JOURNALISTIC CONTENT AND JOURNALISTIC FORM

By Nirmaldasan
(nirmaldasan@hotmail.com)

Journalistic content is expressed through a mix of visual and textual forms. A newspaper's contents may be classified under four heads: ideas, information, views and news. Though these categories are not mutually exclusive and hard to define, a few examples will help us make fine distinctions.

In the Edward FitzGerald translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, there is a beautiful stanza:

"But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays."

This equation between life and chess is an idea. Most of the cartoons brim with quaint ideas. The cartoonist's prayer, quoted by Karl Hubenthal, says: "Lord, give us this day our daily idea, and forgive us the one we had yesterday."

A chessboard has 64 squares is information. The Laws Of Chess gives more information about the game. One of the key functions of journalism is to keep society well informed.

In a democracy, all have the right to express views. That chess is a game of kings and the king of games is just one such view. A newspaper's points of view are expressed in its editorials. Journalists are, however, told not to mix news with views.

News fortunately is very easy to define. It is a report of a very recent event. 'Viswanathan Anand wins World Rapid Chess Championship' was a piece of news that appeared in newspapers. But what was news yesterday is information today. Our views are largely shaped by information or a lack of it. A clash of views results in fresh ideas.

From journalistic content we now move on to journalistic form. Some of the visual forms are photograph, graphic, illustration, cartoon, map ... Some of the textual forms are news report, article, feature, editorial...

The news report is based on the news values of timeliness, proximity, prominence, consequence, rarity and human interest. It has 5Ws & 1H (who, what, when, where, why and how) and written in the inverted pyramid style. This style dictates that the points of the report be arranged in the order of diminishing significance. A news report 'Russian Commandos Storm School' appeared in The Hindu, dated September 4, 2004. An AFP picture accompanied the report with this caption: "SCHOOL SIEGE ENDS: A volunteer carries an injured child out of the school in Beslan, southern Russia, on Friday after Russian special forces stormed it ending the three-day-old standoff. Militants had been holding hundreds of people, mostly children, hostage in the building." In this example, the journalistic content is news and its forms are the news report and the photograph.

The same edition of The Hindu also carried a news analysis of the event by Vladimir Radyuhin titled 'Putin had to choose between two evils'. Radyuhin also wrote an article titled 'Terror Strikes In Russia', which appeared beside The Hindu's editorial 'Beslan Lessons' of its edition dated September 6.

Now what is the difference between news analysis, article and editorial? An article need not always have a news peg. If it has a news peg and focusses on the sequence of events and implications, then it may easily be labelled as news analysis. The thrust of the article is more on information. The editorial is an article which sets forth the policy of a newspaper on a particular topic. In an article titled 'Editorial Writing' (Journalism In Modern India, edited by Roland E. Wolseley), S. Natarajan writes: "The traditional form of the editorial has been frequently deviated from -- the break up into three sections: topic, development, conclusion. But it asserts itself more often than not."

The Hindu, dated September 2, 2004, also published an AP feature, related to the Beslan episode, titled 'A Region Weary Of Militancy'. The feature is a relaxed form of writing. In 'Style In Journalism', the author P.V.L. Narasimha Rao writes: "The distinction between articles and features is rather thin; the former being generic and the latter specific. While articles discuss a number of issues on a wider canvas, features concentrate on a particular aspect." He also quotes D.S. Mehta: "If the article is like a many-roomed mansion, the feature is a neat little beautiful one-room cottage." Some of the most common features in newspapers are interviews, reviews and travelogues.

Journalistic content usually has a news peg. But if you take a look at the newspaper supplements, you get to read essays, short stories and even verse. These are actually literary forms. But if they are imbued with journalistic content, then they may also be considered as journalistic forms. Columns, anecdotes, jokes are some forms that have a literary touch.

The emphasis of this article has been more on textual forms. A few words, at least, need to be said about the visual forms. If photographs correspond to reality, illustrations veer towards the aesthetic. Photo features and cartoon strips appeal a lot to the audience. Graphics are most useful when data has to be presented in an 'at-the-glance' format. The Hindu's Design Editor, Varghese Kallada, has written an article 'Graphics In Print Media', which may be read with profit at Journalism Online.

(presented at the Journalism Workshop, Loyola College, September 9, 2004)

Journalism Online