Journalistic sources



  1. There is an important discussion inside the world of journalism. If it is better to learn the tools of trade working in a editorial office of the newspaper (magazine, tv, newspaper online…), or attending classes in a school of journalism. My personal experience says that you can learn more working in a newspaper. The important thing is to find a senior person inclined to teach you. In Italy it is not necessary to have a degree for working in the world of journalism. In other countries yes.


  1. Another discussion inside the world of journalism. In Italy it is said that the bad news are the best news. Generally the journalists prefer bad news, as wars, calamities, bloody. I don’t agree because I think that there are different interesting news for the readers. For example, social activities of NGOs, or news about culture, or customs of the different populations, but the discussion is opened.


  1. Regarding the rules, it is important to use the five W in every article. They are: who (the person who does an action or undergoes the action), where (the place where the event happened), when (the date and the time), what (the event) and why (the reason). If you use these five W, your article is good. You have to use them at the beginning (it is called the lead), because the readers don’t like to read too much. Statistics tell that a person is attracted by the headline of an article. Then he reads the first five lines of an article, the captions of the pictures and possibles summaries or box, or crossheads. You have to be concise, without useless phrases; you have to use the adjectives only if they are really necessary and you have to remember that the adverb is the enemy of journalism.


  1. For the rest, I think that the best professional tool is a healthy, general curiosity. And it is necessary to read other newspapers (national and international) more.


Now, I would like to talk with you about journalistic sources. This is the thing that creates an authentic journalist. This is because the journalist can’t be personally everywhere, he has to find his sources. Every journalist must have a good telephone list with the right people to contact when an event has happened. For example, if a rape happened, you must have the name of a policeman (or fireman, lawyer, judge, police commissioner…) to call to have news.

Then there are sources called institutional; they are people who work as press agents for an institution or organization. They write press releases and they send to journalists of various media. In those press releases they write about their activities and then put in an interview with their president or director. They hope you will use it. But it is clear that they tell only the good news about their organization. So the journalist has the task to discover the truth. This happens for example with politicians.

Important journalistic sources are the press agency. In Italy we have Ansa, that is a common agency between all italian newspapers. It has the advantage of having an huge network of correspondents, maybe one for every town. Well-known in the international context are Associated Press, France Press, Reuters and others. Their journalists write and issue short news 24 hours a day. The journalists of newspapers associated can take them and use, but they have to enrich with other details, or with interviews… Usually the press agency are reliable but the journalist HAS ALWAYS TO CHECK, because the journalist has the obligation of “the truth of the events”. This is an important article of italian journalistics code, but I think that it is the same for the journalists of every part of the world.

All this is more difficult when you have to report the events in problematic areas, as war’s contest or where the human rights are negleted. It is clear that in these situations nobody wants that the truth is known by the world. The best thing for a journalist is to be in the place and can see with his eyes. Sometimes it is possible to go with army. For example, I went with the Italian army in Afghanistan. The journalist who is with the army is called embedded. Also in this case it is necessary to keep eyes well opened, because often the army is interested to use journalists to broadcast some news but to hide the others. But you cannot always go in the crisis’s areas. So it is important the net of contacts that you have.

Another recent source is the social network: internet, for example, but twitter, facebook, blogs, also. They have the merit of being open for anyone to be bearer of news. This is called citizen journalism. But at the other side, this created a lot of problems about the check of the truth of the news. Because whoever can write whatever. The citizens don’t have the professional obligation to say the truth. They have only a moral obligation. The same thing happens with twitter and facebook. But we have to remember the importance of the social network during the arab spring, because in some countries of the north of Africa and of the Middle East, the main news is subject to the governative censorship. The press is not free. So, during the arab spring, the young boys and girls agreed towards twitter about the place where to meet for demonstration and they continued to change for avoinding the governative army. They used these means because a lot of them were hitted, flogged, imprisoned, tortured and killed also. It was very dangerous.

About the social network, be careful of propaganda also. For example, the terrorists use the net to broadcast false news or to accuse the west world of every sort of crimes, so they can persuade young boy, that don’have a job, their family lives in poverty, to commit suicide for a superior cause. Here the suicide-attacks. There are a lot of these videos on internet about this.

In Africa, this is another example, a lot of wars are more of a struggle of propaganda than by armies. The good journalist is the mediator of all this news, because too much news means no news. It is a headache. But when you assert one thing, you have to be able to prove. Because you can be accused of libel. In Italy it costs a lot, sometimes the prison also.

The more important newspaper and tv keep the correspondent’s offices in the more important cities of the world, for example our press agency, Ansa, has offices in Kenya, in Egypt, in New York.. So they can have a direct source. But these offices are expensive, so, expecially in this period of global crisis, the trend is to cut them. The publishers prefer to send a correspondent when an event happens, so the same jorunalist can stay three days in South of Sudan for the declaration of independence and the forth day must be in India for tsunami. It is clear that journalists will be able to report the events but not in depth. This isn’t a good service to readers.

I finish with other interesting source: the missionaries. It doesn’t matter their religion; it isn’t the point. The point is that they are thousands, they are in every part of the world, they live with the populations and they stay there for a lot of years so they know well the reality and they can explain it. Generally they are good with e-mail. And they have their press agency, called Misna.

I’d like to finish with a significant phrase of Martin Luther King: “We haven’t to fear the evils but the silence of the truth”.

© 2012 Romina Gobbo

India – Madurai – Text of the workshop “Journalist sources” – 23 novembre 2012











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