Hard news writing is a fundamental skill for journalists to acquire, which is all about getting facts across quickly and effectively. Hard news writing is very formulaic, unlike soft news writing which can involve more flair. When writing hard news, the first sentence must include a summary of the most newsworthy points, while enticing the reader to continue reading.
Hard News articles should be written to the inverted pyramid structure. This ensures the most newsworthy information is delivered first, and least important information comes last. The intro should “encapsulate the main news value and usually explains what happened where” (Lamble 2013). The what and where are two components of Kipling’s ‘six honest serving men’ (which also include who, when, why and how), and are the questions that must be answered when writing a hard news story. The next few paragraphs of your story must answer the remaining questions using quotes, while also providing chronology and background to the event. The conclusion of a hard news story includes the least noteworthy details, which are interesting, but not crucial to the story. Mencher (1997) however, warns journalists to ensure that hard news intros are “deft and pointed”.
With this in mind, I ventured to Federation Square on April 4 to write a hard news story on two competing rallies taking place. The original rally, organised by the Reclaim Australia group, opposed Islamisation of Australia through measures such as Sharia Law and a halal tax. In response, a “Rally Against Racism” was organised to try and prevent the Reclaim Australia rallies, which were occurring all across the nation. Before the event, I researched the background to the rallies and tried to get in contact with the respective rallies’ organisers, but to no avail. In hindsight, I should have called the organisers earlier, to allow for a better chance of receiving a response.
When I arrived at Federation Square at 11am, with a couple of other RMIT students, there were already simmering tensions between the competing protesters. It was impossible to go up to the SBS building where the Reclaim Australia rally was being held, as the anti-racism protesters and police had formed a blockade surrounding the area. As I listened to the speeches of speakers at the “Rally Against Racism”, I took notes on the speech and also had a quick talk to one of the speakers, Alison Thorne. I also talked to some of the anti-racism protesters, to get a gauge on their general sentiment and reasons for protesting.
In order to achieve balance, I also spoke to protesters from the Reclaim Australia rally, although I was disappointed that the blockade prevented me from listening to the speakers of their rally. I was able however, to undertake a proper interview with a few of the Reclaim Australia protesters. I made sure that I introduced myself and told them I was a RMIT student journalist, writing for a university assignment. I asked for and was given permission to audio record the women, who were members of the Christian Rise Up Australia Party. I asked a number of questions, which the women were happy to answer. They made a concerted effort to make sure they got their side of the story heard and implored me to make sure my article was balanced, which I assured them I would do. They also told me I should be “brave” as a journalist and this resonated with me, as I realised it was an essential characteristic for any journalist to have.
By the time I arrived home, I noticed that there was already a multitude of articles published online on the rallies, which is a consequence of the internet and social media. This means as a journalist, I must be able to write and publish a hard news article as soon as possible, with the luxury of writing the article that night for publication the next morning a thing of the past. While I did not have to write to a tight deadline, it would have been a challenge to ensure my article was accurate while still written efficiently, if that was the case.
Accuracy is perhaps the hardest thing to maintain in the midst of social media, as there is less time for research and editing a story, with the priority shifted to getting news across quickly. This is especially pertinent for hard news, where an event becomes less newsworthy over time, as new events enter the public sphere. One of the challenges for a journalist in the social media age, is preserving quality and accuracy while still catering to an online audience with a short attention span. If quality and accuracy are sacrificed in order to publish an article quickly, the journalist could receive severe backlash from the online community, and even the courts if something grossly inaccurate or slanderous is published.
As for writing the story itself, I did not have many issues, as weeks of practise had made me more comfortable in the process of hard news writing. I am starting to automatically write hard news in the inverted pyramid structure, while making sure I include all the relevant information. The biggest difference between this article and the practise ones we did in class was the fact I had to find quotes and background information myself, rather than it being provided. When finding quotes, I listened to my interview and found the quotes which were most newsworthy and added the most to my story. Overall, I found the most challenging part of writing a hard news article to be finding sources to interview and making sure what you write is balanced (especially in regards to controversial events like what I covered).
While a con of hard news writing is that it does not allow as much creativity and freedom as feature writing, it is an important “bread and butter” (Lamble 2013) skill which all journalists must learn. Adapting it for this social media age demands almost immediate publication of stories, yet quality can still remain by following journalistic conventions such as the inverted pyramid and Kipling’s six honest serving men. My experience reporting on this event gave me great insight into what is required to write a hard news story from scratch. I have realised the importance of the hard news form in giving the public a concise, accurate and balanced account of events which affect them and society in general.