Chapter 9

Chapter 9 - Reporting

The practice of reporting -- gathering information that can be used in the presentation of news -- is one of the basic acts of journalism. How reporting takes place is of extraordinary importance to the field itself. Simply put, good reporting produces good journalism.

The number one act of any reporting is to produce accurate information. Getting information is a difficult and often frustrating task. Reporters cannot make people talk to them. Instead, they rely on the voluntary cooperation of people who have information. In many cases, those people will benefit themselves by talking with reporters. In other cases, they may feel a sense of civic responsibility to be cooperative. In yet other cases, they may fear that a reporter will not be able to tell their side of the story.

Whatever the case, reporters must follow certain conventions of behavior if they are to adhere to the standards of the profession. For instance, reporters should identify themselves when they are talking with potential sources so that those sources will have a choice about whether or not they want to cooperate with the news media. Reporters must deal honestly with their sources, making every attempt to be fair, accurate and complete in the information they gather.

Interviewing is the formal practice of talking with people in order to obtain information from them. Reporting requires skilled interviewing, which often takes place over the phone and under deadline pressure.

Reporting also requires great attention to details. Reporters must make accurate observations, and they must go to some lengths to make sure that they spell names correctly and double-check other important information.

Study questions

  • What are the five Ws and why are they important?

  • What are the three types of sources of information a reporter may use?

  • Of the three types of sources, which type is used most often by reporters?

  • What is a beat?

  • What are some of the aspects of interviewing a reporter should always practice? What is the difference between open-ended and close-ended questions?

  • Accuracy -- gathering accurate information -- is the chief goal of the reporter. Why?

  • Why is getting the same information from more than one source a good idea?

Chapter notes

Context in reporting.
One of the criticisms of journalism is that reporters report events as events only, rather than giving them any context. That is, they do not relate these events to other events or information that would help a reader understand them more fully. Stephen Downes, a Canadian educator, has written a short essay on how reporters can introduce more context into their reporting.

Interviewing. One of the skills a reporter must develop is the art of interviewing. The text pays a good deal of attention to helping students develop this skill. For more information about interviewing, start with this article, The Art of Asking Questions ( from the Poynter Institute.

Math. Many journalists say (sometimes jokingly, sometimes not) that they got into the profession because they would not have to deal with a lot of math. For most working reporters, however, that turns out not to be the case. They have to deal with math every day. A good reporter should know how to figure a ratio, an average, a median and a percentage. Here are some web sites that will help you out: (
Investigative Reporters and Editors (with a terrific math test:
University of North Carolina math competency test for journalists ( Why Math Matters by Chip Scanlan (with additional links) (

Plagiarism. Students sometimes get mixed up about what constitutes plagiarism, but journalists should never let that happen. They should understand that plagiarism is one of the worst things they can do, and they should know how to avoid it. Here is what the Detroit Free Press has to say about plagiarism:

When material is used in a story from sources other than the writer's own reporting, those sources--other publications, previous Free Press stories, radio or TV newscasts, etc.--should be indicated in the story. That attribution need not be made for simple, verifiable facts like dates, but is essential for information that goes beyond simple fact-quotations or descriptions not heard or seen by the current reporter, characterizations or other generalizations not based on the writer's own reporting, etc...

Using someone else's work without attribution -whether deliberately or thoughtlessly--is a serious ethical breach. Staff members should be alert to the potential for even small, unintentional acts of plagiarism, especially in the reporting of complicated stories involving many sources.

Borrowing ideas from elsewhere, however, is considered fair journalistic practice. Problems arise in the gray areas between the acceptable borrowing of inspiration and the unacceptable stealing of another's work. Our standards:

Words directly quoted from sources other than the writer's own reporting should be attributed. That may mean saying the material came from a previous Free Press story, from a television interview, from a magazine or book or wire service report.

When other work is used as the source of ideas or stylistic inspiration, the result must be clearly your own work. That is, what is acceptable to learn from another are the elements of style and approach-tone, rhythm, vocabulary, topic ideas-and not specific words, phrases, images.

You can find what other codes of ethics have to say about plagiarism at Journalism. org (

Sources. The chapter lists three kinds of sources: observational, stored and personal. Take a look at a news story in your local paper or on its web site. Try to ascertain all of the sources that the reporter used to gather information for this story. Repeat this exercise until you have a good feeling for what kind of information a reporter tries to get for a news story and for what sources he or she is likely to use.

References for reporters. Any good newsroom should have a basic set of references on its bookshelf: a good, extensive dictionary, atlas and thesaurus, a good set of encyclopedias, phone books, city directories and other directories. Here is a list of other references with which a reporter should be familiar.

Key concepts and terms

• Who, What, When, Where, Why and How – the key questions that journalists must answer when they are gathering their information and writing their stories.

Stored sources – information that is contained in written or electronic files.

Accuracy – the main goal of reporting; journalists go to great lengths to make sure their information is accurate and presented in an accurate context so that readers and viewers will have the same understanding of that information that the journalist does.

Personal sources – the people who give journalists information; in daily journalism, personal sources are most important because they have information that is not stored yet.

• Almost all good journalists are good interviewers; they know how to talk with people, and they know how to listen.

Observational sources – information that the journalist sees in the course of reporting; stories about sports events, for instance, are written mainly with observational sources.

Quotation – what a source says; a direct quotation is the exact words that a source uses while an indirect quotation uses different words from what the source used, but those words mean the same thing.

Related web
sites for
Chapter 9

Investigative Reporters and Editors

Society of Professional Journalists

Project for Excellence in Journalism

The Journalist's Toolbox

Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism

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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