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 is 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

Generally speaking, a news report does not have to be a great piece of literature. It is purely functional, simple and direct.

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

Mainstream journalists are trained (or should we say brainwashed?) to hide their own voices and use a standardized way of writing. 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.

Mainstream journalists are also brainwashed into concealing their opinions, pretending to be 'obective' and 'impartial' (the so-called neutral point of view). 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!

Original reports

The main strive of Indymedia is getting news "direct from the streets" - first-hand journalism. This means the 'reporter' was him/herself involved in what he or she is reporting on; has witnessed the action or event or, at worst, got the information from trusted sources who have witnessed it. Obviously, reporting techniques may range from eyewitness accounts to interviews.

Accuracy is probably the most crucial thing here. At the end of the day, there is no point in over-estimating the numbers or impact of an action or protest, bearing in mind that the few people who turned up may all read what you've posted on Indymedia and become confused. More to the point, they would not believe anything else other people report there in the future.

Planning or structuring your story

You probably remember from school how to divide your composition into an introduction, content and conclusion. Well, news reports work in a similar way.

It will help you a lot to sort the information or material you've got before you start writing. Get clear about the purpose of your report and what you have to say, because if you are not clear about that, your readers won't be either.

The title or headline

It should be unique and specific (people usually choose the most important and unique thing). Should be short. Using verbs, present tense and active voice is usually recommended. Example:

The summary or abstract

After making sure the basic facts are there, the usual list of the Five Ws is often quite helpful. Try to answer most of them in the first paragraph (the abstract) but don't make your first paragraph a boring list of facts. After all, it's the first thing readers sees, so make it interesting. It is often a good trick to get the interesting stuff in right at the beginning of your report, to entice people to read more and save them time in sifting through the details. For instance, don't kick off a report with something like "It was 8.45am when the hardy contingent of Bognor Regis anarchists started to gather in readiness for the day's assault on the capitalist system..." but with something like "Police used tear gas and water cannon as 10,000 anarchists barricaded the streets of Bognor Regis this afternoon..." You can then recap on the details.

The body or content

Logical or chronological flow. Anticipating and answering possible questions or objections. Identifying the readers' needs. Selecting the best tone and style.

Never assume your readers know any of this in advance.

Photo Reports


Useful Tips

--ShiaR 12:48, 20 April 2007 (BST)