METHODS OF GATHERING NEWS
LEARNING OBJECTIVE: Recognize the most commonly used methods of gathering Navy news.
The four most commonly used methods in news gathering used by Navy journalists are observation, telephone conversations, research and interviews.
Observation consists of your actually seeing an event take place and then reporting what you have seen in the form of a news story. The difference between a good story and a poor one is often in the skill of the observer. Skilled observers use their eyes, ears, mind, notebooks and tape recorders. They make sure they get the concrete facts, specific figures and accurate information. They look for the colorful, the dramatic or the unusual in any situation.
Skilled observers always try to get more information than they actually need. They know it is easier to discard excess material than to retrace their steps after the story is cold. Developing your powers of observation can come only through experience. You cannot become a skilled observer by simply reading a book. The key to becoming a good observer is to look for more than you see on the surface.
The telephone plays an important role in your daily work as a journalist. It saves you time, legwork and it often enables you to reach people who are ordinarily too busy to see you in person.
Telephone conversations may range from full-scale interviews to brief queries to verify or amplify information. But regardless of how often you use this method of news gathering, you should keep the following points in mind:
l Know what information you want before you dial. Keep your pencil and paper handy. Do not call someone and then ask that person to wait while you look for writing materials.
l Speak politely indistinct, well-modulated tones.
l Be cheerful and businesslike.
l Make sure you get your facts straight. Ask the other person to repeat figures or spell out names.
l Avoid three-way conversations among yourself, the person on the telephone and somebody else in your office.
l Recheck your information by reading it back to the person who has given it to you.
l Record the conversation using a "telephone pick-up" (a device that attaches to the telephone receiver and plugs into the microphone jack of the cassette tap recorder). Be sure to inform the person on the other end that you are recording the conversation for note-taking purposes only.
l Do not discuss classified information.
Although a telephone is a very useful instrument, remember it is not the only, and not necessarily the best, method of gathering news. It should supplement, but not replace, all other methods. Whenever it is proper and convenient, use the telephone, but do not be afraid to engage in a little legwork
Research is nothing more than digging out information from files and reference works. Research is used to verify or amplify facts in news stories and to give depth to feature stories and magazine articles. Very few
Navy public affairs offices have adequate reference libraries. To do any extensive research, learn to use the facilities of the nearest Navy, public or college library. Here you can find the necessary books, encyclopedias, almanacs, magazines, atlases, directories, indexes and similar References. The Naval Historical Center (OP-09BH), Washington, D.C., is a good source of additional information about the Navy.
About 90 percent of everything in a news story is based on some form of interviewing - either in person, by telephone, or occasionally, by correspondence.
As a Navy journalist in search of information, you must learn who to get information from and how to record facts. You must learn techniques for handling different kinds of people - how to draw some out, how to keep others on the topic and how to evaluate the motives or honesty of others. In short, you must learn how to get along with people and how to treat them with tact and understanding while still accomplishing your purpose.
Types of Interviews
A distinction must be made between news stories that are merely based on interviews and actual interview stories. Very seldom is a journalist present at the scene of an accident as it takes place - for example, at a collision between two automobiles. A story of this type must be based entirely on interviews - either in person or by telephone - with the police, with eyewitnesses, with the victims themselves, and depending upon the gravity of the accident, with the garage mechanics, hospital attendants, relatives of the victims and others.
In news stories of this kind, the journalist is concerned with a news event that requires interviewing people to learn the facts. The interview story, on the other hand, is essentially a feature built around the views, personality or exploits of an individual or group of individuals. The difference, in most cases, is largely in the emphasis. In writing the interview-based news story, you stress the news, whereas in the interview story, you place the stress on the person being interviewed.
Interviews are as varied as the people who grant them, the journalists who conduct them and the news that suggests them. Rarely are interviews so mechanical that they can be reduced to standard formulas or categories. Several types, however, deserve special attention because they are the ones that occur most frequently. They are as follows:
Prepared question interview
NEWS INTERVIEW. - The news interview is based on "hard news," some event or development of current and immediate interest. Suppose you are a journalist assigned to the staff of Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet (COMNAVAIRLANT), and a new supercarrier has been launched for the Navy. Later, you learn the earner will be assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, and you are assigned to write the story. The original news announcement released by the shipyard or naval authorities would most likely contain only the broad, straight facts - cost, size and construction details.
A story of this scope is of major interest to the local community of the supercarrier's home port. Media want more information than is offered in the initial report. By interviewing competent news sources, such as key officers on COMNAVAIRLANT's staff, and asking well-defined, carefully considered questions, you can localize, illuminate, expand and add depth to the original story. When will the ship be commissioned? How will the ship's presence affect the local economy? What will its mission be? When is it expected to join the fleet? To which carrier division will it be assigned? Will there be a flag officer embarked? Has a prospective CO been selected? How will this new carrier strengthen our national defense effort?
In any interview, try to speak to the best authority available. Do not settle for the supply clerk if the information you need should come from the CO.
TELEPHONE INTERVIEW. - The telephone interview, a modified version of the news interview, has a number of obvious advantages, and at the same time, it has several limitations that challenge a resourceful journalist. Ingenuity and clear thinking are sometimes needed to locate a news source when a big story breaks; the power of persuasion is often necessary to elicit information from a reluctant person who can easily hang up the receiver, and a sympathetic telephone voice is important when you are talking to a family where tragedy has struck
CASUAL INTERVIEW. - An accidental encounter between a journalist and a news source on the street or at a social gathering can often result in a tip that arouses the curiosity of a writer. A major news story may be the result after you do some digging.
PERSONALITY INTERVIEW. - In the personality interview an effort is made to let the reader see the appearance, mannerisms, background and even the character of the subject. Magazines like the New Yorker have developed this type of interview, called "a profile," into a high art not easily attained by daily newspapers under the pressure of deadlines. However, with preliminary research on an interviewee's background, intelligent planning of questions and skillful interviewing, a good journalist can let a person's words and mannerisms bring that individual vividly to life in an interesting newspaper feature story.
SYMPOSIUM INTERVIEW. - From time to time, news developments of current interest require a journalist or a team of journalists to seek information not from one or two sources but from a dozen, or perhaps a hundred or more. For example, which of the two presidential candidates in the television debate made the best impression on the public? How do the residents of a city feel about their football team winning the Super Bowl? For some stories - as in a pre-election poll - all of the techniques of a scientific opinion sampling may be required. In other instances, reactions and comments may result in a lively feature story. Depending on the subject, the symposium (or group) interview may bring out opinions of importance, entertainment or merely the views of the "man on the street" on some subject of general interest.
NEWS CONFERENCE. - In recent years, an increasingly popular phenomenon of journalism has developed - the news conference. By presenting news conferences "live" on television, President Kennedy raised them to one of the most potent forces in the public exchange of opinion between the people and their government. For close to 70 years, in a different format, the news conference has been an important source of news. The person interviewed at a news conference may be the President of the United States, the Chief of Naval Operations, a senior government official, the manager of a big league team, a movie star plugging a new motion picture or any other person promoting what is believed to be a news story of interest to the public. As in every interview story, preliminary groundwork pays off; a knowledge of the interviewee's background is indispensable. During the interview, an alertness to story possibilities often leads to unexpected results.
Additional details on news conferences are covered later in this chapter.