This is ONLY a ten-credit module, with four elements to the assessment – five, if you count the appendix and references (hmm… is that six, even?).
And in class, we’ll be making things interactive with a Freedom of Information project that won’t even be assessed: but that’s good, because if we don’t get results, it doesn’t matter. And if you do get a story, you can use it for another module.
For a ten-point module, that’s a lot. It has to be managed.
So for 2006MAPA, the news stories MUST be high-speed journalism: the kind journalists produce under pressure, without the luxury of time. They do not require interviews. But the court story will get more marks if there are quotes from the hearing. They need to be clear, fair, and above all, accurate: the key details must be included.
Do not obsess about word count. Some stories do not merit lengthy treatment; some are impossible to tell briefly. It is more important that the writing is tight – no wasted words and flowery language – and that the length is appropriate. Feature pieces can be very short!
The court report
The court stories must be individual work, but it is okay if two or more students use the same quotes in their copy, because in real life, news organisations might be working from agency copy, or several reporters in the same hearing would be likely to use the same quotes. So students can work together to share quotes. But a bit of variation – in the choice of quotes, and the choice of details from the case – would be good.
What we’re testing here is that you understood what happened in court, you are legally safe, and you can write a good piece of copy. It is not about intellectual showing off, and baffling the reader with impenetrable legal detail.
The report must be fair and accurate: that is a legal requirement. So if you’re reporting the prosecution’s day in court, you must attempt to acknowledge the defence position (“The defendant denies the charges” may be the best you can do).
We will revisit the templates we used to write court cases in the first year. This year students will be encouraged to adopt the “anecdotal intro” approach, picking up on an interesting, or unusual, or emotive, or surprising aspect of the story to draw the reader in. This is likely to be necessary for a case that is only part-heard, because there is no verdict or sentence to open the story. However, the anecdotal approach is not always best: sometimes the most powerful aspect of a story is the verdict or the sentence, in which case that should be the intro. But in that situation, students should nonetheless try to bring the most compelling detail up towards the top of the story, and give the nuts and bolts (age, address, detail of charges) further down.
The ethics story
The story on an ethical issue must be individual work. It is likely that several people will write about the same issue, in which case they are likely to point to the same sections of the ethical codes (and the law, if there is a legal dimension). This is accepted, but you are encouraged to find your own sources for commentary.
Again, you do not need to conduct an interview for your ethics story. You can rely on written and broadcast sources: say, an official report, a government statement, a ruling from IPSO, a statement from a media organisation. You can use a mix of facts and actual quotes from these sources – write to be interesting.
You can take a hard news approach, or approach it as a piece of (short) feature-writing – say, in the style of a columnist. Or you could write it in the form of a broadcast two-way.
It is anticipated that your story will contain the following elements:
- The basic facts of the story that raises ethical issues. It might be a story that is about media ethics, or it might be something that happened that prompts ethical debate, or it might be that there’s something ethical problematic about way the story has been executed.
- The “official” bit – if it’s an Ofcom ruling, what does it say? Does it make an interesting point? There may not be an “official” bit.
- The ethical context: what the ethical codes say (cite one or more codes – especially if they say different things).
- The legal context, if relevant.
- Some sort of analysis. This might be a single sentence, or it might be the major element of your story. It might be the top line in the story, or it might be the pay-off at the end: you decide what it’s worth.
Remember, it’s a short, pithy piece of writing/reporting. Some of these elements might take up only one or two sentences, especially if you’re dealing with a well-known topic.
For the “analysis” (which won’t be “in depth”), a very good approach would be to quote commentary by an expert or a media commentator. For instance, columnists who write for outlets such as The Guardian, Press Gazette or Holdthefrontpage. Maybe the story has been discussed on television or radio, in which case you could quote what was said.
Even better, give an overview of commentary by several such experts, especially if this gives a mix of views.
You do NOT need to arrive at an opinion yourself, especially in a news story. But a feature-style piece might end with an observation: for instance, you might point out something that other people seem to have missed.
The story’s about ethics. That means it has to be ethical itself. Plagiarism is unethical: so while the story will draw on other people’s journalism, it is very important that you cite ALL your sources.
An outline for a two-way
Here’s a suggestion for what a two-way might look like. It’s fine to use this structure and these broad questions, but you should change the wording.
Let’s turn to the question of media ethics now. As we’ve been hearing in the news, (SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED – say what). The episode puts media practice under the spotlight once again. I’m joined by our media reporter FIRSTNAME SURNAME who can tell us more… remind us what the story’s about…
REPORTER: (recap the main points of the story – and the aspect that is ethically interesting).
PRESENTER: The media has to work to ethical codes of practice: what do they say about this sort of situation?
REPORTER: (Definitely quote from the relevant code – Ofcom for broadcast, Editor’s Code for print/online, no code for social media – but maybe add what the other codes say too, if they add interest).
PRESENTER: And what does the law say – because it’s not always the same thing.
REPORTER: (Cite any relevant law, or say it’s not actually covered by the law, or it’s unclear – as it might well be with emerging areas such as GDPR or privacy).
PRESENTER: (ask what the relevant regulator has said, or might say – if anything. If there’s been a ruling, ask what it is).
PRESENTER: What are the possible consequences of this for (name the media organisation or type)?
REPORTER: (say what “punishment” there will be, or might be. Explain that it usually doesn’t go beyond a ruling and a requirement to publish an apology – not a fine).
PRESENTER: And what interpretation should we put on this?
REPORTER: (quote from a media commentator or MP or whoever).
PRESENTER: (name of reporter), thank you. We’ll have more on that story as it unfolds.
Don’t bother with the last question and answer if no one has said anything about it.