Facts + ? = News

News reporting in 2020

An opinion piece by Valley Lizard

What are facts? Are facts always true? How do you tell if you’re receiving accurate information? As a journalism student I’ve learnt facts are a key part of news reporting, but what might seem like a clearly definable idea actually is quite complex.

Scott Reinardy demonstrates how over time news reports can sound like outright lies, in Chapter 4 of Convergent Journalism: An Introduction Writing and Producing Across Media.

‘No lives were lost on the Titanic when it struck an iceberg and sank in 1912 (The World, 1912).

When Adolf Hitler was released from a Bavaria prison in 1924, it was reported that he would “retire to private life and return to Austria, the country of his birth” (New York Times, 1924)

And, no American babies were born after 2015 (Los Angeles Herald, 1910).

These were the original reports in newspapers regarding some transformational and historic events in the twentieth century. As we know, more than 1, 500 died in the sinking of the Titanic, Hitler did not retire to Austria but instead led Germany and the world into the next great war,’

Why is it that all these so called “facts” reported in the past turned out to be wrong? Were the journalists just incompetent? There’s a famous saying ‘journalism is the first draft of history’. We are living in a historic time. Early news reports and predictions about 2020 are quickly being proven wrong.

To create accurate news you need more than just facts. I touched on this topic in my post about ethical journalism, however I want to go into more detail now. Facts on their own are not news. They are part of the things needed to make news, but not news in themselves.

Journalist Paul Brennan explains what makes something news with the acronym:

T. R. U. T. H. which stands for:

Timely/topical

Relevance

Uniqueness

Tension

Human interest

Another important factor in all news stories and collation is: public interest. This is different to what the public is interested in. It’s the difference between what the population needs to know and wants to know. Good news stories and programs have a balance between the two. YouTubers know how to achieve this balance by creating content they think people need to know and creating content their subscribers request. Q & A videos are an easy way to both find out what content people want and which content they already enjoy.

When news media doesn’t know what the public wants to know it tends to publish what will make their news outlet the most money. This is closer to public relations (PR) than journalism. There’s a lot of crossover between PR, journalism, advertising and many of the other jobs in the media industry.

The above video explains what PR is and isn’t. Kchoi mentions the term “media relations”. This is where journalism and public relations tend to cross paths. Whatever form of media you work in you are going to have media relations aka relationships with media professionals.

Basically while almost anything can be newsworthy not everything is. Often it’s the unexpected events which become news. During a crisis unexpected things happen all the time.

So in this strange new normal how to we figure out what’s abnormal and newsworthy?

It’s certainly getting harder in Australia as even grocery shopping becomes newsworthy. The first thing journalists should do when reporting in a crisis is of course be safe.

If you know you’re safe enough to proceed with the capturing the news story then you have to think and care about the other people involved in the crisis. It’s fantastic to interview people directly involved in a crisis, but this needs to be done in a respectful and caring manner. This interview with Idris Elba about his experience with COVID-19 is a brilliant example of a caring and respectful interview process.

So reporting news is actually a tough gig and since learning about media laws and ethical standards for Australian journalists I understand why mistakes are often made. News reporting = facts, accuracy, public interest, reliable sources, legally and ethically obtained information as well as so much more.

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