Reporting Diversity
Curriculum Modules

Curriculum Module Three

The Scenario and the Case Study materials

Overview

An important source of news is the steady stream of official reports and other publications produced by government and non-government organisations. Such reports can be long and cover many different topics and the best news stories are not always immediately apparent. Where a report covers the results of a research study, for example, the findings are not organised in terms of their newsworthiness. So it falls to journalist to sift through the information with a view to finding one or more news stories to follow up.

A journalist’s decisions about what to emphasise in reporting the contents of a lengthy document can affect how the whole document is perceived. For example, the maiden speech made by Pauline Hanson in Federal Parliament in 1994 covered a wide range of topics. It is remembered by most Australians, however, for a single sentence about how Asian migrants “form into ghettos and don’t assimilate” because this statement was the focus of reporting about the speech in the weeks that followed.

This focus, on the most controversial single phrase in the speech, distracted the public from scrutiny of the veracity of other claims and limited debate about the content of the speech.

Many newsworthy issues may go unreported when a journalist focuses on only one aspect of a report such as the one at the centre of this module.

A journalist needs a systematic way to collate and consider the range of newsworthy information contained in a lengthy report. For example, the statistical data may, of itself, be newsworthy. This report reveals that of 18,769 people surveyed, 0.4% described their religion as “Jedi Knight”. Does this suggest a real set of religious beliefs, or a cynicism about the nature of religion? Has the number of Jedi Knights increased since the previous Census?

The report used in this case study considers statistical trends which may be interpreted in a variety of ways including positive and negative. The report also provides some commentary on the findings. The journalist needs to consider whether this commentary should be seen to have the same level of veracity as the statistical data. In considering the whole of the report, the journalist needs to consider some deeper questions about journalistic practice, including:

  • Should I aim to write a report that covers all the aspects of the report? Why?
  • How will I decide which stories to write from the report? What risks are attached to my decisions?
  • What is the most controversial aspect of the report?
  • What is the most important finding of the report?
  • Do controversial stories always take precedence over ones with substance? Why?
  • Is there a limit to the number of stories you can draw from a single report? Why?
  • How does your knowledge of the audience affect your reading of the report?
  • How is the public interest served by publicising specific aspects of the report?

The Scenario

In 2004  the then Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (now the Department of Immigration and Citizenship) released a report on religious diversity.  This report was the result of collaboration between Australian Multicultural Foundation, World Conference of Religions for Peace, RMIT University and Monash University. The report would have landed on news desks around the country and in this scenario you are asked to imagine a situation where your boss hands you a copy of the 148 page report and asks you to follow it up. “You could start with the plan to ban Christmas,” he adds, as he walks away. The following questions provide a guide for analysing this scenario from a journalist’s perspective. In considering these questions, you may refer to the resources provided in these materials.

  1. How will you begin to work with the report?
    A journalist needs a systematic way of filtering out the most useful information from a mass of data and facts. How will you organise yourself to consider all the information in this report? Will you read it from cover to cover? If you consider it in chapters, will you start at the beginning or the end? Why? What tools will you use to organize your research? You may find you want to make notes about a variety of items in the report, noting the page number in the report for your reference.
     
  2. How will you choose what to write about?
    How will you decided what to write about first? What news values are dominant in your considerations and why? Are some stories more suited to feature writing than news reporting? Why? How will you choose? Prioritise the story ideas you find and consider your reasons.
     
  3. Does the report contain a suggestion that Christmas be banned?
    Sometimes accurate information can be presented in a way that creates a false impression. Is that the case here? Is the editor’s assertion correct? On what factual information is the statement based? Would you write a story along those lines?
     
  4. How will you evaluate your findings?
    Do you need additional information to what you find in the report? Why? Because this is a Federal government-funded study, is it beyond dispute? Do you need to check the veracity of this report? What do you need to consider? Any survey data, for example is only as reliable as the sample from which the data is drawn.
     
  5. Are some stories more important than others?
    Consider your findings from the audience’s perspective. When you decide that one story is more important than another, what are you saying about the audience? What do the statistics in this report tell you about your audience?
     
  6. Where could you seek additional voices for your reports?
    Do issues raised by the report require further investigation? What sources could you use, beyond the views of the authors of the report? How would you identify appropriate interviewees?

Resources

Cahill, D, Bouma, G, Dellal, H and Leahy, M (2004) Religion, Cultural Diversity and Safeguarding Australia, National Capital Printing, Canberra, pp148.

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