Tag Archives: newspapers

The Scientific Journalism Formula

In a near-perfect parody of science reporting in the popular press, Martin Robbins, The Lay Scientist, created “a news website article about a scientific paper“.

In the standfirst I will make a fairly obvious pun about the subject matter before posing an inane question I have no intention of really answering: is this an important scientific finding? […]

This is a sub-heading that gives the impression I am about to add useful context. […]

To pad out this section I will include a variety of inane facts about the subject of the research that I gathered by Googling the topic and reading the Wikipedia article that appeared as the first link.

I will preface them with “it is believed” or “scientists think” to avoid giving the impression of passing any sort of personal judgement on even the most inane facts.

You get the idea, I’m sure, but it’s well worth looking at the full piece as the spoof also acts as a guide to why we should avoid clichéd, formulaic writing: it quickly gets boring and predictable.

In a follow-up to his parody, Robbins looks at why this tired formula has come into play and what can be done about it.

via Kottke

Also: Are stories with loaded-question headlines popular?

News’ Reliance on PR and Wire Services

News organisations and journalists are becoming less “active gatherers of news” and more “processors of […] second-hand materials”, suggests a surprising study conducted by researchers at Cardiff University.

Nick Davies, author of Flat Earth News, commissioned the research and provides a brief overview of this study on the state of current media reporting:

Specialists at Cardiff University […] surveyed more than 2,000 UK news stories from the four quality dailies (Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent) and the Daily Mail. They found two striking things. First, when they tried to trace the origins of their “facts”, they discovered that only 12% of the stories were wholly composed of material researched by reporters. With 8% of the stories, they just couldn’t be sure. The remaining 80%, they found, were wholly, mainly or partially constructed from second-hand material, provided by news agencies and by the public relations industry. Second, when they looked for evidence that these “facts” had been thoroughly checked, they found this was happening in only 12% of the stories. […]

And the Cardiff researchers found one other key statistic that helps to explain why this has happened. For each of the 20 years from 1985, they dug out figures for the editorial staffing levels of all the Fleet Street publications and compared them with the amount of space they were filling. They discovered that the average Fleet Street journalist now is filling three times as much space as he or she was in 1985. In other words, as a crude average, they have only one-third of the time that they used to have to do their jobs. Generally, they don’t find their own stories, or check their content, because they simply don’t have the time.

The study (subscription required) didn’t just look at the reporting of newspapers, however: radio and television news (BBC Radio 4, BBC News, ITV News and SkyNews) provided similar results, with the researchers concluding that this reliance “seems set to continue, if not increase, in the near future”.

The Quality and Independence of British Journalism (pdf)–another of the output reports from the study–is freely available and offers more detail if you need it (and will most likely answer any questions).

A similar study was conducted in Australia with similar findings.

Newspaper Design Using Web Design Principles

Earlier this year Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger asked Information Architects, a Japanese-Swiss UX-oriented web design agency, to come up with a pitch for a redesign of their offline newspaper.

The result is a concept and set of designs that are subtle re-workings of what works for print, integrated with what works online.

The concept was: Use all knowledge from contemporary user experience design and translate it to paper. Make the paper more usable, think cross media instead of separate media, while using the strength of the paper (pictures, info graphics, nice text) to the max. Keep the look as close as possible to the original brand and change the guts of the design. Make a product that people want to buy because it is more usable that the competitor, not because it wins graphic design prices.

Basic rule: Ignore all rules of newspaper design to start with and keep only the ones that are useful to the reader:

  1. Optimize text for reading.
  2. Reduction to two fonts.
  3. Scannability and print link.
  4. Order.
  5. Four columns for soft news, five columns for hard news, mixed 4/5 columns for sports. Ragged text for opinion.
  6. Big pictures, big info graphics, use the strength of the paper medium.

I am reminded of two instances where large information visualisations were prominent on the front page of newspapers: The Independent‘s Middle East ceasefire infographic and a Herald graphic depicting Washington’s $2 billion budget deficit. It works.

via @mocost

Update: I knew I had seen this before and knew I hadn’t written about it here on Lone Gunman before. However, thanks must go to Andrew Smith for pointing out in the comments that it was posted here previously: by the erudite Andrew Simone in his guest post, Newspaper.

The End of the Inverted Pyramid

The inverted pyramid style of reportage is broken, believes Jason Fry, and it is time to reinvent contextless reporting into a more reader-friendly style.

Fry points to an essential Nieman Reports essay that suggests how context-central reporting could be the future of reporting and a reason why Wikipedia is becoming the destination of choice for those wanting to be informed on current events.

Ed Yong provides a good summary, introducing it with:

News journalism relies on a tried-and-tested model of inverted storytelling. Contrary to the introduction-middle-end style of writing that pervades school essays and scientific papers, most news stories shove all the key facts into the first paragraphs, leaving the rest of the prose to present background, details and other paraphernalia in descending order of importance. The idea behind this inverted pyramid is that a story can be shortened by whatever degree without losing what are presumed to be the key facts.

But recently, several writers have argued that this model is outdated and needs to give way to a new system where context is king.

via @siibo

Reporting and the Internet

It seems you can’t spend five minutes on the Internet without coming across an opinion piece on the end of traditional media or an article riffing on the age of the blog. I’ve so far refrained from noting (m)any of these articles, mainly because the argument is becoming stale and the articles are so widespread.

Michael Massing‘s latest for The New York Review of Books is one worth your time, however: it’s a balanced, detailed view on the new landscape of reporting—that of a symbiosis between blogs, online media outlets, and traditional national and international newspapers. (It also serves as a good resource to some of the best blogs around.)

This, in response to David Simon (he of Baltimore Sun and The Wire fame) likening the Internet to a parasite “slowly killing the host”:

This image of the Internet as parasite has some foundation. Without the vital news-gathering performed by established institutions, many Web sites would sputter and die. In their sweep and scorn, however, such statements seem as outdated as they are defensive. Over the past few months alone, a remarkable amount of original, exciting, and creative (if also chaotic and maddening) material has appeared on the Internet. The practice of journalism, far from being leeched by the Web, is being reinvented there, with a variety of fascinating experiments in the gathering, presentation, and delivery of news.