Hard news research
For my hard news story I attended a council meeting in my local area, the Moreland municipality in inner-north Melbourne. Having never had a very strong direct connection to the council I was unsure of what to expect from the meeting. The meeting I attended discussed the council’s proposed budget, which I believed would spark conflict between council members. In effect, these decisions would impact on Moreland residents, and would be of public interest. The lack of members of the public in the gallery was surprising but a testament to the meeting’s form, which was not to discuss issues raised by the public. Writing a hard news piece on the meeting would mean members of the public could be made aware of the meeting’s discussions without having to attend.
The angle I chose for my hard news story was the amendment made to the budget to allocate $2,100 to the Counihan Gallery to cover the costs of catering. Previously, the artists exhibiting their work were required to pay for catering. I felt members of Moreland needed to know about this as they might attend such a public council event under the impression it is funded by the council. I also thought it was more newsworthy than the five percent rate increase, though of great importance, is widely covered in local newspapers. It was of close proximity as the gallery is located in the Brunswick Town Hall, there was impact on local artists and a novelty in the issue as it was something different amongst the other carried motions. Moreland Mayor Meghan Hopper said to me, in an interview, “some of the more conservative media outlets tend to focus on public art as an example of council waste”. This strengthened my decision to bring light to an overlooked issue.
As it was Mayor Meghan Hopper who presented the motion to fund the Counihan Gallery’s catering, it would be most appropriate to have her comments in my piece. I contacted the mayor and arranged a meeting in her office. She was enthusiastic in assisting me with my assignment as she does not often get the chance to discuss arts, she said. Before interviewing the mayor I asked if I could record the interview, which she consented to.
I contacted the curator of the gallery who was willing to be interviewed, but said all media enquiries must be passed through the gallery’s director of media. I rang the director who was unsure of my reasoning behind choosing to write about this issue, and questioned whether it would be published anywhere. In speaking to the Moreland mayor I discovered this director of media covers all council media enquiries, and was reluctant in publishing anything related to the Arts, much to the disappointment of the mayor.
After many calls, emails and texts I was unable to obtain a comment from Councillor Lambros Tapinos to provide balance to my piece as he was opposed to the amendment to the budget. As the councillor for finance and economic development Mr Tapinos provides a voice from those in council looking to place funding in other areas, but was unwilling to comment.
Form and function
In a municipality such as Moreland, the form and function of a hard news story is imperative. An area in which 39.4 per cent of residents speak a language other than English at home, the ability to provide news in an easy to understand format, plain English with short sentences is crucial to how news is distributed locally. Being concise, easy to read and focusing on the who, what, when where and why ensures all news is accessible to everyone. Conversely, hard news writing does not provide a sense of emotion nor context, and can not greatly explore an issue such as some soft news pieces can.
The strict guidelines in hard news writing assist with the consumption of news. Having an introduction of no longer than 25 words, a paragraph on each line and a direct quote within the first four paragraphs maintains an audience’s attention. The simple, factual, objective style of writing ensures news is presented as accurately as possible. The basis of contemporary journalism was formed by Enlightenment theories which proposed inserting all opinions, including wrong opinions, will emerge the truth. This equal representation adds balance to a story and presents all sides to its audience.
Collaborating with a student in class made me realise the importance of journalists assisting each other. Though journalists write independently, they rely on a team of coworkers to ensure their work is upholding all of journalism’s most important values. While self-censorship plays an important role in protecting journalists’ careers, having a third party oversee your work can be extremely beneficial. The student I worked with explained to me how she felt I could clear up a sentence here or there to bring more clarity to my piece. Having your work proofread assures the audience will understand and be able to follow your writing. Ultimately a journalist is writing for their audience, and if the public can not follow a piece then you haven’t met your fundamental criterion.
Impact of social media
Social media has impacted on the way news is presented and distributed in recent years. Twitter is an example of one of these social media applications which has provided an avenue for anyone to present “news” is an easy format, quickly and efficiently. The typing of a few keys on a smartphone is the most common way tweeting occurs, often while out or on public transport. Reporting on anything happening around them, twitterers take on the role of a journalist. What these users are unaware of is the fundamental values of journalism can not be supported in less than 140 characters. It is almost impossible to present the who, what, when, where and why in a simple tweet, ensure all parties are represented and maintain balance. Tweets often take headlines from articles which may distort the news and sensationalise it.
Twitter has also made news more readily accessible to everyone who has an electronic device. News can be read quickly and easily, and is beneficial for those unable to watch morning or nightly news. It also involves a deeper level of audience involvement where readers/watchers can tweet about their feelings towards a particular issue which can then be viewed by anyone. Twitter also places pressure on journalists to be on top of news at all times, constantly keeping up with the perpetual flow of news. This compromises their position as a whole within the profession, as breaking news is no longer privileged to journalists. New stories often arise through the everyday person tweeting about something they have seen or experienced, and this has taken away from the journalism career.
Social media may have altered the consumption of news in a contemporary society, but the future of journalism will prosper through upholding its core values.