Journalistic Practice

The language of news media texts cannot be separated from the context in which they are produced, and this study of how a particular story comes to be constructed needs to take account of the writing and editing practices that constrain news writing, from the collection and selection of information, to the organisation of stories to meet the particular news cycles and space constraints of the publication. Such time and space considerations might range from the daily cycle of a print newspaper with its relatively regular number of pages, to a 24-hour TV channel, to a news website with regularly updated content and space considerations that are only limited by writing resources.

Far from compiling information for news stories from scratch, news organisations have at their disposal a complex, ongoing network of information sources. These include press releases from corporations and institutions, and news agencies such as Reuters and Agence France Presse which are positioned as neutral and unaffiliated in their standpoint. Agencies distribute news stories via newswires to other news organisations, mainly newspapers, television and radio. The customer publication may use the output in full or in part, so repeated forms of words in different publications are common. A large number of the BP stories in the data set derived from news agencies, and repetition, in particular of reported speech, is a notable feature of the data. Other sources include the publication’s own reporters “on the ground” in various locations at home and abroad, who often initiate the coverage of breaking news, as well as contacts in business, Parliament, the police, pressure groups, universities and other groups and institutions. Bignell (2002: 88) calls these:

“accessed voices” to whom the media have access and who expect access to

the media. The discourses of these groups therefore become the raw material for the language of news stories, since news language is parasitic on

their discursive codes and ideological assumptions.

As these relationships develop, some of the contacts develop considerable journalistic skills themselves, with business communications departments writing press releases in such a way that they can be used almost unaltered (Jacobs, 1999), universities developing a sense ofwhat lies within a theoretical piece of research that makes it an item of general interest (Baxter, 2014) and the police finding ways of using media access to the public that can contribute to the effectiveness of their own work.

Some of the most interesting work in writing and editing practices has taken an ethnographic approach to tracking the life cycle of articles, and looking at what selections, deletions and other changes are made in the process and why. Cotter (2010: 88) gives a comprehensive account, including in particular the role of the story meeting in “[d]eciding what’s fit to print”. She argues that these meetings are a less visible, but potentially more revealing reflection of a publication’s priorities and values than the editorial pages. Van Hout and Macgilchrist (2010) follow a story from press release to publication, and find that framing decisions, that is, the selection and emphasis of certain information elements at the expense of others, can be due as much to technical and space constraints as to ideological considerations.

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