Caroline is a final year undergraduate at the University of Birmingham and part-time freelance journalist. She has written for various (mainly online) newspapers and magazines such as the Huffington Post, Redbrick and the Guardian. All of her work can be found here and she can be found making facetious comments on Twitter here.
Sometimes, good news stories are made rather than born. No matter how hard we try we can never truly escape our preconceptions about a certain story whether writing or reading it.
That is not to say we, as journalists, are less extreme versions of FOX News and simply function as the mouthpiece of the ill-informed but it is important to remember that every newspaper, even the broadsheets and blogs we cling to as the last hope for idealistic journalism, have an angle that they write from.
Having an angle or an area of focus does not always mean sensationalism and maybe in an ideal world they would not exist at all. But that would also be really boring. No matter how idealistic you are about your first forays into the world of investigate journalism you must remember that all professional news outlets exist to sell themselves. Therefore they have to appeal to an audience and that audience has certain preconceived notions and interests and any news article written for them must acknowledge their concerns.
For instance if it is an article about a manufacturing plant goes bust, City financiers are going to want to know how it’ll affect the markets but the ordinary person on the street will want to know how it affect jobs. Therefore it will be reported differently in the Financial Times to the Daily Mail.
So how would this affect the wannabe hack? Striking the perfect note on freelance pitches is a hard skill to master but if you’re going to do it well you need to know your audience. However, this does not necessarily mean that a left-wing broadsheet would not accept the same news story that a right-wing tabloid would.
Take this quite old news story as an example; back in June 2011 James Verone held his local bank at gunpoint for $1 and then sat down and calmly waited for the police to arrive. Now this would normally grace the online world of weird news and be left at that unless you a little dig deeper.
Verone held up the bank was so he could go to prison to receive free medical care after being unable to find a permanent job for three years and having mounting medical problems. This story gained a reasonable amount of coverage in the American press but was almost completely ignored by the British press with the only one article I could find in the international campaign magazine, New Internationalist, run by Oxfam.
Although it may not seem like much when you first look at it, a story about one ordinary American citizen doing something stupid, and you could not see how it would fit into the British press, with the correct angle you can make the seemingly small and unimportant reflect a much wider news story. This may not be front page news but perhaps the mainstream British media missed a trick with this one because, although American, it does fit into so many of the different debates in the British media at the moment.
For instance, a left-wing broadsheet like the Guardian or the Independent could run this story in the wider context of welfare reform. With the debate about disability living allowance and incapability benefits still raging through Westminster a human interest story like this would be perfectly placed to lead into the debate and demonstrate the reality of life without a safety net. Instead of being sensationalist and railing against how evil capitalist America is and the lows that it forces its people to stoop to, this story can be a lead in to explaining the failings of the American model and address the urgent need for the government to reconsider the implications of its actions.
However, on the other side of the coin a right-wing tabloid like the Daily Mail or even a broadsheet like the Daily Telegraph would see this story from the perspective of how easy prison life has become. Amongst the calls for prison reform, there is currently a petition on the government’s e-petition website to force prisoners to subsist on a diet of ‘bread and water’. To the average right-wing reader someone purposely trying to get into prison would suggest that prison culture in both Britain and America is too soft and it would be followed by a look at rising prison figures and the benefits prisoners receive.
What makes the news is not often the story itself but its implications. Making the headlines is far more about news sense than news itself.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look