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nuances of news reporting: a socio-cultural assessment

nuances of news reporting: a socio-cultural assessment


Jagadish Pokhrel

Bipin Acharya

background: towards a tale of two studies

observant participation, 2002-03 Post-1990 policy changes had ended the

monopoly of The Rising Nepal In 2002-03, TRN was struggling for a

foothold in the transforming media landscape

Elsewhere, ethnographers immersed further into the journalistic field

A TRN journalist, I tangoed with an anthropologist to study the news

My observant participation (Bell, 1993) brought the tacit knowledge and the role of agency in news making to sharp focus

The Earthling-Martian collaboration resulted in a narrative description of the news craft as practiced at TRN

survey assessments, 2012-13 Media Foundation Nepal, a media think-

and-do-tank, surveyed Nepali journalists and the public

Findings more generalizable With the benefit of hindsight, I wanted to

see how the findings spoke to my observation of the TRN newsroom

I juxtaposed details and depth with numbers and breadth and tuned in where they resonated

The purpose was to see how the two studies told a tale about the hard questions and constraints of the profession

One handled these in so many words or another counted yes and no or cant say e.g. the role of journalism in society?

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objectives of this paper

Overall aimForeground the nuances of the journalistic craft while revisiting a newsroom observation and a survey research, a decade and two methods apart, to explore what it is that resonates in the studies at the level of the profession

Specific objectivesBring a native view to news making and shed light on its practical nuances while, at the same time, meeting the rigors of a Martian perspective

Discuss the agency and the tacit knowledge of journalists

Discuss some hard questions about the profession

Articulate the desires of the craftspeople

Highlight what constrains journalistic work from locating to reporting facts

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observant participation

Context of study Journalism permeated into many theaters of social experience

Some big names in the private media were ex-TRN journalists

Most criticism of TRN text showed omission of facts, not commission of distortion, errors,

The subtext, the government, was invisible presence in news routines and bureaucracy

The practice of news craft, the setting, practitioners, their hopes and fears were worth studying

Not many journalists handled email

We huddled around the chief reporter as he struggled to use a gifted Sony handheld

Why ethnography Ethnographers had found a timely and fertile topic in journalism (Boyer & Hannerz, 2006)

Observant participation took us straight to a newsroom in action

Triangulation of observation, interview and text analysis authenticated interpretation of the Ws, H, and So What of news making

Anthropological field dichotomies, universal-particular, subjective-objective, and terms, life-world, habitus, etc, assured productive engagement

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survey assessments, 2012

What they wereMedia Foundation Nepal, a think-and-do-tank, carried out the survey assessments, they were kind of baseline studies. The report is available


The report showcases the findings of: Journalists' Survey (N=838), Public Opinion Survey (N= 2,252), SMS poll (N=739) and Focus group discussions (FGDs)

Overall goal of the surveys Assess the media environment of Nepal

Immediate objectives Identify media capacity development priorities in light of the following: Attributes of Nepali

journalists, their professional challenges, their perceptions of media credibility, and capacity development needs

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A close reading and comparison of two studies In self-reports, facts, numbers and interpretations at the level of profession

Fresh literature review

Breakdown of the news production process into categories locate, elicit, collect, select, plan, write, edit, send for production, etc

Reading the research reports in light of this production process

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From observant participation, 2002 Through a weeks newsroom observation, several unstructured interviews, and analyses of

front page news stories over two months, the TRN study asked: What can reporters tell us about their professional practices?

What does a close reading of a sample of news stories reveal?

The reporters had so much to tell the researchers about their professional practices (objectives related) News is a product of multiple hands

Ownership structure of the newsroom imposes limits to news work News work is a routinized desire to tell a good story

News re-creates an event

News is understandable because the producers and consumers collaborate

A close reading of the interviews and news stories revealed lofty craft desires of journalists, despite severe constraints (to engage, inform, educate, so on.)

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findings, contd. 1


The native condition (method related) When the excitement of starting into journalism fades, you settle in with a routine (like a clerk, one informant


What is news? I ask a friend. You know it, come on, he grins at me. (the difficulty of interviewing colleagues)

Man bites dog is news , another colleague tells me on further probe, but not always. You know that at TRN, right?

How do you know you got all the facts for your story? I ask. When you run out of questions, stop asking the sources, or when you think you need to go to office, to meet the deadline!

The tango (method related) Man-bites-dog is quite an interesting definition of what is news, my Martian supervisor tells me. Now

start triangulation, analyze content, hold focus groups.

The Earthling is intimidated. Triangulation sounds like something really worth doing, a hard-boiled-journalist, I tell Bipin sir, showing a bit of my awe and skepticism about the scholarly process.

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findings, contd. 2

The tacit knowledge (Process/practice related) The way you learn to walk and take walking for granted, many reporters learn their craft through

newsroom socialization. Rather than strictly following professional norms, values and codes, you learn to follow the unwritten code inside your newsroom walls

Some hard questions (Profession related) Attachment -- detachment (Lenin is dead, he said), the bureaucratic intrigue (e.g. contacts,

sources, spin normal: reporter calls source), Who to ask what about what, what the world is and how it gets reported, news is about matters of public interest (ok, but news values prize violence and conflict if it bleeds, it leads), creative possibilities (e.g. universal-particular, convention-wastebasket), etc

Desires of the craft (Process/practice related) Tell news stories in a compelling manner, engage the people, help inform, entertain, educate, etc

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findings, contd. 3

The performance ritual (Structure and influence related) Roles: Both newsroom actors and news actors performed roles that bore on how the

reporters worked

Rules: Reporters internalized a set of rules as to how to gather and write news stories. They were not always explicit and rigid. Journalists invoked conventions to justify their claims about why they do what they do

Routines: Reporters go about doing their work as a routine activity

Resources: How equipped reporters are to do their job, their readily available intellectual and physical resources affects the news process

Attributes of informants Educated, Brahmin, male, median age 30s, informed the observant participation

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findings, contd. 4

From MFN surveys


Attributes of Nepali journalists: Mostly young, educated male, Brahmin-Chhetri background, urban, semi-urban, and still largely


They earned low to moderate income. Most worked full-time, a majority in the private sector media

Perceptions of media credibility: Majority of journalists see the media and their content generally trustworthy but

partisan. Poor language and presentation style (Resource/resourcefulness) hampering credibility

Code violation mainly due to lack of awareness about ethics

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findings, contd. 5

The constraints

External (From literature review and MFN surveys)

Nature of democracy, state policy, economy, organizational structure, information needs of society, cultural tastes, etc.

Social perception of journalists as politically biased, inadequate security to journalists from the state, political partisanship and institutional bias of media houses, lack of technological resources and training for individual journalists

Internal (observant participation, 2002):

The Rs -- Roles (general, special topic), Rules (one, man