lacks in specifics on how to achieve these guidelines, it overlooks the conflict between a journalist’s obligation to report the news and their own moral code.
In conclusion, the principles outlined in SPJ’s code of ethics are not specific or comprehensive. Ethics in newsrooms are an important discussion, when facing ethical dilemmas, journalists look to one another to come to the best ethical decision.
- February 2016
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Conclusion: What is journalism? Who is a journalist?
As I have now completed Principles of Journalism, I reflect back on my first idea of what journalism is. At the beginning of the semester, I wrote the following:
What is journalism?
Journalism is democracy. The simple act of defining journalism, might possibly limit journalism because this practice provides so much freedom. However, in simple terms journalism is the act of exploring and reporting on current events through broadcast or print, to a larger audience. It is a practice built upon the first amendment. Freedom of speech allows journalists to report on real events, with real facts. Even in early civilization, there was a need for communication. One of the main purposes of journalism is to provide citizens of the community with the information they need to be free and independent. It is crucial that the citizens of a community are well informed, allowing the opportunity for the citizens to make their own decisions on certain trends and issues. Journalism is the platform that allows self-governing. This practice allows citizens to continue conversation eventually building a community. Journalism’s main obligation is to report on worthy topics honestly. Some consider the press to be their own entity of power because it is the responsibility of a journalist to set the agenda for a community. Journalism really is so much more than simply reporting on current events though. Journalism gives a voice to the voiceless, and power to the powerless.
Who is a journalist?
As technology quickly revolutionizes, the definition of a journalist is also changing. Traditionally, a journalist is one who reports on popular and important issues on television, or in a newspaper or magazine. Not only do these journalists prepare news for credible news stations, but they have studied and practiced this profession at school for several years. With great advancement in technology though, anyone can be a journalist today. Whether a mother sitting at home, a young student at school or a professional newscaster, anyone has the ability to report on trendy topics and events. A journalist must be passionate about the topic and keep the story interesting. A journalist is obligated to write a story honestly and in proportion. As a watchdog and agenda setter, a journalist is responsible for conveying information to the community. As a professional journalist reporting for a news station, or as home blogger, all journalists have an obligation of building up their community.
After reflecting back on my first impression of journalism, I hold true to most of what I stated. However, my knowledge and love for journalism has increasingly grown. As I have participated in and learned from so many class discussions, I now realize that journalists really do have a large responsibility, and as I continue to pursue this profession, I look forward to engaging in such an important work.
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Hundreds of journalists sign letter protesting coverage of Israel
The letter exposes divisions and frustrations within u.s. newsrooms about how they are covering the gaza conflict.
More than 750 journalists from dozens of news organizations have signed an open letter published Thursday condemning Israel’s killing of reporters in Gaza and criticizing Western media’s coverage of the war.
The letter — which said newsrooms are “accountable for dehumanizing rhetoric that has served to justify ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” — is the latest in a string of impassioned collective statements staking out ground in the stateside reaction to the Israel-Gaza war .
But while other writers, artists, scholars and academics have criticized media coverage of the conflict, the latest letter — which includes signatories from Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe and The Washington Post — is notable for exposing divisions and frustrations within newsrooms.
For some of the journalists, signing the letter was a daring or even risky move. Reporters have been fired from some newsrooms for espousing public political stances that could open them to accusations of bias.
But those who organized the newest letter argue that it is a call to recommit to fairness, not abandon it.
“My hope for this letter is to push back on the culture of fear around this issue,” said Abdallah Fayyad, a 2022 Pulitzer Prize finalist and former editorial board member at the Boston Globe, who signed the letter, “and to make decision-makers and reporters and editors think twice about the language that they use.”
“What it comes down to is just asking journalists to do their jobs,” said Suhauna Hussain, a labor reporter at the Los Angeles Times who signed the letter. “To hold power to account.”
Most strikingly, the letter argues that journalists should use words like “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
While the letter-signers maintain these are “precise terms that are well-defined by international human rights organizations,” there have historically been debates among diplomats, aid groups and participants over when a particular incident or conflict fits the definition of those terms.
Fayyad said he wasn’t calling on newsrooms to adopt those terms for their own descriptions, “but it is a relevant fact to say that leading human rights groups have called Israel an apartheid regime,” he said, just as many news stories note that the U.S. has designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. “That’s the kind of double standard I hope this letter will call out.”
The media navigates a war of words for reporting on Gaza and Israel
Much of the text focuses on the journalists who have been killed in the month-long conflict that erupted after Hamas militants crossed the Israeli border on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,400 people and taking about 240 hostage.
So far, 39 media workers have been killed, mostly in retaliatory strikes by Israel, according to the latest tally from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
An investigation by Reporters Without Borders determined that Israel targeted journalists in Oct. 13 airstrikes that killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and wounded six others. (Israeli officials have denied that they target journalists and said they are reviewing the incident.) In late October, Israeli military officials advised Reuters and Agence France-Presse that it could not guarantee the safety of their employees operating in the Gaza Strip.
Joe Rivano Barros, an editor at San Francisco nonprofit Mission Local who signed the letter, maintained that there has not been “widespread condemnations of [the killings of journalists] from Western newsrooms.”
“This particular conflict seems to bring in a lot of prevarication in a way that other conflicts don’t,” Rivano Barros said.
The journalists’ letter follows several other open letters in recent weeks, most expressing solidarity with Palestinians. The New York Review of Books published one signed by well-known writers including Ta-Nehisi Coates calling on the “international community to commit to ending the catastrophe unfolding in Gaza.” A letter signed by hundreds of Jewish writers that was published in N+1 magazine said, “we are horrified to see the fight against antisemitism weaponized as a pretext for war crimes with stated genocidal intent.”
A letter published by Artforum and signed by thousands of artists and academics, though, led to the firing of its editor . The magazine’s publishers said in a statement that the letter was “not consistent with Artforum’s editorial process” and had been “widely misinterpreted as a statement from the magazine about highly sensitive and complex geopolitical circumstances.”
And a widely circulated letter titled “ Writers Against the War on Gaza ,” which has been signed by more than 8,000 writers, condemned “the silencing of dissent and … racist and revisionist media cycles.” New York Times writers, Jazmine Hughes and Jamie Lauren Keiles, signed the letter. Days later, Hughes quit under pressure from management and Keiles left the paper, writing on social media that his was “a personal decision about what kind of work I want to be able to do.”
Open letters have a long history in civil protest, playing a strategic role, said T.V. Reed, professor of English and American studies at Washington State University who has studied protest movements and wrote the book “The Art of Protest.”
“The power [of open letters] is in offering readers names they know and respect to identify with. And/or professions they respect and identify with,” he said. “In this era of social media, where individual commentary is often excessive and harsh, a collective letter thoughtfully conceived can be more powerful.”
The journalist-signed letter raised concerns for journalism scholars and veteran news editors.
Bill Grueskin, a Columbia University journalism professor, said reporters may have more latitude to weigh in on media-related matters like the killing of journalists. But he warned that journalists who sign open letters on political topics risk damaging their outlets and their own ability to gather information.
“I think it’s worth having a real honest discussion in terms of the reputation of the institution they work for,” said Grueskin, a former deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal.
Rivano Barros argued that journalists “can and do criticize governments when they are infringing on press freedoms,” such as the Saudi government for the murder of writer Jamal Khashoggi and the Russian government for detaining Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.
“Gazan journalists are facing an unprecedented and rising death toll, Western newsrooms are directly benefiting from their work on-the-ground, and if we cannot call for their protection — that is perverse,” he said.
Steve Coll, a former managing editor at The Post and former dean of the Columbia journalism school, said that journalists who sign open letters could face backlash from management, especially if those newsrooms have rules against activism.
He noted a recent generational split in some newsrooms, where younger employees feel empowered to speak out on political issues — putting them in conflict sometimes with the mores of older journalists, who prefer to stay quiet. “It’s a problem that has to be resolved one way or another,” he said.
The Israeli military said it is carrying out a “precise and targeted operation against Hamas” at al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital . President Biden said Monday that Gaza’s hospitals “ must be protected ” as Israeli soldiers surrounded Shifa, and the hospital ran out of power and medicine. Understand what’s behind the Israel-Gaza war .
Hostages: Officials say Hamas militants abducted about 239 hostages in a highly organized attack . Four hostages have been released — two Americans and two Israelis — as families hold on to hope . One released Israeli hostage recounted the “spiderweb” of Gaza tunnels she was held in.
Humanitarian aid: The Palestine Red Crescent Society said it has received over 370 trucks with food, medicine and water in the Gaza Strip through Egypt’s Rafah crossing . However, the PRCS said, there hasn’t been permission yet to bring in fuel to power the enclave’s hospitals, water pumps, taxis and more .
Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Hamas -controlled Gaza Strip has a complicated history , and its rulers have long been at odds with the Palestinian Authority , the U.S.-backed government in the West Bank. Here is a timeline of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict .
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