Chapter 8

Chapter 8 - Reporters

Great sports writers
Lauren Cabell: How to become your editor's favorite reporter

Reporters start the journalistic process by gathering information. Without them, journalism in its truest form cannot take place.

In gathering information, reporters follow certain journalistic practices. They have an idea of the kind of information they need before they ever begin writing their stories. This idea comes from experience and training. They also have an idea about what sources -- the people and places that have information -- will be available to them and which are the best to use. Again, this idea is based on their experience and the experiences of others in the news organization.

Good reporters try to develop a wide range of knowledge to use their pursuit of information and in evaluating that information. Personally, they must be curious, persistent and honest in dealing with others around them. They must understand journalism in order to develop a "nose for news" -- a sense of what might develop into a good story. They must be able to sense when someone is lying or shading the truth or when the information and events they encounter simply do not add up.

Good reporters try to gather accurate information. They recognize they may have points of view about the information or people they deal with, but they try to set those biases aside as much as humanly possible. They are competitive and understand that one of the standards of being good at journalism is getting information before anyone else has it. Accuracy in gathering and presenting information is their chief goal, however.

Study questions
  • Describe the day of a newspaper reporter based on the things you have read in this chapter and elsewhere in the book.

  • What are the most important personal characteristics a person should have to be a good reporter?

  • What are the most important jobs of a reporter? What is the most important job?

  • How does a person become a reporter?

Chapter notes

Do reporters have more fun?
The chapter emhasizes how difficult it is to be a reporter. That's certainly true. But it's also fun. That's what Jack Hamilton says:

. . . as much responsibility as our profession carries, we have a comparative advantage in having fun. Being a journalist is endlessly exhilarating. Most people stop taking field trips after they leave grade school. Journalism is one field trip after another. We can knock on any door and ask questions. And if they don't let us in, we can go around to the back.

John Maxwell Hamilton was a foreign correspondent, reporting for ABC radio and the Christian Science Monitor, and also worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank. He is dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University and of author of several books including Hold the Press: The Inside Story on Newspapers (with George A. Krimsky). Hamilton is right, and students should be reminded about how much fun they can have if they decide to become a reporter.

All the President's Men. Possibly the best book yet on the day-to-day slog of putting together a big story is All the President's Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. These are the two reporters that broke the Watergate story, and their reporting eventually led to the resignation of Richard Nixon as president in 1974. If you are going to read one book about reporters, read this one. But there are many others. One good one is H.L. Mencken's Newspaper Days.

Reporting to fiction writing. Many newspaper reporters began their careers as newspaper reporters. They weren't writing fiction then (we hope), but they were talking to people, listening to what they said and how they said it. They were observing how people interacted with one another and how they reacted to certain situations. It would be easy to produce a long string of reporters-turned-fiction writers. You could begin with Mark Twain.

Get to know a reporter. One of the best reporters of the past two generations is Seymour Hersh. Working for a small news service in the 1960s, Hersh exposed the story of the My Lai massacre -- a 1968 incident in Vietnam during which U.S. soldiers killed many civilians in a small village. Hersh was still going strong in 2004 when, as a writer for the New Yorker magazine, he exposed the abuses of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces at the Abu Ghraib prison. There have been many big stories in between those two. Find out more about Hersh. Start at the Wikipedia site. devoted to him. (

Sports reporters. Many people aspire to be sports writers simply because they enjoy watching sports. Being a sports writer is a noble aspiration, but the very best sports writers have gone beyond the games they watch and lifted their writing -- and their readers -- into the realms of literature. Three of the best of the 20th century were Grantland Rice, Red Smith and Shirley Povich. Rice wrote the most famous sports lead paragraph of all time comparing the Notre Dame football backfield to the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse. Read more about them.

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Reporters depend not only on the First Amendment freedom to publish but also the implied First Amendment freedom to gather the news. Issues surrounding how reporters work -- and the legal and quasi-legal obstacles they encounter -- are covered by an organization called the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Check out this organization's web site ( on a regular basis if you want to keep up with the world of reporting.

Key concepts and terms

• The essential act of journalism is gathering information. This is done by reporters.

Deadline – the time when a story is due.

Interview – the way in which much information for journalism is gathered; reporters talk with sources (people who have information) in person, by telephone, by email or any number of other ways of communicating.

Beat – the area or subject that a reporter regularly covers and writes stories about, such as the police beat or education beat.

• Editors oversee and direct the activities of reporters. Few people in journalism work alone. Many people are involved in the process of gathering and disseminating information.

• Journalists must adhere to a personal standard of integrity; they must be able to deal honestly with their sources and they must be able to evaluate information honestly.

• Journalists must pay attention to details – the exact spelling of someone’s name, the exact time that something happened, etc.

Related web
sites for
Chapter 8

American Society of Authors of Journalists

Society of Professional Journalists

National Association of Black Journalists

National Association of Hispanic Journalists

Section I | 1: News and Society  |  2: Culture of Journalism  |  3: Becoming a Journalist
Section II  |  4: Newspapers  |  5: Magazines  |  6: Television and Radio  |  7: News Web Sites
Section III  |  8: Reporters  |  9: Reporting  |  10: Writing news and features  |  11: Style  | 
12: Editors13: Editing and headline writing  |  14: Visual Journalists  |
  15: Graphics Journalism  |  16: Photojournalism  |  17: Publication Design  |
  18: Broadcasters  |  19: Writing for Broadcast
Section IV  |  20: Beginnings of Journalism  |  21: Journalism Comes of Age  | 
22: New Realities, New Journalism  |   23: 20th Century and Beyond
Section V  |  24: Law and the Journalist  |  25: Ethical Practices  |   26: Present and Future
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