Hard News – A Reflection
Hard news is… hard.
Remaining unbiased in situations of immense conflict has never and will never be a simple task, be it when covering events or merely observing them.
However, the plight of the journalist is to suppress such biases, to gather as much information as possible and then report it in as impartial a manner as humanly possible.
Where this proves most difficult is in situations such as the very one I covered (Indigenous Land Rights Protest), where an unprecedented mass of passionate people gather, all with stories of injustice and chants, ones which stay in the mind long after the crowd dissipates.
Their rivals, however (in this case government members), are in positions demanding decorum and level-headedness, and their refusal to engage in a verbal barrage with the opposing side cannot be mistaken for a lack of passion regarding the issue at hand.
It’s so, so easy to get lost in the chants and the cause of the protestors.
But being a journalist isn’t so, so easy.
Especially when concerning hard news, its central difficulty lies in the dichotomies it compels you to experience.
It demands impartiality while encouraging passion. It insists on reporting accurately when concerning the actions and words of the inaccurate.
Make no mistake, these are not easy obligations to adhere to.
However, when upheld in the most challenging environments, abiding to them can result in articles worthy of John Hartigan’s praise.
Indeed, Hartigan’s words on journalism ring out as clear and direct as a hard news story strives to:
“If you want to attract readers, break stories people want to read.”
Such was my attempt in covering the Indigenous Rights Land Protest on the 10th of April this year, where roughly 5,000 protestors united as one in the CBD’s hub, causing commuting chaos in the city while pleading their case to anyone who would listen.
In approaching this story, I used Murray Masterton’s six news values as rough criteria: significance, proximity, conflict, human interest, novelty, and prominence.
In terms of significance, those working in the CBD would undoubtedly find the closure of Flinders Street during peak hour incredibly high profile, likely to jump at the chance to read about what exactly is causing such commuting anarchy.
This also intertwines with Hartigan’s beliefs, as people will want to read about an issue that has a direct influence on their ability to travel to and from the city.
Proximity, as detailed in Masterton’s explanation of the term, does not have to be exclusive to geographical meaning. It can refer to cultural, historical, and social proximity. In this sense, the story was of significance, such is the ever-fragile state of relations between Indigenous peoples and the overarching institutions in this country.
True, of the six news values these two are the most important. However, in saying this, I still feel that the other four were more than aptly addressed by this story.
While at first I was daunted by the task of interviewing those who were clearly outraged at the actions of the government, understanding my role as a representative of the public interest, and NOT the government, allayed any such fear.
Ultimately, those interviewed were, though understandably bias in their viewpoints, approachable.
Indeed, the biggest challenge of compiling my hard news story was yet to come.
While I thought finding a news angle would be quite easy, it proved to be the most difficult part of the entire process. Perhaps the most daunting part of it was the sheer wealth of options available when approaching the story.
There was, of course, the fact the centre of the CBD was shut down from 4pm to 7pm as a result of the protest.
Regarding the issue of Indigenous land rights, Colin Barnett had made the announcement of these land closures last November, so that ruled out any notion of shock regarding the plans.
However, of the people I interviewed, I was able to grab a hold of Robbie Thorpe, one of the protest leaders and the director of Treaty Republic, a high profile website covering issues of, among other things, land-rights justice and Indigenous sovereignty.
An interview with Thorpe in itself was newsworthy, as his foundation of knowledge and involvement in the Indigenous community make him as good a representative as any when concerning Indigenous issues.
What made him become even more enticing as an angle is the extremity of his viewpoints and the way he brought these views across in words.
What appealed to me about Thorpe’s words most was the passion that seeped through every one of them. Here is a man who is quite clearly enraged at the powers that be for the current predicament of Indigenous people in WA regarding their land ownership.
Hard news is effectively recounting Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Six honest serving men’: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
However, while sometimes these may relate to a dour council meeting or passionless press release, when the passion of men such as Thorpe is involved, as well as the closure of the heart of the CBD during peak hour, the potential story becomes all the more riveting, even if it is merely a recount of events, such are the demands of hard news.
I understand I will not be this lucky very often. But to have the ability to cover a story like this is a dream come true, as the scale of the turnout and protest, as well as the words of those involved, effectively do half the work for you.
Rather than pad my eventual article with hyperbole in an effort to make the story seem more appealing, the base story was already riveting, meaning all I had to do was figure out a way to do the words and occasion as much justice as possible.
On a side note, I made several attempts to contact WA Premier Colin Barnett (the man seen as the main culprit by the majority of protestors). However, though promised a reply by the media liaison, it never came, and I’m sure I have just been introduced to the difficulty of grabbing hold of political figures when compiling a hard news story.
Hard news is worth the effort.
I’m more than up for the challenge.