Good Reporting

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Note: These notes are the personal views of the author(s) and reflect their personal experience with Indymedia. Different people may have different opinions!

The Five Ws

Any journalism course would probably start with the Five Ws, sometimes also known as the Five Ws and one H. A good report is supposed to answer six basic questions: What happened? Where and when did it happen? Who did it or was involved? Why did it all happen and how? Needless to say, the answers to all these questions are expected to be factual. Note also that none of them can be answered with a simple Yes or No.

The first three are fairly obvious, although your perspective would certainly affect, to a greater or lesser extent, the way you describe what happened. That's why Indymedia does not attempt to take an 'objective' or 'impartial' standpoint, the way mainstream media do to conceal their biases towards capitalism's power structures.

In reporting on major events, such as wars and big mibilisations, who and why become a real issue. Driven by their "worshipping of certainty", mainstream media often make up for not having the answer by recycling governments propaganda. So words like "terrorists", "anarchists" etc. fill in the gap of who, while phrases like "mindless violence", "rouge states" and so on give a false impression of knowing why.

A 'good report' would answer most, if not all, of thses questions in the first paragraph, known as the lead or abstract. For stylistic reasons, the answer to one question could be spread over a few sentences. Here is an example from an Indymedia feature (note the emphasis):

Over 250 Sub-Saharan Africans have been arrested by the Moroccan authorities in raids that took place in different quarters of Rabat on December 23rd, 2006. Among the arrested were women and children refugees and asylum seekers. Six buses, accompanied by the army, then carried them to Oujda on the Algerian borders. At about 11pm, the buses crossed the border at 3 different points and the migrants were left in the middle of nowhere. There are fears that these arrests are only the beginning of a mass deportation campaign to Algeria, or even into the desert, similar to what happened in September-October 2005.

Action Reports

The so-called Three Cs of journalism: clear, concise and correct. Clear means using a simple language. Concise means your report should be as brief and short as possible. Correct is supposed to be using only facts and being 'objective'.

Structuring or planning your story: Essential principles - a clear message and a logical flow. Anticipating and answering possible objections. Identifying the readers' needs. Selecting the best tone and style.

Get clear about the purpose of your report: what's it for, what's it supposed to achieve, what do you need it to say? If you're not clear your readers won't be either. it will help you a lot to sort the information or material you have before you start writing.

Mainstream journalists are trained (or should we say brain-washed?) to hide their own voices and use an alienated voice that sounds similar in most of what we read. Most people, however, have an authentic 'voice', which, when they connect with, allows them to express themselves forcefully and passionately. But in the written form, at least, fluency can be a rare commodity.

They are also brain-washed into conceling their opinions, pretending to be 'obective' and 'impartial'. We, however, don't have to do that: Have a point of view; it will help you, and your readers, if it's clear where you're coming from. But remember, a news report is not a column or analysis!

Title or headline.

Summary or abstract

Plain language: Writing in a clear, straightforward style, Getting to the point and being succinct, Avoiding ambiguity and errors of argument, Using appropriate headings in a clear hierarchy,

Photo Reports


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