Journalism and Mass Communication © Kalyani Suresh


Communication skills

In Chapter 3 we learnt about the various uses and effects of the mass media and some theories pertaining to the subject.

Chapter 4 and 5 focus on the communication skills needed for presenting news through the media with special reference to reporting and editing for press journalism.


The word ‘Journalism’ comes from the French word Jour meaning ‘day’. It is a recording of everyday events. In early times, the practice of keeping track of daily events in diaries was prevalent. When the need arose to let the entire world know of what was happening around them, it was decided to publish journals that contained news of public interest.

Producing a journal requires collecting of information, putting it together in readable form, printing it on paper and then selling it to the public. The last two steps are the most expensive areas. This capital-intensive business of producing journals is done by organizations having different ownership patterns.

Ownership can be 1) Sole Proprietorship e.g Rupert Murdoch’s chain of newspapers, TV stations etc dominating 25-30% of the world’s communication (2) Public Limited Companies, wherein shares are offered to the public e.g. ‘The Times’ of Colombo that offered it shares to the public (3) Government owned e.g BBC where the government is the major player in the monopolies game; in the 60’s Sri Lanka nationalized its large newspaper houses which became government owned (4) Trusts e.g. ‘The Statesman’ , the last British owned paper in India. When the British pulled out of India, they did not want to sell the paper to a proprietor. They established a trust with 10 trustees with 2 business houses. (5) Co-operatives e.g. Reynolds News’ was a Sunday newspaper started by the British Co-operative movement (6) Political parties owned e.g London’s ‘Daily Worker” - owned by the Communist party Of Britain.

How Newspapers Are Run

Newspapers generally have two sections 1)the Editorial section which is an expensive proposition to run, and 2) the Business section that brings in the revenue for the editorial section.
The main sources of income for the newspaper are Advertising (through display ads, classifieds, Government notices etc) and Circulation (through retail sales or subscription). Conversely, Administration and Production (cost of machinery, newsprint, building, infrastructure etc.) are its sources of expense.

The Editor of a newspaper must be a good man-manager. His work is to get his subordinates to work as a team. A newspaper organization has to have specialists but not necessarily one at the top as the editor.

The official set-up of a typical newspaper is as follows:


Assistant Editors

Assistant Editors are specialists. They do not have particular portfolios except for editorials and special features, and oversee a department such as the following.

  1. 1)Business Dept.
  2. (2) Sports Dept.
  3. (3) News Dept.
  4. (4)Sub-editing Dept.
  5. (5) Features Dept.

Reporting - Editing - Writing

Newspapers have additional departments depending on the interest and size of the newspaper.

Each department has sub-editors and proof readers. The sub-editor has the following key roles to perform:
1- Guardian of language (i.e spelling, grammar, sentence construction etc.)
2- Guardian of newspaper policy (needs to read every word to ensure there is no double entendre etc.; whether policy is transgressed or not. He/she is the last guardian of policy before news goes to the press)
3- Guardian against libel
4- Guardian of style (every newspaper has a style book that has to be followed to the letter)
5- Guardian of Fact/Accuracy
6- Guardian of Budget
7- Editing or cutting copy for size or extent
8- Looking at layouts, headlines
9- Page make-up

The business and sports departments of a newspaper as their name suggests deal with business and sports news respectively. The sports department is a law unto itself as it deals with nothing other than sports items. In most sports departments, the sports sub-editors double as reporters. Most sports reporters are good writers.

The features department deals with a variety of articles ranging from puzzles to advertising features and articles by specialists. The features department also handles editorials.

The news department is the most important department of a newspaper. The word ‘news’ means fresh, factual information from every direction that serves a purpose, and is meant to increase public awareness. The news editor takes on the responsibility of selecting and delivering the news to the public.

The news department consists of :

- a News Editor
- a Chief Reporter
- Reporters
- Correspondents
- News Agencies
- Unsolicited news

Reporters are full time employees of the organization and their number varies according to the size of the newspaper.

Correspondents are classified according to their area of news coverage for example local correspondents, special correspondents (outstation senior correspondents who are specialists in their fields), foreign correspondents, part-time correspondents or stringers, sports correspondents, political, science, commercial, book review correspondents etc.

News agencies are organizations that gather, edit and supply news on a contract basis, for example Reuters. The news agencies’ filtering of news depends on what its target audience is. It has an entire staff working for it just like a newspaper, but without the printing machinery. Subscriptions to news agencies are of two types (a)full time (i.e. payment for full service), or (b)for a tailored service (selective service, i.e. only for sports news or business news etc.)

Unsolicited news are letters to editors from private and public sectors etc.


The main source of news for a newspaper is the reporter. Reporting is the function of witnessing a statement of fact. Comment is free but facts are not. A reporter’s job is to report on facts.

It is easy to tell a good reporter form a poor one. The good one is fully prepared to do his job well. The poor one brushes off such mundane details as reading newspapers, checking names and addresses, asking questions about seemingly unimportant details, or carefully taking notes when he/she can.

Characteristics of a good reporter:
A good reporter must be
1- emotionally detached
2- objective
3- competent
4- courageous
5- positive thinking
6- self-motivated
7- good listener
8- observer
9- disciplined
10- well-read and well-informed
11- inquisitive

The first requirement for a good reporter is news sense or nose for news. He/she must be able to spot newsworthy items from a mountain of information keeping in mind the target audience. There are various news elements that a reporter should know that defines the newsworthiness of a news item. They are:

1- Timeliness: This depends on immediacy. Time element defines freshness of news.
2- Proximity of Distance: The event that happens closer home is more newsworthy than a far away occurrence. This differs from paper to paper depending on its target audience.
3- Proximity of Ideology: News about Marxism in Marxist countries, Communism in Communist countries is always more newsworthy.
4- Proximity of Ethnicity: The news about the first Chinese in space is more newsworthy in China than anywhere else.
5- Prominence: Prominence of person (e.g. President Clinton is more newsworthy than a common man), place (e.g. news of a murder in a place of worship is more newsworthy than a murder elsewhere), technique ( a cleverly executed kidnapping of a VIP), numbers (sheer immensity of numbers) etc.
6- Oddity: It is aid that when a dog bites a man, it is not news, but when a man bites a dog it becomes a front page story! Anything that is extraordinary or unusual becomes more newsworthy.
7- Sex: News about rape, sexual harassment, gender discrimination etc. becomes news
8- Consequence: The consequence of the news on its target audience (e.g. highlighting problems and demands of the labourers in a labour party newspaper)
9- Conflict: Could be a war or debate or even difference of opinion.
10- Human emotions: Love, jealousy, hate, anger etc. make good readership.
11- Progress: Anything newly achieved is news, e.g. Microsoft launching its latest technology.
12- Suspense: Waiting to find out what will happen next for e.g a cricket match to be continued the next day.

For a good reporter, the ability to think on one’s feet, digest analyze and pick up information in a sequential order is a must. He/she must possess humility and willingness to learn, must be an objective, balanced and fair person and have the ability to work under pressure.

A reporter is deployed according to the agenda on the assignment sheet. The assignment sheet is the journalist’s ‘order of battle’ in his daily campaign to cover all news fronts. Few reporters ever see the assignment sheet. Some are called and told their assignments, some call in to get them. No reporter gets a detailed guideline from the editor’s desk about how to do his job, except for some special assignment.

Reporters first join newspapers as general assignment reporters. Reporters are sent on what is known as their beat or area of news coverage. Beat reporters are assigned to a particular subject. A beat reporter should be responsible for everything in his beat, and also for what has been missed in his newspaper and for what has appeared in the rival newspaper. Sometimes 3 to 5 beat reporters are needed to cover a single beat, for example in courts, crime beats etc.

Ground Rules for Reporters

The four principal duties of a reporter are to tell the news accurately, explain what it means, protect his sources when necessary, and respect such confidences as he is willing to accept.

Attribution of News
News can be attributed to its sources. Too much attribution or unnecessary attribution can be damaging. There are many gradations of attribution. These are:

Off the record: Within certain broad limitations, everything told to reporters or learned by them is for publication, or on the record. One limitation is a specific agreement or understanding between a reporter and his/her source to withhold some news or keep it off the record’. Such material should have the approval of the reporters’ superiors, as it is a matter of principle. Responsible reporters and news media are also bound by the percepts of their laws or Constitution that regulate individual and corporate behaviour.

Attribution to a spokesperson: Earlier, editors use to insist on naming their source of news. The presence of an anonymous figure, who could not be described except in relation to what he represented was an affront to many reporters and editors. But nowadays, spokespersons’ have blossomed as authorities for news. Anonymous attribution is the most confusing yet common practice in journalism throughout the world today. It has become the key to the use of a lot of news for which nobody is the authority. Consequently, the reporters and news media take risks, for the only attribution of the so-called background news of ‘well-informed sources’, official sources’ , ‘diplomatic sources’, officials’ or no source at all, is nothing but the reporter’s name and the name of his/her organization.


The principal source of news of a highly individual nature is the interview. No rules for a standard interview have been written. The interview is the reporter’s best chance at a story. Interviews are as varied as the people who grant them, and depend on the journalistic ability of the people who conduct them. Interviews may be:

Man in the Street: It is the most common and most difficult types of interviews for a reporter to conduct. It is also the least accurate reflection of public sentiment. The reporter’s job is to win over the suspicious and often uncommunicative people and persuade them to talk with him/her. There are no shortcuts to the process of interviewing if one wants information. It takes time, perseverance patience, and the ability to listen sympathetically to all kinds of stories.

The Casual Interview: Such encounters are casual/accidental and often purposeless. Sometimes a casual meeting with a news source leads the source to say something, often without design, arousing the curiosity of the reporter. In the digging that follows, a major story may emerge.

The Personality Interview: This is often employed for lengthy profiles or features about people. Few newspapers are willing to give reporters the time needed for such efforts. As a result, the personality story often lacks depth, perspective and appeal.

News Interview: Such talks between the reporter and his/her sources generally take place on short notice. It may be arranged by the reporter or the source’s public relations representative. In such interviews the reporter has well-defined questions that are to be answered by the source.

Telephone Interview: This is an abbreviated version of the news interview. Because it is conducted through the telephone, the questions must be clear and well-defined.

The Prepared Question: When all else fails, reporters often prepare a list of questions and submit them to news sources, with a polite but urgent request for reply. This method has its disadvantages as there may be no response from the sources, but it is worth trying in a tight spot.

Regardless of what method a reporter employs, the first step should always be to identify himself/herself and the organization he/she represents. The business should be stated briefly. Surprises, insults and arrogance on the part of the reporter is unwarranted. Caution must be exercised against ‘note-taking’ except when it is desirable and necessary, should be observed in the interview. When a figure or a date or spelling must be noted, it should be done without ostentation and with a word of explanation. As soon as the interview is over, the reporter needs to make extensive notes that should form the basis for anything that is written.

There are a few essential aids for reporters:
1) The Diary: This is a book of assignments. Assignments are listed well in advance. It is maintained by the chief reporter or the news editor. Every event with its date of happening, time, reporter’s name, photographer’s name, speaker’s name etc is recorded. An active reporter may even enter the number of words and pictures in the report.
2) The Morgue: Another word for the library, it is a repository of dead information or the archives. It contains copies of old newspapers, rival newspapers of the same area; clippings of important people, events, subjects; photographs; dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesaurus, atlases; proceedings of legislatures etc.; reference books, year books etc. Earlier these materials used up a lot of space as these were not available in the condensed form. New technology has enabled the capsuling of such vast information in CDs and through microfilming. Every item is indexed and cross-indexed by the library staff.

Various beats in reporting include crime reporting, economic/business reporting, developmental reporting, political reporting, sports reporting etc.


The term editing is a comprehensive one. It covers many functions, and means in the larger sense, making the copy or the reading matter free of mistakes of all kinds apart from indicating the headings, subheadings and typography. Only after this is done, the final copy is sent to the printer.

While the reporter is the eyes and ears of the newspaper, its, outside surveillance mechanism, the editor is its ‘gatekeeper’, a decision maker who decides what will be chosen and what will not to be passed along to the reader.

The Make-up of a Newspaper

The news editor ‘dummies’ the paper and guides the make-up men in the assembly of the items in the newspaper. The principles of sound news presentation through the newspaper have two chief poles. The first is typographic: an attractive combination of readable typefaces. The other is the layout - an attractive arrangement of materials on the page and throughout the newspaper. The basic materials that the editor works with in making decisions about makeup are body type, display type, art, and white space, which are arranged with the five principles of balance, focus, contrast, dynamics and unity.

Each page of a newspaper has columns. The number of columns differs from newspaper to newspaper, some have 8 columns, some have 6 and so on. The reader’s attention is best caught with the first page called ‘page one’ and the ‘split-page’ which initiates the second section of the first page. The following illustration explains the make-up of page one of a newspaper.

Ministry of Education, Wellington, New Zealand"

The following can be seen on the page:

1- the font and style of the masthead, which flies the flag for the newspaper;

2- the use and impact of headlines and crossheads, which are subheadings between paragraphs;

3- the placement of the lead story;

4- the acknowledgment of reporters’ names (known as bylines) and of other sources, along with the dateline;

5- the use of photos with their explanatory captions;

6- the use of diagrams, tables, and other infographics, which summarise information into visual form;

7- the use of columns, boxes, stories going across the page;

8- the variety in presentation of type, including reversed type of white on black; the use of space, including white space, and other aspects of layout and presentation, which are explained in sections that follow

What Editing Does for Copy:
A copyreader does the following for a news story-
1- performs or facilitates composing and makeup operations
2- regularizes copy to conform to style of newspaper
3- adjusts story length to space requirements
4- detects and corrects errors
5- simplifies, corrects and clarifies language
6- amplifies meaning
7- makes stories fair and objective
8- restructures stories extensively when needed
9- alters story’s tone when needed
10- corrects copy for good taste

Editing to Save Space
Brevity is not only the soul of wit, it is the heart of readership. Studies in relation between length and readership show an inverse relationship, i.e. shorter the story, the more likely it is to be read.
Cutting, trimming, boiling and slashing are among the terms used in a newsroom for reducing stories in length. Most straight news stories are arranged in an inverted pyramid form with the most important part of the story coming first and the least important in the end. Thus editing for space becomes simplified as the story can be chopped off from the end, thus reducing comparatively unnecessary facts. Another way of saving space that involves no loss of wordage at all is by setting part of the story in smaller type, i.e. dropping the words from a higher point size to a lesser one, example from a 8 point to 6 point type.

The Point System
A French printer Pierre Simon Fournier established in 1837, a point system which with slight modifications is in use today. A point is one seventy-second of an inch. All type sizes are expressed in points. Type-size names were assigned specific sizes in points. Pica became a 12-point type. Nonpareil became 6-point. In terms of space, 72 points equals one inch, and 12 points equal one pica; the em is the square of any size of type. A piece of type has height, width and depth.

Justification is the term used for ‘spacing out to fill’. Lines are sometimes justified to fit the width of the column by adding or adjusting spacing between words. The computer-based automated typesetting justifies lines automatically. A refinement of justification is called ‘ kerning’, which opens or closes space between letters.

Editing Symbols: As in proof reading, certain well-known symbols are used while editing the copy. These are called editing symbols. They are used in the body of the copy, while proof reading symbols are used in the margins. Editing symbols are few in number and should not be confused with proof reading symbols which are numerous.

Editing The Text: While editing the reading matter or text, indications in respect of typography (make-up) and style of setting should be made in the left hand margin of the copy.

Headlines: Any line or collection of lines of display type that precedes a story and summarizes it can be called a headline. Headlines are built around action verbs, and use present tense to convey immediacy. Headlines for the reading matter may be written legibly at the top of the copy itself, specifying the point of type (size, capital letters - ‘caps’etc.), style (flush left, inverted pyramid etc.) and so on. The following examples illustrate the different types and styles:

18 Pt Caps Flush left


14 Pt Caps Flush Right


18 Pt Caps


14 Pt Caps




18 Pt Caps
Inverted Pyramid


In the above examples, it will be noted that:
1) the style of the headline
2) the width of the headline in terms of columns, and
3) the point of type
are specified clearly for the guidance of the printer.

To summarize accurately the key facts of a complex story in a limited space, the headline writer must be a consummate artist. Headlines index parts of news of greatest interest to each reader. They tell the news to the reader of the headline alone. They convey to the reader the relative significance of the news by their varying the type, size and weight. They convey the relative seriousness of the news for e.g. through italics and various decorative typographical devices such as boxes. They make the newspaper attractive, and give it character and stability. They sell the newspaper. They should be objective, must have attribution of facts stated, should generally avoid abbreviations, should be accurate in tone quality, i.e. the tone of voice in which it is told, and should avoid ambiguity

Counting the Head: Constructing headlines that tell the story and also fit the space requires patience, flexibility and the ability to predict whether a given line will fit into the required space. Consequently the editor or computer must count every line. The older method of counting heads goes like this:

Count all small letters 1 except l, i, f, t, which count 1/2, and m and w, which count 1 and 1/2.
Count all capital letters 1 and 1/2, except I, which counts 1/2, and M and W, which count 2.
Count all punctuation marks 1/2, except the dash, question mark, dollar sign and percent sign which count 1.
Count all figures 1.
Count all spaces 1.

Sub-headings: These are not subsidiary headlines, they are not in fact headlines at all, even though they are written in headline form. They are actually typographic devices used inserted in the body of the text primarily to break up large body of masses of straight matter. Sub-headings should be short containing not more than 2 or 3 words; example: ‘a Success Story”, Winds Of Change’, ‘Reservoirs Full’.

Jump heads are used whenever a story ‘jumps’ i.e. continues from one page to another, to assist readers to find the continuation as effortlessly as possible.

Box-Items: generally one comes across interesting or important short news items in newspapers and magazines. These are enclosed on all four sides and displayed prominently on the page. Such a news item is called a ‘box’ or box item. It may be a single or double column matter depending on the importance of the news item. The fewer the box items in a page, the greater will be the impact. At times these boxes also have illustrations. As a rule, the captions or headings in the box matter should be crisp, catchy and short.

Judging the Picture as Copy: It falls to an editor to judge the pictures as they come in and to make decisions about how they are to be played. Photographers usually bring in several prints of any picture they take, select what they consider the best and offer them to the editor, who of course, has the final responsibility for the choice. Photos must be judged both as copy and content. A picture it is aid is worth a thousand words. Thus picture editing is a crucial part that determines the overall effect on a page. Picture editing or cropping is an art in itself. This involves judgments as to what part of the print will be reproduced as a cut. It is done by drawing lines at the edge of the print itself in wax pencil where the editor wants the picture framed. One should be careful as to not trim away the background that contributes to the scale and sense of the picture. In cropping, editors also watch for continuation and relevance. The size and shape of the picture cropped are important to the effect they will have on the reader. It is in part dictated by column width. < I>Mortising is the term used for excising part of a picture and replacing the excision with something else, type or art. Sometimes it involves cutting a rectangular piece away to make room for the corner of another cut or as a place to put a caption. Or it may involve removing a rectangular area completely surrounded by the cut. The copy may be even pasted into a dark area as a reverse. Retouching is the process of improving a photograph in the darkroom. Editors are wary of this process, especially if it will be visible to any reader. But subtle retouching may improve a picture’s copy value without necessarily tampering its content. The same is true of keying or highlighting part of the print (improving contrast). All pictures should have captions or cut-lines. They should be crisp and convey the facts accurately for e.g. in a picture, the cut-line states the activity depicted in the picture and the names people in it with their respective positions i.e.‘from left to right’ etc.


A copy: Also called A matter. Part of a news story, based mainly on advance material, that is later completed by placing a lead on top of it.
Assignment: Duty given to a journalist
Banner: A headline across Page 1, of four columns or more; sometimes called the streamer. Not to be confused with a binder, a headline across the top of an inside page.
Beat: An exclusive story; also a series of places regularly visited by a reporter to gather news.
Body: Part of a story that follows the lead. Also the name of type in which the regular newspaper reading matter is set.
Bold face: (BF) - Type of matter that is heavier and darker than the regular type.
Byline: Signature on a story.
Caps: capital letters; also called upper case
Column: (1) Vertical area in a newspaper page, usually 10 1/2 to 15 pica ems in width. Abbreviated ‘col’. (2) The more or less regular output of a columnist
Copy: Universally known as the name of the material written by the journalist
Copyeditors: Also called copyreaders. They edit the headline and copy. Not to be confused with proofreaders, whose duty is to catch errors in proof.
Cover: To obtain news
Credit line: To credit a picture, cartoon, etc. to the source
Dateline: The place from which the news story is sent. Many newspapers now omit the date from the dateline
Deadline: Closing time for all copy for an edition.
Dummy: A freehand drawing outlining the position of news stories and cuts on a page
Ears: Boxes on either side of the nameplate on Page 1.
Layout: Arrangement of illustrations
Lead: Beginning of a story, which may be a sentence, paragraph, or several paragraphs
Makeup: Assembling the newspaper in the composing room

Review Quiz


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