In the light of day to day operational procedures in newsrooms how truly ‘independent’ is any journalist in their writing in terms of both content and style?
Journalism entails all aspects of defining what is news, getting the story, telling the story, editing the story, and then, finally, broadcasting the story or placing it online. Therefore, it entails a series of events from the start to the end when the audience gets the final broadcast of the story. According to McIntyre (2012), journalism falls under the broad spectrum of human creativity and creative practices. It is evident that creativity is the leading source of motivation that depicts the success of a journalist in his or her profession. This paper discusses issues regarding ‘in the light of day to day operational procedures in newsrooms, how truly ‘independent’ is any journalist in their writing in terms of both content and style?’ This postulation is aimed at establishing the independence of a journalist in the news room in regards to their space of writing. From intuition, and in reference to the available literature, it is evident that the independence of a journalist has been limited in light of the day to day operational procedures in newsrooms. This limitation entails the journalist’s limitation in regards to their writing independence.
In terms of content and style, the independence of any journalist varies. For instance, independence of a journalist is usually evident at the e time of collecting the news. Therefore, any information collected by the journalist represents his or her objectivity in regards to the issue making the news. Through editing and other related practices, it becomes evident that the writing style varies. This also implies that the journalist loses his or her independence since the third parties in the newsroom take part in modifying and editing the collected reports. In addition, there are rules and regulations in every media house that guide the practice of journalism. These rules regulate the manner in which journalists address and present their reports. For instance, journalism has the power to serve as watchdog over the individuals who are in power and whose positions affect the citizens. Kovach and Rosenstiel (2007) states that journalism is the voice of the voiceless and is capable of watching over the powerful few to eliminate any plausibility of the status of tyranny. Additionally, journalism is a powerful tool for placement of the society in a better level of confronting the ills in the society (Holmes, 2012). Meanwhile, as journalists focus on being the voice of the voiceless, other issues regarding the credibility of their reports arise. Worst still, the issues that lead to compromising of information occur in the newsrooms where certain information is eliminated, distorted or added to fulfil the standards or rules guiding the newsrooms. For instance, there have been serious allegations against numerous newsrooms for gagging their journalists in terms of the content and the style of writing the content (Hachten, 2004). When a journalist comes up with a report that is deemed ‘sensitive’, the procedures in the newsrooms tend to curb the release of such information to the public, which a direct infringement on the independence of journalists. This is also due to the fulfilment of personal interests or the interests of third parties especially in the political arena (Dader, 2014). In other scenarios’ such alterations are made to either eliminate or reduce the impacts of the information to avoid incrimination or being accused of defamation.
The writing style, apart from the content, is another important factor that determines whether the independent of a journalist is guaranteed. It is evident that content writing is a manifestation of the procedures laid down in the newsrooms. Therefore, journalists, in writing their content, must adhere to the specific procedures predetermined by the management of the newsrooms. Good news writing is accurate, clear, and concise as confirmed by Potter (2006). As much as journalists, would like to cover their stories in length to present every idea or image collected, the restrictions at the news organizations bar them from proceeding with such wishes. Running such lengthy stories is limited because there would be no much time to cover other stories and news. Therefore, for news organizations to cover a wide range of different stories, they are forced to limit the space and time that journalists might want to fully present their stories. With this limitation in place, there are implications that the independence of such journalists is limited because the procedures at the newsrooms determine what should be presented, the time of presentation, and the time-limit within the presentation can be aired or broadcasted.
News stories usually have shorter sentences and paragraphs as compared to the other styles of writing. For example, each paragraph is consisted of a single idea and a new paragraph presents a new idea or setting (Potter, 2006). In addition to the precision of the paragraphs, it is mandatory for journalists to use simple direct language that is easier to understand. Such language should have more nouns and verbs as opposed to adverbs and adjectives. Well written news are void of repetition, ambiguity, or vagueness. Definitely, journalists are forced to abide by these regulations when writing their stories and before the final presentation of the stories to the public. In this case, Strunk, White and Kalman (2005) notes that the basic rule of writing is ‘omit needless word’. Therefore, journalists are required to ensure that they acquire the basic skills of writing good content in terms of style. As a matter of facts, it can be proclaimed that the news covered in the newsrooms are written in a manner that suits the procedures laid down by the news organisations but do not arise from the concepts proclaimed by the journalists at an individual levels.
On the other hand, the content of a journalist can be easily altered in the newsrooms to suit the required ethical standards of professionalism as indicated in Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi and Damon (2001). In most cases, the news collectors present their reports to the newsrooms, which are passed through the editors for scrutiny. This implies that the content cab be easily altered by the editors to suit their own interests or the interests of the news organizations while ignoring the independence of the primary journalists. The existence of different levels or professionalism within journalism ranks presents challenges to most journalists. In most news organizations, information flows from one individual to the other. In this regard, each level of professionalism makes changes to the information, which distorts the initial information presented by a journalist.
In terms of editing the information, editors are declared strong journalists and newsroom leaders because they are involved in the processing of news from the start to the end (Potter, 2006). They have the assignment of determining the stories to be covered and by whom. Their skills also allow them to shape the stories as they develop. They also discuss with the other professionals within the newsrooms to evaluate the information presented and what they ought to release to the public. This implies that their contribution in processing news is inevitable; therefore, they tend to alter or enhance the primary information presented by the journalist who collect information from the field. Therefore, as regards the editing, the independence of the journalists who present the reports is limited. They lack the powers to present the raw information as collected from the sources without the consent of the editors (Hamilton, 2003).
In numerous newsrooms, there are producers in addition to the editors. Reporters do not assemble or report the news without the approval of the content by the producers. The producers are responsible for orientation of the stories. They arrange the stories in accordance with the procedures laid down in the newsrooms and establish the order of broadcasting the stories. They also assign specific amount of time to each story (Overholser & Jamieson, 2005). In this case, it implies that the reporters subscribe to the instructions provided by the producers. Therefore, they are not fully independent in broadcasting any content that has not been approved by the producers in the newsrooms. This implies that their independence is controlled by the subjectivity of the producers.
In conclusion, journalism is the central pillar of the representation of the voiceless and holding the powerful parties accountable for their actions. Journalism is expected to work in total independence to eliminate subjectivity and embrace objectivity. However, in the light of day to day operational procedures in newsrooms, the independence of any journalist in their writing in terms of both content and style is affected. For instance, the news collectors in the field collect enough information that they wish to be presented to the public. However, the information is not presented as might be expected because the newsroom procedures require the editors to work on the content. Similarly, the reporters cannot report news before the approval by the producers. Therefore, in regards to the procedures in the newsrooms, it is evident that the independence of journalists is highly limited.
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