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10 Ways To Gather Information For A News Story

Posted on 17 January 2011 by Aakanksha Shahi

All reporters collect, confirm, record and interpret information. Good news must have access to special information and must recognize the makings of a news story and act immediately.

Specifically following are the sources of news for any reporter:

1. Personal Participation: Although the reporter is never part of the news, occasionally it can’t be evaded. The normal role is of a disinterested observer, politically and ideologically neutral. A reporter becomes a name in the news when he or she is gassed, or injured or taken prisoner. It hardly ever happens but when it does, the reporter is entitled to write a first person account.

2. Direct Observation: In the language of an editor, a newspaper “staffs” an event when one or more reporters are sent to cover it in person. Staffing is an expensive, time consuming way to cover the news and the decision is seldom taken lightly. Reporters must ask questions in order to confirm what they have seen or heard.  The reporter who staffs an event should recognize his or her own limitations and always seek other viewpoints and information.

3. Asking Questions: The interview is a highly flexible method of getting information. It may be conducted face-to-face or by telephone, television, or mail. It may be highly structured with the reporter preparing a list of carefully phrased questions, or it may be a little more than an informal conversation. In the press conference several reporters interview one source; in the panel discussion one or more reporters interview a group. A reporter must be an interrogator and empathic listener. Persistence may also be necessary to keep the interview in control.

4. Reference Material: Print is as important a source of news as people. Specialized reporters read trade magazines, scientific journals. The police reporter scans officers’ accident reports, the dispatcher’s log and a variety of records. Reporters begin each day by reading the most recent edition of their own newspaper and many of their stories are based on developments in continuing situations. Often a story results from last year’s files to see what’s likely to be happening in the present. The reporter reads many things mainly in order to get ideas for stories.

5. Scientific Research Methods: Reporters often use the findings of social scientists as the basis of stories. Many newspapers publish syndicated opinion polls regularly. On occasion a journalist may also use some of the scientist’s methods. A growing practice is to use scientific methods to investigate special problems. The basic requirement of a scientific poll is that everyone in the population to be surveyed has an equal chance of being interviewed. Questions must be prepared so as to eliminate persons who are uninformed. And this method should not be confused with “the man on the street” interviews.

6. Unofficial Sources: These sources include people closest to us – relatives, friends, people we have known for years and people we meet everyday.

•Own experiences and acquaintances.

•People we work with; like, print person, advertising salesmen, circulation workers and other newsmen. For instance, a casual chat with a fellow reporter may yield a scrap of information that completes a puzzle, that has baffled us for weeks.

•People who hear a lot; salespeople, barbers, waitresses, hotel porters, receptionists etc.

7. Cultivating Sources-Official And Unofficial Sources: The next thing to do is to develop sources. Official spokesmen are not usually sources. It’s generally not the job of a source to begin with: not the mayor, but the mayor’s assistants; not a company president, but the vice-president in charge of operations. The big names make pronouncements, but the mid-level sources often originate policy changes, and can help a reporter to understand them. In addition, they can describe their bosses’ motives, fears, regrets and follow-up moves.

Sources usually have pet products or projects and many reporters will sometimes admit to having filed newsworthy stories on these primarily to cultivate the sources. Another way to get acquainted is to do a series of portraits of people behind the scenes. Never pass up the opportunity to meet a source.

8. Reporting From Releases And Hand-Outs: Announcement stories that companies or individuals send out often plague the newspaper office. Obviously a newspaper can use very little information that comes into the office this way, even if it is high quality because of space limitations. While most releases are self-serving, telling the general public what the person or company wants the public to know; nevertheless, sometimes releases can provide sources and ideas for news.

The professional release has the name and address of the PR officer and the company which can be used as contacts. Most newspapers rewrite any releases they decide to use, for several reasons. First, an editor can never be sure of the veracity of all releases. Certainly many releases are incomplete and the newspaper person must make a call to flesh out or verify information. A reporter should check the authenticity of the material and in turn may find matter which could give the lead story or another angle to the story.

9. Press Conferences: As far as press conferences are concerned, the reporters usually keep a list of questions ready when they interview a panel or a person individually. The list is very liberating, because it allows the reporter to explore tangents or new directions without worrying that he’ll forget to ask an important question.

10. Public Meetings: They are extremely important because the issue or the opinions expressed can be of common knowledge but they are being said by a new person i.e. the speaker is not necessarily known or is representing his group or party for the first time. It can be the same person giving the same statement but at two different places and in a different context. Meetings can also lead to the formulation of new opinions. Also, meetings are analyzed in greater depth and therefore lead to detailed reports.

If the above factors are considered, one can make a good news story that can cater to the reader as well as do justice to his work.

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