Reaching Out

This week we were sent out in the the mean streets of Auckland to test the waters of public opinion and to write our first article as journalism students. In partners, we were assigned the task of choosing a well known topic to quiz the public on, with no more than two questions. Upon doing so we were to hit the streets in search of interview subjects who would be prepared not only to give us their thoughts but hand over their contact details and personal information as well as have their photo taken. As it turns out, not only is it hard to get people to talk to you on record about something as simple as their opinion, but many are also very camera shy. Nevertheless, if you’re dressed well, walk with purpose and sound like you know exactly what you’re doing then it’s not as hard as you may think to get the job done.
[To find the finished article from this week, check out my previous blog post]

All news stories have a universal structure and categories, this was the focus of the week. To make headlines, a story must generally meet one of the following six news values.

Proximity – Timeliness – Prominence – Conflict – Novelty – Human Interest

With structure it must follow the inverted news pyramid. This is way of ensuring the most important and interesting part of a story comes first. The lead of the story contains the 5Ws and H, which should be followed by non-essential additional information that fills out the story, concluding with information surrounding the subject that supports the subject of the story. This structure was developed, not through newspaper logic, but by nineteenth century  telegraph operators in order to ensure that if messages were cut off mid way, they could still relay the essentials (Conley, 2002).

In terms of progress on my personal news story, I’ve heard through the grapevine of locals that an Engineering student studying Mechatronics in my street has just received a scholarship to work on developing robotic limbs for children. I’ve done some digging through old newsletters and records, and this is certainly an up and coming student. They are no stranger to scholarships. In the coming week I hope to reach out to discuss the nature of their scholarship and work.


Taxpayers Feeling Cheated over Lack of Olympic Coverage

Wednesday Aug 17, 2016

Although New Zealand taxpayers are funding athletes to compete in Rio, people are feeling cheated over the lack of public coverage.

Aucklanders on the street were unimpressed, Technician Stephen Butterworth, 46, says,  “ I don’t think it’s fair that people don’t get free coverage.” The sentiment is shared by teacher Mitzi Borren, 29, claiming, “My instinct is that I think it should be open to all New Zealanders to watch”.

Sky TV has exclusive rights to broadcasting the 2016 Olympic Games in New Zealand, accessible only through a subscription service. Free to air coverage is sparse and restricted to selected highlights on Prime television. Notably these highlights fail to include all of New Zealand athletes’ performances.

Over the last four years, the government has invested $133 million into our athletes through HPSNZ (High Performance Sport New Zealand) with another $87 million that has been put forward for coaches and athletes through Performance Enhancement Grants.

With the taxpayers putting so much towards our elite athletes, it is no surprise that the public is bitter over the lack of free to air broadcasting.


– Sean Stapleton in association with Cassidy Makonio

News Shoes

One of the essential skills for all journalists to master is the interview. The opportunity to gather first hand information, to ask questions and to find the angle at which to attack a story. This was the subject of our weekly lecture, as we learnt exactly what to do and what to avoid while engaging with an interview subject.

It pays to be wary when going into an interview that the public tends to have a distorted view of journalists as a result of their portrayal in popular media and off colour representation. To make your best impression on your interviewee you should be prepared well before the scheduled time, arrive on time, have a confident and pleasant demeanour and dress like a professional. This means an upgrade from a t-shirt to a formal shirt, pressed trousers footwear appropriate to a professional office environment. You must look, seem and act the part if you are to carry out an effective interview.

Upon meeting your subject, whether or not you have the confidence you project, it is irrelevant, you must keep calm and put your subject at ease or face the potential of unsettling your interviewee. Introductions will be made, and should be done politely but concisely, followed by appropriate small talk. Having settled, you should have a method of recording the interview, whether by short hand notes or audio capture, these records should be kept for at least two years for both personal reference and in case of disputes. As a prepared journalist, you will have a series of notes, checklists and questions for your interviewee.

While engaging with the subject, you should not only be listening to what they are saying but how, as an active listen you should be observing how they act. The questions you ask should be open ended, designed to elicit a developed response. Beyond this, you should never make assumptions about what you are hearing. Responses should be checked, names spelled and facts scrutinised, both during the interview and after. There is no such thing as a dumb question, it is always better to have an answer, than to be left in the dark. That being said, research should be part of your preparation and you should be familiar with what you are discussing.

One of the keys to a dynamic interview is to be able to follow leads that your subject gives you. Although you may have a pre-set list of questions you want to cover, as an active listener you should be watching out for answers that beg for further explanation, for off hand mentions to be developed.

Good interviewing is about listening rather than asking questions – listening for what they don’t say s much as what they do, listening for what they say glibly and what they say awkwardly, listening to their ‘charged’ bits that touch an emotional nerve. Clever questions, in my view, are a waste of time; the really clever question is the shortest one that will elicit the longest answer – in practice usually ‘why?’
(Lynn Barber, 1991)

Finally, as the interview comes to an end, you must draw the interaction to a close. To successfully finish of an interview in a professional manner you should do the following;

  1. Ask your subject if they have any further comment to add
  2. Double check basic facts e.g.. name spelling, occupation, contact details
  3. Thank them for their time

Having completed this, you will have succeeded in completing your interview.


Close to Home

Entering the third week of the paper, with my nose in the wind for news, we had a guest lecturer come in to speak to us about their experiences as an investigative journalist for the New Zealand Herald. Kirsty Johnson (@kirsty_johnston) gave a rundown as to how she went about covering her stories. This spanned from her trawling of education reports and government statistics to arranging ‘coincidental’ meetings with the subjects of her stories in attempts to capture fresh images.

Beyond Kirsty’s anecdotes, she had a number of lessons to impart on us. For one, both the Electoral Role and the Habitation Index can be of great use in tracking people down and uncovering their past. Pay attention to national affairs, what angle hasn’t been covered in popular news stories. Check out current government statistics, find the stories hidden in the numbers, in particular, the stories the government tries to hide in their releases. At the end of the day though, just as everyone else has been advising us, to find news you just have to go out and talk to people.

Contrary to that advice however, over the last week I’ve had quite a lot going on in my backyard that has in a way almost fell into my lap. The New Zealand Herald ran a story on my street on how theAuckland Unitary Plan is affecting local residents and their fears on how land development in the area would impact them. This got me thinking, as I know there is an area of land further down the road between properties that is an ancient Maori burial ground under special building consent conditions. So I’ve started digging into council resources on the subject. It is still early days though.

Additionally, my next door neighbours have been involved in a series of domestic disputes recently, one of which involved the police getting involved. The woman has an intellectual disability and tends to be the one who starts the disturbances with her partner, resulting in a lot of screaming and physical displays of aggression. I am hesitant to get involved, however it leads me to wonder whether there is a story in the role intellectual disability plays in domestic violence and disputes in New Zealand.

Amongst various events, someone very close to me passed away this week. As I am struggling to comes to terms with the loss I can’t help but think of the way New Zealand media cover suicides in their censorship of such occurrences. As the Coroner’s Act stands those involved with victims are prevented from speaking out about individual cases or the circumstances surrounding them in public media, or even having the deaths referred to as suicides. Despite the act going under review with the New Zealand Law Commission in 2013, no changes were made to amend this censorship. There is a massive issue with suicide in this country, particularly with men. What role does the media have in this? Could the way towards aiding those struggling with depression be through a more open and public discussion of mental health?

In all honesty as much as I’m trying to focus on finding a story, I have been really affected by this passing and am struggling to find relevance in my work. I will find a story to tell nonetheless.

If this post has brought up any issues for you or you need help, call Life line 0800 543 354 or visit the Mental Health Foundation’s website for more information and resources.