BASIC QUESTIONS, BASIC ANSWERS
The primary role of the journalist is to give the reader the answers to the questions that are on everybody’s lips when an event occurs. These questions are always the same and always elicit the same responses. The basic forms of journalism vary only according to the number of elements of response.
INFORMING IS PROVIDING INFORMATION
There are always four basic questions: Who? What? Where? When? The response by the journalist is as basic as each of these questions. It involves a sentence composed of a subject (who?), a verb (what?), a circumstantial complement of place (where?) and a circumstantial complement of time (when?). Example: Mark Pesos taken hostage at the Dosh Bank headquarters last night.
NARRATION IS PROVIDING INFORMATION BY TELLING A STORY
The Brief is the form that gives minimal information. A single statement suffices: Mark Pesos, the banker in charge of the British Dosh Group, was taken hostage at around 19:30 yesterday evening at the multinational’s headquarters, located on Money Street. His captors, who were armed and masked, were paid a ransom of eight million pounds before fleeing in a helicopter that was waiting on the roof of the building. Mark Pesos was released, shaken, but unharmed.
This informative genre requires the greatest degree of simplicity when writing. Tip: avoid adverbs and adjectives.
The Narrative is the form that gives the maximum amount of information. This is a detailed account of a sequence of events that are linked to one another in a chronological or logical order to inform the reader of what we know about an event in the clearest possible way. The journalist simply needs to add some basic sentences: The Dosh Bank on Money Street was about to close its doors last night when two masked and armed individuals burst into the deserted foyer of the building. The two intruders immediately made their way to the office of Mark Pesos on the fourth floor of the building. Given the time of day, there were very few bank employees still on the premises. Mark Pesos was first bound to his office chair, etc.
All forms of narration fall into this genre: the report, the standard handling of various events and the announcement of events.
REPORTING IS PROVIDING INFORMATION THROUGH DESCRIPTIONS
The Report is the format that provides optimal information. It is a Narrative that is accompanied by a description of the events being reported. That description adds all of the characteristic details to the account: colours, sounds, emotions, scenes of life, scenes of death, etc. Reports allow the reader to form an image in their mind. The use of adverbs, adjectives and things seen and heard make the events more real.
Mark Pesos, the well-known banker, was the victim of an unbelievable hostage situation last night at the headquarters of the Dosh Group, which he manages. He was just getting ready to put on his coat to go home at around 7:30pm, when two individuals, their features masked by black balaclavas, burst into his imposing office on the fourth floor of the building, knocking over all of the potted plants in their path. According to Mark Pesos’ secretary, who witnessed the events, the hostage-takers entered the room calmly before shouting: “Put your hands up! Now!”
However long the article is, all descriptions constitute a report.
ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS, ADDITIONAL ANSWERS
Depending on the events that have occurred, there are sometimes two additional questions: How? Why? These questions are raised when the events cannot be immediately understood. To ensure that they can be better understood, the journalist includes some clarifications when putting the information into words.
INFORMING IS EXPLAINING
Answering the “how” and “why” of observed events means explaining the origins, the motives and the reasons behind those events. It means scrutinising the events more closely, under a magnifying glass, going beyond outward appearances to decode their true nature and to decipher their true meaning.
INVESTIGATING IS EXPLAINING WHILE ANALYSING
The Investigation is the informative and analytical format. It makes things understandable. It involves breaking the events down into the constituent parts. Was Mark Pesos taken hostage last night? The investigating journalist brings together all of the available data and then explains what the hostage-takers’ intentions are or may be, how they prepared to take their hostage, what repercussions this could have for the group, etc. This analytical work requires a sound knowledge of the subject-matter in question, appropriate documentation, reliable sources, accurate witness reports and time to think. It is sometimes the case that the analytical investigation is not able to explain certain things as a result of data being invisible, hidden or obscured. In such cases, the journalist begins conducting research outside of the known data. This is the investigation, the most in-depth form of information.
INTERVIEWING IS EXPLAINING WHILE ANALYSING
The Interview is an analytical process that involves substitution. When the journalist is not able to provide the explanations expected of him or her, he or she seeks the advice of an expert in the field. Mark Pesos has just fallen victim to a hostage situation! You are very familiar with Dosh, Mr Shrewd, could you explain to us the repercussions that this event is likely to have for the group?… Interviews published in question-and-answer format are the most enlightening.
INFORMING IS PROVIDING INTERPRETATIONS
When the narration, description and analysis leave grey areas with regard to the observed events, the journalist can interpret the facts: if he or she is unable to present the full details of the facts, he or she can attempt to decipher them using the snippets of information at his or her disposal.
COMMENTING IS INTERPRETING WHILE EVALUATING
There are several ways that journalists can share their personal thoughts with their readers, but all are forms of commentary: opinion pieces, columns, drawings: Mark Pesos was taken hostage yesterday evening, just hours after announcing a mass redundancy plan to his employees. It is hard to believe that these two events are not linked… It is down to the reader to judge the relevance of the interpretation.
THE EDITORIAL IS INTERPRETING WHILE DRAWING A CONCLUSION
If, at the end of his or her personal reflections, the journalist comes to a value-based judgement with regard to the events that he or she has observed, analysed and studied, then he or she is writing an editorial: The kidnapping of Mark Pesos buys some time for his employees. The reader is free to choose whether or not to adopt this point of view, which, in any event, sheds light on the editorial writer’s thought process and therefore constitutes information in itself.