A Reflection on Hard News

As Stuart Allan said in Keywords in News and Journalism Studies, hard news is type of reporting, “associated with importance, significance, immediacy and relevance”. Journalists use this style globally to inform the public of the facts. Its key function is to do this in a concise and unbiased manner. The distinctive form used is called the inverted pyramid, with the most important news at the start so the reader can gage the full story from the first paragraph. As Marcel Danesi said in Dictionary of Media and Communication, hard news “helps audiences make intelligent decisions about an issue or event, with little accompanying commentary”.

The most important concept in journalism is form follows function. The function of hard news is to deliver the facts to the public sphere in a clear, concise and unbiased manner. There are many positive factors when it comes to this process. It is quick and efficient which means the story can be out in the media without too much delay. Audiences are able to draw their own conclusions and formulate their own views because there is no bias or opinion. A negative aspect though is journalists are unable to convey emotion or atmosphere in their pieces. Opinion is another irrelevant aspect so journalists are rightly unable to represent only one side of the issue.

The inverted pyramid is the form journalists use when writing hard news. According to Reporting and Writing: Basics for the 21st Century by Christopher Scanlan, “prior to the 19th century news writing had been slow paced”. The invention of the telegraph in the mid-1800s led to a quicker and more efficient way of reporting. The hard news form was developed and with it the inverted pyramid. As Stephen Lamble said in News as it Happens: An Introduction to Journalism, “the idea is to provide the most newsworthy information first, and the least important last”. So in the introduction, the journalist must explain what, where and at times who. In the subsequent paragraphs journalists then explain the when, why and how. This is so the reader can stop reading at any point and still understand the full story.

The type of language used in hard news is also different. As the main goal is to keep the reader interested, journalists aim to be pacey and clear. This means hard news is written in active voice and sentences are under 25 words. Unnecessary words like ‘that’ or ‘quite’ are also removed. A direct quote is used within the first four paragraphs to make the audience willing to read on. No adjectives are used and only the word ‘said’ is used to attribute people’s quotes. This is so the writer can remain as objective as possible without any connotations. Quotes are also written in a distinctive hard news style. No ellipses are used to prevent the quote from sounding jolted. If it is a direct quote, the quotation marks are placed outside the full stop or comma. When it’s indirect though, all punctuation is outside the quotation marks.

The theoretical basis of journalism is the Enlightenment and hard news aims to put this theory into practice. The key beliefs are humankind is inherently good and reasonable, can be trusted to make appropriate decisions and should be given the freedom of choice, opinion and speech. In my ‘real-world’ hard news story, I aimed to emulate this in my writing. My article was about the proposed development of a Jimmy Grants franchise restaurant in Ascot Vale. Certain council members and local residents were concerned about how the restaurant would affect the dynamics of the local area. I heard about this issue when I went to the ‘Ordinary Council Meeting’ on the 28th of April at the Moonee Valley City Council’s Civic Centre. These proposed restrictions created the most tension during the meeting and the councillors spent over 40 minutes debating it. As it was not an open forum, residents couldn’t state their opinions to the council. I still wanted to hear the point of view from the public though. So once the meeting had ended, I interviewed resident Janet McGaw who told me how she would be impacted by the development.

When writing my article, I tried to apply the enlightenment theories. I respected that people are reasonable, can be trusted to make appropriate decisions and have the right to freedom of speech. So I quoted people from both sides of the argument- the residents and councillors who opposed the restaurant and the rest of the council members who supported it. This demonstrated everyone’s opinion being valued and heard because it’s not my job to determine someone’s opinion as wrong. As hard news is purely facts, it would be biased and nonfactual for me to only represent one side of the issue.

Social media is now becoming a news platform and as a result, hard news journalists have to operate differently. News breaks quicker now than ever before with thousands of people worldwide taking to the Internet to comment on issues. Long gone are the days where it would take months for news to travel across the world. This speed in news reporting poses a challenge for the hard news journalist. They have to try and report accurate news in a quicker amount of time without compromising ethical considerations. Sites like Twitter also pose difficulty through the 140-character limit. This means journalists have to be even more concise and careful with the words they use.

The interactive nature of social media can also be trying. While positive feedback can be great, criticism and abuse can be received quicker and more directly. For example, during the semester journalist Asher Wolf took to twitter to criticise our #ujcomm2657 hash tag. She said, “The shiny, eager hopefulness of the #ujcomm2657 hash tag makes me feel a little ill” and “they could always write for Buzzfeed and there’s the tabloids and the glossies”. Her condescension showed our class how negative and direct feedback can be for journalists in today’s social media climate.

As the media landscape changes, so does the process of hard news writing. Ultimately, the form and the function will remain the same- the public will always need to know the facts in a concise, unbiased and quick manner. Only the platforms used for hard news and the speed of reporting will continue to evolve.

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