Writing the story

The screen video data show that Rutger first opens the press release in his email program, scrolls through it and sends it to the printer. Next, he opens the attached PowerPoint presentation and starts browsing the first two slides, including the text in the comments section. He then goes through the remaining four slides of the PowerPoint presentation. Asked if he knows how he is going to write the story in advance or that he first makes notes, Rutger said:

ik heb eerst die persmedeling gelezen en die slides goed bekeken tja en dan haal je eruit wat het nieuws is namelijk dat ze meer geld krijgen. Maar euh ik heb af en toe wel euh teruggekeken in die slides om dat laatste stuk te schrijven.

I first read the press release and took a close look at the slides and then well you pull out what the news is namely that they are getting more money. But ehm every now and then I ehm looked back at the slides to write that last piece.

To Rutger, writing news from sources is a straightforward matter. The fact that the institutes are receiving more money makes this story newsworthy. I turn now to examine how Rutger extracts 'what the news is' and how he writes 'that last piece'.

Judging from the screen video, the press release that Rutger has in front of him as he writes the article feeds him ready-made news discourse, specifically, it provides a lead sentence and the opening sentence of his second paragraph. This demonstrates that the press release is a genre that travels remarkably well across semiotic spaces. Indeed, the 'information subsidy' (Gandy, 1982) relayed by the spokesperson makes the leap from a fleeting telephone conversation to notes scribbled on a notepad, survives the 2:00pm story unscathed and then reemerges as an email attachment that finds its way onto Rutger's editing window and into his news article. Note for instance the similarity in Table 4.1 between:

Table 4.1 Similarities between texts

the opening lines of the Ministry of Science press release (original translation, not mine)

Today Flemish Minister for Science and Innovation Fientje Moerman has signed the new management agreements (2007-2011) for VIB and IMEC. The Flemish government reserves more than 400 million euro in the coming five years for research in these two top institutes. The budget of operation of both institutes increases with 20%

Rutger's story pitch in Extract 1

'there's also ehm the signing of the new management agreement between the Flemish government and erm the VIB and IMEC they're getting 20% more money'

the text produced so far (based on the writing process data):

[lead] The Flemish research centers VIB and Imec are getting more money from the Flemish Government.

[byline] Policy Brussels.

[body] The subsidy raise is included in the new management agreements that were signed yesterday in Ghent.

In each of these three texts, the signing of the contract, the institutional partners involved (the Flemish government, VIB and IMEC) and the contracted decision (a subsidy raise) are mentioned. These elements respectively account for the how?, the who? and the what? of this story. The when? and the where? are covered in the press release ('Today', 'UZ Gent') and in Rutger's text produced so far ('yesterday', 'Ghent'). In short, Rutger is doing what journalists are expected to do: get the facts right.

Fourteen minutes and twenty-six seconds into the writing process, Rutger writes 'Tegenover de extra middelen staan wel nieuwe eisen' (Eng. The extra funds do come with new demands). This text insertion is followed by more than two minutes of keyboard inactivity during which Rutger navigates to the PowerPoint presentation, reading (interpreted as keyboard inactivity and mouse scrolling) the notes of the second slide in detail. Rutger is searching for the answer to his next question: if the institutes are getting more money, what is expected in return? The answer is 'hidden' in the presentation notes and comprises three elements: the development of a corporate governance code, the realisation of a number of strategic goals and an annual evaluation based on a list of performance indicators.

Rutger copies all three demands and, in doing so, establishes journalistic balance: his article now describes the funding spike as well as the targets that both institutes have to meet. To illustrate how Rutger

Linear log extract

Figure 4.2 Linear log extract

writes the corporate governance condition into his news story, I rely on a linear log file that Inputlog generates (Figure 4.2).

In this somewhat cryptic file, Inputlog reproduces the writing process in a linear fashion in five second intervals, including mouse movements (in square brackets, e.g., [Left Button] refers to a click of the left mouse button), text insertions (in lower case, e.g., ontwikkelen (Eng. develop) refers to the insertion of the 11 letters o-n-t-w-i-k-k-e-l-e-n), pause times in milliseconds (in curly braces, e.g., {2504} means a pause of 2.5 seconds) and backspaces (BS). The linear log shows Rutger correcting himself four letters into 'corp'(orate) governance, hitting backspace thrice and typing the somewhat more extensive Dutch alternative 'code voor deugdelijk bedrijfsbeleid' (Eng. code of proper company management) and parenthesising 'coporate governance' (but not correcting the typo), thereby explaining the term. On screen, the following text appears:

Zo worden de instellingen verplicht een individuele code voor deugdelijk bedrijfsbeleid (coporate [sic] governance) te ontwikkelen.

The institutions are required to develop an individual code of proper company management (coporate [sic] governance).

Finally, Rutger adds the VIB and IMEC URLs at the bottom of his article, marks up the byline and writes the headline, something he usually writes last he told me. He then revises the article, adding for instance that the management agreements were signed by 'the Minister of Science and Innovation Fientje Moerman (Open VLD)'. Finally, Rutger adds his initials, previews the text and files it for copy-editing. The entire production process takes 33 minutes and 23 seconds.

 
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