Regardless of the news subject, news value or format and technology that delivers the information, someone must gather the facts and organize them to tell the story.
That person is called a reporter, and good reporters have some common characteristics that make them effective.
The most important characteristic of a reporter is ethical behavior. When a reporter fails to operate according to a strong ethical and moral code of behavior, that one individual's failing can damage the overall credibility of the news media in long-term, serious ways.
Even honest reporters seem to be making too many mistakes. As a result of major episodes of dishonesty combined with too many factual errors, readers and viewers of news are having a harder time believing what they read and see in news reports—even in the places they should be able to trust. Polls show that the public's confidence in media is falling. Today, fewer than half of Americans refer to their trust in media as "fair" or better, while in 1976, 72 percent of Americans reported fair or substantial trust in the news media (Newport, 2007). It's no wonder. One major news program famously faked an explosion during an automobile safety test, and a number of other high-profile news outlets have had to confess to their staff members' lies, plagiarism and invented quotes.
If character is what we are when no one is looking, we hope that reporters operate as if they are the subject of a constant hidden-camera Investigation.Temptations are great—to help a friend or to write the story without being absolutely certain of the facts In addition, reporters have opportunities to use their power for personal financial gain. Many individuals and businesses could benefit from stories in the news, and they are sometimes willing to offer bribes to get their viewpoint expressed. Individuals and businesses may also offer to pay for a reporter's travel or may entertain reporters and editors with the same goal: getting the story they want in the news. If a reporter is grateful for an expensive meal and wants to return the favor with a news story, the story may not be objective—and the story will surely not look objective.
Our economy, as well as our democracy, depends on people dealing honestly with each other. We expect our citizenry to operate with some sort of moral foundation, and journalists especially need an ethical code. But what is ethics?
Ethics is a system of deciding what is right and wrong. As a student, you may have had to develop your own code of ethics to help you make decisions about cheating or plagiarism. As a reporter, you will surely be called on to make ethical choices, and you should give some thought to developing a personal process for making moral decisions.
The right ethical decision is not always clear, and even individuals with strong moral systems and the best of intentions can make mistakes. At the very least, journalists must examine their personal ethical codes and realize that behaving honestly in the pursuit of truth is the most important characteristic of a reporter. Honesty and credibility are the only product mainstream media have for sale.
Another important characteristic for a reporter is curiosity or inquisitiveness. Although some people may declare a lack of interest in certain subjects, the reporter may not. The reporter should be curious about everything, including science, psychology, literature, history, politics, differing cultures, children's games, animal behavior and economics. The reporter wants to understand all subject areas, because they eventually relate to or intertwine with news stories. A good reporter also has a desire to get the story right. Lunch conversations and water cooler chats are usually full of rumor, alleged conspiracies and sloppily drawn conclusions. There's great satisfaction in hearing others discuss an issue and being the one who Healthy skepticism knows the real story—or the one who's willing to find the full story.
A healthy skepticism leads reporters to important information that others might miss and can be a vital characteristic for those who want to bring news to light. Skepticism takes the form of constant questioning or continual doubt. When the city treasurer resigns and says it's because he wants a job with less stress and wants to spend more time with family, the reporter wonders if that is the real reason for the resignation. When a local company issues a news release announcing layoffs because of the need to "streamline operations," the reporter will be skeptical. Why the need to "streamline"? Could there be other reasons for the downsizing?
Please notice that the characteristic should be a healthy skepticism, not cynicism. Cynicism—a pervasive distrust of people's motives—is not a good characteristic for reporters. Reporters generally devote energy to bringing information to the public in the belief that an informed citizenry is able to make wise decisions. Furthermore, even though human beings can have tendencies toward selfishness, disregard for others and dishonesty, the media offer an important balance of power that helps keep people honest and helps weed out those who misuse their power. Doomsayers don't make good reporters, but those with a healthy skepticism help keep the system strong.
Persistence is a helpful characteristic for a reporter. When someone says no comment, some people may become discouraged, but a good reporter finds challenge in such a refusal and becomes more determined to get the story. The reporter goes on to ask, How can I get the person to agree to comment? Or how can I get the information another way?
Another important characteristic for a reporter is to enjoy interacting with people. It's hard to imagine anyone getting any pleasure out of a reporting if she doesn't enjoy talking to people. The job often involves approaching strangers and asking questions that many people would consider too personal to ask even their closest friends. Although you may not think of yourself as an extrovert, you may find that with a little practice and experience, talking with people can become enjoyable.
Regardless of whether an individual is an extrovert who enjoys working with people, anyone interested in working in a newsroom should be willing to be a team player. The process of putting a newscast together happens in a group of people. The reporters and anchors are most visible to the audience, but the producers, writers and assignment editors hold vital responsibilities as well. Just like most jobs, no one does it alone, and enjoying the group effort and recognizing the contributions of others will make the work much more pleasant.
Most successful professionals share the characteristic of being organized, and reporters need this skill as well. Working on deadlines and dealing with lots of different people on many different subjects require self-imposed structure. Reporters must manage their time effectively and give attention to managing many details and lots of information. The simple ability to keep names, addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers and e-mail addresses in an accessible format is an important job skill. Finding the name of a contact and a phone number quickly could mean the difference between getting or losing a story.
Broadcast reporters must also be willing to accept criticism. Everyone makes mistakes, and in the broadcast business the mistakes are usually seen by many thousands of people. News directors and producers should tell the reporter how to be more effective.Audience members may write or call to criticize the story content or more personal aspects of a presentation, such as the reporter's delivery or appearance. Stations may bring in consultants to work with on-air personnel in making changes. Because of the nature of some stories, there will be people who will not like you. In short, the broadcast reporter will work more successfully by learning to accept criticism.
Reporters must also show flexibility. Those who want the routine of a 9 to 5 desk job should avoid the world of television news. Few reporters, editors and producers work Monday through Friday during normal business hours, and as your career advances, you'll probably work a variety of schedules that may include weekends.
Newsroom personnel must be able to change plans in an instant and make the change with a positive attitude. You may be on your way to cover a council meeting and be diverted to the scene of an accident. You may have dressed for a live shot in front of a theater and find yourself trudging through mud during a driving rain. Reporters and photographers work in a variety of settings and meet and interview all types of people. Although some days in the newsroom are routine, most days are not, requiring a person to be flexible.