04. Journalistic genres

Journalists create information according to what they see and hear. But when they share what they observe, they don’t just dish it out randomly. It’s the very definition of information : from the Latin “in formatio”.
News making is not just fact telling. There’re so many journalistic forms… just as there are many way to interpret what you’ve seen.

Elementary questions… elementary answers

A journalist’s primary job is providing answers to the questions everybody asks himself or herself when something occurs. These questions are invariably the same and they call for the same answers. Basic journalistic forms only vary according to the amount of answers.

Informing is answering questions

There are always four basic questions : Who ? What ? When ? Where ? The answer is just as basic, and stands in a sentence made of a subject (who ?), a verb (what ?), an adverbial phrase of place (where ?) and an adverbial phrase of time (when?). For example: Julius Caesar invaded Brittany this morning.

Narrating is informing while telling

The short news item (or brief) is the smallest, quickest way to inform. A sentence is enough: Julius Caesar, Roman Consul stationed in Gaul, invaded Great-Britain yesterday morning, around 6.30, as the weather was pleasant and the sea quite calm, after crossing the Channel, heading two legions, and a German cavalry contingent, who immediately started marching towards London, without meeting any kind of resistance from the towns dwellers they came across.
This genre asks for sobriety. Here’s a piece of advice: avoid adverbs and adjectives.

The story is the biggest informative genre. It’s a detailed summary of events occurring in chronological or logical orders, written up to inform the general public of what you know. An addition of basic sentences is enough.

Julius Caesar landed in Great Britain, yesterday morning, heading two legions and a German cavalry contingent. It was 6.30 when the Roman consul took his first steps on the beach of Dover, after crossing the Channel overnight. The weather was cloudy and the sea was calm. Breton sentinels alerted their troops and counted fifty galleys and a hundred or so troop ships.

All forms of narration belong to this genre: the summary, the filler, and the announcement…

Informing through description : the report

A report is the optimal informative genre. It’s a story complete by a description of the facts observed. This description adds details: colors, sounds, emotions, testimonies, random moments, death scenes, etc. A report shows, gives life to a scene. Using adverbs, adjectives, recounting what you’ve seen gives a special consistence to your article: Julius Caesar landed in Great Britain yesterday morning. He was in full combat gear, closely shaven and wearing cologne. His armor shined in the morning sun. According to the Breton sentinels who related the scene, the Roman consul, who had just set foot on the beach of Dover, exclaimed joyously: “Alea jacta est”.

However long the article is, all descriptions constitute a report.

Additional Q&A

Sometimes there are two additional questions : How ? Why ? These are asked when you can’t directly understand the fact. So as to get a better understanding, the journalist adds clarification when he writes up his report.

Informing is explaining

Answering “how” and “why” is explaining the origins, the motives, the reasons the facts occurs. It’s observing them as closely as you can, decrypting their true nature under the appearances, deciphering their true meaning.

Explaining while analyzing : the investigation

The investigation is the informative analytic genre. It’s taking the facts apart. Julius Caesar landed in Great Britain yesterday morning? The investigative journalist recovers all available data then explains which are, or might be, the roman consul’s intentions, how he prepared his landing, what exactly the size of his army is, what are his battle plans, etc. Such analytic work asks for good understanding and knowledge of the topic treated, useful archives, precise testimonies, trustworthy sources, and time to think. Sometimes the analytic work doesn’t explain some things, because of hidden, or invisible data. The journalist therefore starts looking beyond what’s known: it’s the investigation, the genre that goes most in-depth.

Explaining by having someone analyze the facts : the interview

The interview is an analytic substituting process. When the journalist can’t provide the explanations himself, he asks an expert to do so. Julius Caesar just landed in Great Britain. You know the Roman consul quite well, Mr. Brutus, would you explain to us why ? The interview published as a Q&A offers the most information.

Informing is providing interpretations

When narration, description and analysis leave dark spots around the facts, the journalist can start interpreting the news. As he can’t dissect the whole facts, he tries to decipher them through the fragments he possesses.

Interpreting through evaluation : the commentary

There are various ways to share your personal opinion with your readers, but all of them are opinion pieces: column, drawings… Julius Caesar landed in Great Britain yesterday morning ? His troops are so numerous it’s highly improbable the Roman consul crossed the Channel just for a bit of sightseeing… The reader weighs how pertinent the interpretation is.

Interpreting while coming to conclusions : the editorial

If, after thinking about it for a while, the journalist judges the facts he’s observed, analyzed and weighed, he’s writing an editorial. Julius Caesar landed in Great Britain. God Save The Queen ! The reader is free to agree or not with this point of view, but anyway it highlights the editorialist’s opinion, and is, as such, informative.