Reflection B: Hard news

What is hard news?

There are two different types of news stories: hard news and soft news. Hard news are current events that need to be reported up-to-date while soft news are background information and stories of human interest. Typical topics for hard news are politics, war, economics, business, crime or international news and they are mostly on the front page of a newspaper respectively the first news in television news reports. It can also be investigative news that deals with serious topics or events. Hard news have to have local, regional, national or international significance and is all about facts, facts, facts. Hard news answer following questions: What happened? Who was involved? Where and when did it happen? Why did it happen? How did it happen?

Process of writing hard news

Before we can write hard news, we have to decide what is newsworthy and what is not. Several news values are selection criteria by which journalists decide what is news and what is not:
1. Significance (meaning how many people are affected in some way by a newsworthy event)
2.  Proximity (events that happen close to us geographically and events that are close to us emotionally, culturally, historically and socially)
3. Conflict (In wars, politics, in social life, in sports, celebrities, religion, gender etc.)
4. Human Interest (based on emotion and the provoking of emotion)
5. Novelty (meaning the unusual, curiosity)
6. Prominence (people that are popular, have a certain authority or are celebrities)

I found my news story online at greenleft.org.au. I was looking for an event that I can also take something out for myself and so I went to a speech about new racism against indigenous people. One of the reasons why I came to Australia was not only to travel and see this beautiful country, I also wanted to learn about the history. So to be able to attend a speech about indigenous people and combine it with a uni assignment seemed to be 2 in 1.

The challenge for me was definitely the lack of my background knowledge. I had some idea about the Aboriginals, but I am not well informed about all the terrible things that were done to them or what the politics did for or against them. Another challenge I had to face was the language barrier. I found some parts very hard to understand especially since sometimes for me the context was missing. I did my best and I was rewarded with an inside view of an aboriginal woman.

While writing the hard news story it was hard for me to leave out any emotion. The aboriginal woman Wendy Brabham read a letter from her mother who told about the violence that was done to her family during colonisation. Mrs Brabham was shaking and it was very emotional, it moved everyone in the audience. I would have loved to write that down in the hard news, but I knew I couldn’t emphasise on feelings.
Also when I was done writing I was double over the words limit! It was tough to shorten my article since I felt everything was important. But I knew as a journalist you have to be able to shorten your article and separate the important things from the less important things. So I slept one night over it and surprisingly once I was not too much emotionally connected to the article anymore it was easy to shorten it. I definitely have to remember this trick.

Function of hard news

Some say that the ideas that formed the beginnings of journalism as we know it today was born from the Enlightenment (others believe journalism was the basis for Enlightenment). The theory of Enlightenment says that humankind is inherently “good” and reasonable and can be trusted to make appropriate decisions about who holds power. Enlightenment allows freedom of choice, opinion and speech. Also it rules for the people, by the people meaning no group can oppress any other and those in authority can be revoked peaceably by the people. The Enlightenment Theory also says that there should be an equality of Representation on the public sphere.
Form follows function – this is a common rule in journalism and means always consider before you write. The facts should be delivered quickly, in an unbiased manner. Journalism protects the public interest. It raises questions, informs and educates readers and audiences about things which affect or could reasonably be expected to affect their lives. Since hard news are all about facts, they can not deliver opinion. Also there should not be any emotions in hard news nor setting an atmosphere. These are things that are only in soft news.

Structure and form of hard news

Hard news have a special form: important information and facts come first and as quickly and easily as possible. The news always comes first and the article continues in descending order of importance. So at the end of the article are the least important facts. This form is called Inverted Pyramid or inverted triangle. Facts come quick and easy (must be clear, concise, no unnecessary words) and hard news are about information, so there are only facts, no adjectives. Also if writing hard news a journalist needs to make sure that his article is balanced. He needs sources from both sides of his story in order to be objective (Sources are everything!).

A hard news story should start with a good intro explaining in one short, sharp sentence of up to 25 words what a story is about (following all the “W”-questions that I wrote about in the introduction). Each sentence in hard news should be short, not longer than 25 words. One sentence per paragraph only (which means one thought per paragraph). In the first four paragraphs there should come at least one direct quote in order to keep the article lively and make the reader continue to read. The whole article should be written clear, concise, fast and pacey and should be easy to read. The last part of the article should contain non-essential details that might be interesting but have the weakest news value and are not essential to the story. The aim is to build interest and ensure clarity. While doing this any journalist should always keep in mind the three main values of journalism: Fairness, balance, accuracy and do no harm. It means always include several sides of the topic (not just one) and always make sure you have full disclosure, you are telling the truth and the correct facts (which is not always easy, there can be certain dilemmas, but this is the topic for the final essay).
For my article I decided the most important news is that Wendy Brabham calls out for a political change in treating aboriginal people. Also it was very nice to see that both generations – old and young – stand side by side to achieve this goal. After Mrs Brabhams speech I talked to her and to Ms Onus-Williams which was very exciting.
I was not quite sure who I should talk to as an opposite side to balance my sources. Who would publicly say anything against Aboriginals? (except your name is Tony Abbott, but well…kind of hard to reach). So I decided to just stick to the two voices that I have already had.

Impact of Social Media on the hard news Journalism

News writing has changed over the last couple of years since now we have Social Media. In Twitter you have only one go and you have to be short within 140 characters to tell the story. The journalist has to be concise and accurate (even though he has not long time to check accuracy). Social Media also means that the journalist has interaction with the audience that he has not had before. On Twitter, he has the Follower, on Facebook he has the comments of the audience. This can sometimes be helpful, because there is always someone who knows more about the topic and can provide helpful information or corrections. But sometimes it can also be very tiring to have endless discussions with readers and not all of their comments are helpful – sometimes they are just rude.
When using Twitter any person, especially a journalist should be extra careful what he puts out to the world. Scott McIntyre, SBS presenter, tweeted inappropriate things about ANZAC and as a consequence he got fired. Another example is Justine Sacco, senior director of corporate communications at IAC, who flew to Cape Town in Africa and before boarding the plane she tweeted this macabre joke: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She must have had the worst turning-the-phone-on-moment ever once she landed. She was the number 1 worldwide trend on Twitter trends and she has lost her job.
So what do we learn out of this? Don’t make macabre jokes, always think twice what you are tweeting – it could cost your job and your reputation.

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