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HOW JOURNALISTS PICK STORIES: WHAT MAKES A STORY HOT

23 November 2021 Sourcey team member

Every day, journalists have to decide which stories to pursue. They need to be fair, truthful, and consistent to maintain their credibility. But if they want to keep their jobs, they also need to generate sufficient interest in their stories. So how do they get the balance right?

Below are some of the aspects that go into this decision:

What people have already said about the topic

Coming up with a *hot* topic to report on can be a challenging process and requires a truly creative mind. It's seen as a prerequisite to good journalism if a journalist has a curious mind and a listening ear to capture the stories they see and hear from the people around them.

Funnily enough, most journalists get insights from what others may see as ordinary. They have a third eye and can perceive oddities in what others have branded as regular daily activities. For instance, a journalist can derive a topic from having an everyday chat with an Uber driver or even with local shop attendant.

"...a prerequisite to good journalism if a journalist has a curious mind and a listening ear..."

Besides deriving news from live conversations, journalists also use digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram for inspiration. Reddit, for example, has subreddit groups that journalists can follow to get the gist of what topics are driving engagement and to help find answers to many of their questions.

The significance of the topic

Another aspect newsmakers consider when deciding what topic to write is understanding the story's significance to their audience. To help make this determination, a journalist might explore whether the story positively or negatively impacts their readers or listeners.

The story must also be relevant to the audience. For instance, a story concerning fish farming might well be educative and engaging but completely irrelevant to an audience practising grape farming.

Journalists often ponder the question: "Is it informative, educative, inspiring or entertaining?" before deciding on whether to write on a particular topic.

"Is it informative, educative, inspiring or entertaining?"

Not only that, newsmakers must also check how many people are affected by the story. An obvious rule of thumb being the larger the number affected, the more important the story becomes.

How recently has the topic come up?

We all know news, especially hard stories, goes stale fast and every day we have current events rapidly replaced by more current news. Consequently, journalists battle the clock to deliver real-time news articles before everyone else and before they lose relevance or just get old.

Most news stories are time-sensitive and attempt to answer questions like who, what, where, when and why questions. On the other hand, feature stories, such as reviews, aren't so time-sensitive (also known as 'evergreen' stories) and so remain relevant days, even weeks after being reported.

Who's responsible for the story?

Journalism has a code of ethics that every journalist should follow when reporting news stories. For example, a journalist is obliged to present an unbiased story that is accurate and has credible sources. They are also required to be honest with their sources in terms of what they say they're going to report on, and before ever recording them.

...a journalist is obliged to present an unbiased story that is accurate and has credible sources.

Not only that, the government expects newsmakers, like everyone else, to follow the law and in doing so journalists are expected to protect the privacy and confidentiality of their sources.

Even as journalists hunt for stories, reporting these stories responsibly and accurately is their best interests to avoid potential defamation lawsuits.

How much evidence is available about the story?

After deciding *what* to write about, a journalist then needs to verify the source's credibility before writing. Media consumers need to trust in the credibility of the story, along with the charancters and spokespeople quoted in it. Not only that, but a story loses weight when sources remain anonymous.

...a journalist then needs to verify the source's credibility before writing.

Good journalists thus carry out research by interviewing expert sources and then taking the time needed to confirm their information, be it from government records or any other credible sources.

Who will care about this story (i.e., who will read it)?

Every news writer creates a great story with the audience top of mind.

A good story not only informs and entertains this audience, but is also designed to impact on their lives in a meaningful way - sometimes positively, sometimes negatively.

Every news writer creates a great story with the audience top of mind.

If a story doesn't add any value to the designated audience, then it is likely to go unreported.

So...

Journalism is about reporting current events and creating meaningful, timely, accurate stories that are valuable to the relevant audience. For a story to be *hot*, it must therefore include all of the elements outlined above.

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