What are the Essential Qualities of a Good Reporter?
List of Essential Qualities of a Good Reporter.
A reporter must possess the right attitude toward the vocation which includes intelligence, initiative, industry, general competence, objectivity and accuracy. Besides, there are several other features a reporter should possess to become a professional journalist.
A Nose for News.
A reporter must know what constitutes news. Without this he will not be able to gather news. Today of course a reporter’s job has beer simplified. There is a range of sources stretching from official spokespersons, the usual press notes and press conferences to unidentified members of the public and the regular sources which a reporter meets on the beat.
A reporter should be aware that quite often most of the material may just be advertisements or publicity matter in disguise. Thus, he must check the material and squeeze out the news that would interest the reader. A reporter is today overwhelmed by an ocean of facts, but he has to rely on the readers interest for guidance. A reporter should develop his news judgement accordingly and select the right information and present it to the reader.
Apart from this, a reporter most of the time has to cover routine matters such as press conferences and press notes. A reporter may have to begin at quite a low level like covering local matter. Later on he may be given the opportunity to cover major national issues.
A reporter has also to report the speeches, declarations and announcements by VIPs, persons in authority, politicians and political parties. A reporter may occasionally get an exciting news break.
Routine reporting should not prevent a reporter from looking for something unusual. He has to be a keen observer so that he can discover unusual and exciting material even in routine stuff. A sharp sense of observation can help a reporter gather amusing sidelights of interest to the readers. Alertness will help a reporter to discover contradictions and problems while you are on your daily beat. Sharp observation and alertness can be the basis for an exciting news story even when apparently there is no news.
An introvert makes a poor reporter. A reporter has to meet people, make his acquaintance and win their confidence. It helps him to establish contacts, which in turn helps in writing well-investigated reports. A professional reporter is never an armchair writer. This is the era of investigative reporting and readers are interested to know what is going on behind the scenes. To get that kind of stories, a reporter has to be outgoing. He needs to develop an affable temperament and an easy-going nature.
Ability to Establish Contacts and Develop Sources: A reporter has to be an outgoing person to establish contact and develop sources. In the course of duty, he may meet many people who help him in gathering information. He must have the ability to win the confidence and respect of those who may be potential sources of news. People may also voluntarily offer information.
If a reporter is working on an investigative story, people may hesitate to talk on sensitive matters. They may like to reveal yet are afraid to in case it were to affect them adversely. Such people may be government officials whom you may meet while investigating matters ranging from inefficiency to corruption.
They could be informers of the underworld, if you are doing an in-depth crime investigation. What may be at stake for them could be their, jobs or their lives. It may be quite difficult to win their trust in such situations, a reporter must be able to assure them that they will remain protected and their identities kept secret if they want.
Among the contacts, there may be some who can provide information to the reporter to serve their vested interests. Such information may comprise half-truths and even lies. So, a reporter must have other independent contacts through whom he can verify the information.
At times even an ordinary source can become very valuable, providing important leads and big news. A newspaper once carried a story about a footpath hawker who was a wrestler of international repute, thus throwing light on the neglect of the sportsmen in the country. Thus, a reporter must make it a point to pay attention to his sources howsoever ordinary they may look.
The Watergate scandal which shook the United States and the Nixon presidency was not exposed by any ace news person, but by two ordinary local reporters acting on a tip from an ordinary source.
The alertness and ability to pursue source help a reporter get the right lead. In the case of securities scam, the entire expose started with a source contacting Ms. Sucheta Dalai of the Times of India, Bombay, with an unconfirmed report about some activities in the Stale Bank of India. Ms. Dalai, Assistant Business Editor of the paper, followed the lead provided by the source and got the story confirmed from reliable contacts bringing to light the stock scam of a staggering Rs. 6,000 crore involving stock broker Harshad Mehta and others.
Ability to be an Unprejudiced Observer.
A reporter should be an unprejudiced observer of events. He must present the facts in a balanced and objective manner. A reporter may have his own views on the subject of coverage, but he should not allow his personal opinions in his reporting. He must be able to clarify on unclear aspects of a news event. A reporter also must try to write only a statement of facts. While writing a report, a view point might creep in and a news reporter must be able to identify it in straight news items.
To maintain balance and objectivity, a reporter has to do is to mention the source in the copy. That shows that what you are passing on as news is not your opinion or some publicity matter in disguise.
When the source wants to remain anonymous, even then a reporter must ensure that the story is balanced, by giving adequate coverage to all the sides of the subject. A reporter should also ensure that the information he is presenting is true. For this, he has to do counter check the facts. What appears fair to one may amount to bias for another. So, always ensure that you give both sides of the picture in a news item.
Clarity of Expression.
For clarity of expression, a reporter needs to have command over the language. A reporter may cover several complex and specialized subjects like science and technology, law and economics, his command over the language must be such that he can explain even the most complicated issues in single terms for general reader.
Besides in specialized subjects such as science and technology, even government press notes are written in complicated language, burying the news point. A reporter must bring out the news point and write them in simple language.
A reporter needs to have team spirit. He may have to work in a team. Many investigative stories are handled by a team of reporters. For example, the Before investigative stories in the Indian Express and other papers were based on reports from Geneva and Stockholm besides, New Delhi.
The securities scam investigations by the Times of India involved, Sucheta Dalai and R. Srinivasan, who posed as an investor and went to the State Bank officers in Bombay to confirm about the goings on in the bank. In the Statesman also, some times stories are attributed to “The Statesman Insight Team”.
A news reporter thus must be able to work as a member of such a team. He must pool his talents, sources and contacts into the team and work under a leader. A reporter may rise to head such a team also. Working under a team discipline will certainly be of help to you later.
Ability to cope with Pressure from Outside and within the News Organization:
Reporters seeking to bring out scandals and exposures face pressure generally from people involved in such cases. People put pressure on journalists in the hope of preventing exposure.
The concerned reporter may also be bribed with attractive favors in return for not to write on the matter. As a reporter can provide both helpful and harmful exposure to persons holding important positions in the beat he covers, most of them seek him out to provide them with the required exposure.
They are on the lookout for a minimum of harmful and the maximum of helpful publicity. If they consider it necessary, they may use their power and influence to pressurize the reporter for this.
There will be pressure either to change the news or kill a story. People involved in it would put pressure With the hope of inducing journalists to volunteer the change or omission which is then equal to self-censorship. The government and the advertisers could indirectly pressurize the reporter through their news organization, direct pressure may also come from the government and political parties.
If someone is going to get harmful exposure through the report, they could take recourse to a range of legal and illegal options, including legal action, threats and violence to pressurize the reporter.
A reporter has three ways to cope with such pressure, fighting it, giving in and anticipating the pressure and taking preventive measures. The first option is the most noble of the three.
During the British rule in India, many papers decided to close down, rather than submit to censorship and government pressure. During the Quit India Movement, the father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, exemplified this spirit when he wrote that, “It is better not to issue newspaper than to issue them under a feeling of suppression.” During the 1975-77 internal emergency, journals like Mainstream closed down rather than submit to government censorship.
This option however is not always feasible. Thousands depend on the news organization for a living. A reporter is only a professional, seeking to earn his daily bread in it. Only a few are expected to support it. If a news reporter gives in to pressure and if the news organization does not back him, the consequences could be disastrous for him as a professional journalist.
The reporters who have the full support of their organizations or their professional colleagues backing them unitedly generally brave powerful pressures. A reporter must have the strength of character to fight pressures that come in the form of inducements like lavish gifts and favors to influence his reporting.
Preventive measures to fight pressure could be legal steps, like seeking a court stay on any law or ordinance that could affect the freedom of the press. In case you feel threatened by some physical violence, you can always seek security from law and order authorities.
The journalists of the Punjab Kesari group of newspapers, who took a courageous anti terrorist stand in Punjab, worked under extremely tight security. Two of the owners of the group were killed by terrorists, but it did not give in to pressures.