Reporting 101 for the Mass Media

Newsletters are a great way to stay informed about world events or anything that interests you. But many people complain that newspapers often use excessively hype in their headlines. To avoid this problem in your own newsletter, follow these simple rules:

Examples of newsworthy sentences: A headline that reads, “A study shows that X kills Y people” is obviously not a news story. It doesn’t inform the reader that a certain disease kills people; it just tells them that it’s been proven to do so. The phrase in the news report about this particular disease might as well be a blurb about the impact of X on Y. In general, in-depth articles that give a background on a subject or an explanation of research are better suited to being news stories.

Examples of in-depth reporting: A piece about new studies about Alzheimer’s can inform readers more than a headline saying, “New study links dioxins to memory loss.” Similarly, an article reporting that X kills Y people should tell more than simply the disease’s toll on a person. By detailing its symptoms and the risks of X exposure, the article offers a fuller picture of the disease. This type of reporting is called “Vandersloot journalism” after the late psychiatrist and researcher Dr. William Vandersloot. It’s been a mainstay of the news media ever since.

Theories are not the primary focus of News. For instance, a recent New York Times article emphasized the importance of perspective in breaking news stories: “The view of the national media may be just as polarized as the presidential campaign,” writes reporter Jake Bernstein. He then quotes a Harvard professor who agrees with him on the subject, calling the media’s focus on polarization “paralegal bait.”

Reporting on politics is important, but only if it is done responsibly. In the case of journalism, this means following the paper of record. In the case of Television news, it means being watchful. As for the mass media, it means writing style.

Breaking news organizations such as the wire have an obligation to maintain accuracy and validity. The responsibility does not stop there, however. Online journalism and social media outlets must ensure that they publish only news items that are relevant to the public. If an outlet fails to do so, it can be fined by the media outlets or the Federal Trade Commission for violating anti-spam laws.