Types of Stories and the Firewall Between Facts and Opinions

 

Types of Stories

There is not only one way to tell a story, because all stories are unique. A reporter’s job is to get the information to the people in a way that suits the topic and audience, while remaining efficient and sticking to the truth.

The type of story a reporter will use to convey information has to do with the audience and publication, where the “form follows the function”, as described by Jen Saffron, Independent Documentary Filmmaker.

Hard News and Soft News are the two main types of stories, according to Jennifer Snyder-Duch, Associate Professor of Communication at Carlow University.Hard news is defined as strictly facts, structured to provide the most pressing information in the most efficient manner.

Commonly used in this genre is the inverted pyramid format, with the most important information at the beginning of a story followed by less important information as the article continues. Synder-Duch also noted than in this day and age, the “square” format is commonly used in broadcast when time is of the essence, which only includes the absolute most important information.

Articles that have the essential questions of who, what, where, why, when, and how at the very beginning are Hard News stories.

Soft News is anything unusual or inspiring that appeals to human interest. These stories may not be necessary, but they can pose an unusual situation that can be intriguing to the reader. Often these stories have a visual appeal, especially in video and pictorial mediums, said Snyder-Duch.

Although Hard and Soft News are the two main categories, there are many subcategories within news stories. Another type of story, explained Pamela Gaynor, Director of Communications at The Consortium for Public Education, is the Feature story, which is a long piece with a variety of different focuses.

A News Feature story is where a reporters expand on a very specific aspect of something in the news. A Trend Story, which describes a popular subject, is an example of a Feature Story.

A Profile is an article describing a person in detail on different aspects of their life. A Profile should accentuate the similarities between the reader and the person being profiled, said Gaynor.

A documentary is also an important type of story, as explained by Steve Seliy, Youth Advocacy Director at the Neighborhood Learning Alliance, and Carl Cimini, Special Project Director of Pittsburgh Community Television. Within this genre there are three categories: Stand Up, which is a very quick segment; Short Format, which is typically around ten minutes in length; and Long Format, which is usually more than ten minutes, said Cimini.

 

Fact and Opinion: The Firewall

Documentary film makers must be open minded writers based in facts, yet they add their opinions to make it their own, said Cimini. Balancing facts with opinions is a delicate art. As emphasized by Jeff Baron, Director of Student Engagement at the Consortium for Public Education, media should let the audience form their own opinions from the facts.

A reporter knows if they are creating a factual or opinion piece before they start, said Snyder-Duch. She noted that if a reporter discovers they are particularly passionate about a topic, they may change to write an opinion piece, but this distinction must be very clear.

Tony Norman, Columnist/Associate Editor at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, explained that it is essential that the audience trusts the source. Norman emphasized that once a reporter becomes a columnist and demonstrates opinions, they lose their trustworthiness and are eliminated as an objective source. He stressed that the firewall between fact and opinion has to be extremely distinct to insure credibility.

Even in opinionated writing, Norman said that opinion has to be rooted in truth in facts, and that the “truth is its own firewall.” Mary Dodaro, English Teacher at Monessen High School, defined the firewall between fact and opinion to be that facts can be proven and opinions cannot.

Seliy emphasized that it is important to be aware of preconceived notions that one might have before reporting. When asked if total objectivity is even possible for a reporter, Snyder-Duch said that while it may impossible to be completely objective in the scientific way this word is commonly implied, it is very important for reporters to always be fair and ethical.

 

By Brana Hill, Arthur King, Thomas Lucy, and Elianna Paljug

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