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News, features as tools of mass communication

News, features as tools of mass communication

Mass communication is the art of transmitting information, ideas and attitudes to a large and diversified audience through the use of the mass media – newspapers, magazines, radio and television, the computer and the mobile phone.

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What do the mass media use to disseminate information and knowledge to the public? What the mass media use to transmit information, ideas and attitudes to readers, audiences and viewers are news, features or programmes and pictures.

The art of communicating information, ideas and knowledge to the public using the mass media is known as journalism. It is the journalist that uses news, features, programmes and pictures as tools for disseminating information and knowledge to the public.

Tools are implemented by professionals to do things. For example, the carpenter uses the hammer, saw, planes, pliers and so on, to make chairs, tables, doors, windows and others.

The tools must be of the right type, must be in a proper shape or state to enable the carpenter to achieve a high level of performance. For example, the hammer must be strong with a good handle and head; the saw has to be sharpened when its teeth become blunt and the chisel has to be sharpened as well.

The right type of nails must be chosen to suit the size of the wood the carpenter works with. To communicate effectively to the public, the journalist must behave just like a good carpenter in the choice of tools, state of the tools in terms of fitness, size and mode of application.

What is news?

News is the unbiased, accurate, first-hand report of a current idea, event or situation that interests news consumers and benefits or profits the owners of the mass media. It is important that the journalist should try as much as possible to achieve what is close to dead accuracy, balanced reporting and lack of bias.

What are the elements or determinants of news? What differentiates news from rumours, gossip, fake news, disinformation or misinformation? News can be determined by its timeliness, significance, proximity, magnitude and corporate and national policy.

News consumers are interested in news reports that are new and not outmoded. Reports of what is important, significant or useful in nature attracts mass media consumers more than reports that are trivial or insignificant.

News about events, ideas or occurrences that are close or near, attracts the consumer more than news that happens far away. The weight, size or extent of an event, ideas or occurrences are of more interest to the consumer than minor or light ones. 

Corporate and national policy are determinants of news because without them, the mass media cannot function. Editorial and corporate policy involve the choice of ideas, events and occurrences that help to sell the product of the mass media, increase circulation and bring in more advertisements and profit.

National policy, in the broad sense, involves all the laws and regulations that govern mass media operations in a country. The difference between news and rumours, gossip, fake news, disinformation and misinformation is that news is founded on checked and crossed-checked facts, and accurate, unbiased and balanced reporting.

What are components of news?

News components are what make news what it is. It can be made up of reports about animals, sex, scandals, conflicts, money, children, beauty and human interest.
News consumers like reports about famous, extraordinary or rare animals.

The same applies to news about sex scandals involving famous or important persons; and news about money as well as news about beautiful women. Human interest news also attracts public interest.

 It is that type of news that can make the consumer happy or sad. News value is the term used to describe the utility or worth that consumers derive from news reports.
In economics, value is defined as the usefulness or utility that a commodity has to satisfy human wants.

News has value because it satisfies the quest of the human being for first-hand information or knowledge about things that are of interest to him/her. Reports about a dog biting another dog is of no value to the consumer because it is not strange and, therefore, it is not news.

However, news about a man biting a dog is news because it has value. The value is in its strangeness or rareness. Knowledge about news value is a useful guide to news reporters.
In writing the news report, a sub-tool, the lead, is one of the important aspects.

There are many kinds of leads or introduction or intro. The lead of a news report provides the gist or summary of the report. It is identified by its grammatical construction, or content of the news report.

Examples of grammatical leads include: phrase lead, participle lead, causal lead, conditional lead, infinity lead, prepositional lead, and so on. Leads determined by content include the following: cartridge lead, punch lead, astonisher lead, one-two-three-four lead, tabulated lead, question lead, capsule lead, and others.

Eye-catching headlines and appropriate snappy lead choices can attract the news consumer to read, listen or watch the news further beyond the headline. The cardinal rule in news writing is that the most important facts must come first. The next facts after the lead, forms the neck of the story.

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The body of the report must be made up of other facts in the order of importance. Feature articles or features are different from news reports. Features are essays or compositions written by in-house journalists or contributors outside the media houses.

The essays or compositions can be expository, argumentative or debatable, interpretative, investigative or narrative. It is the content of the writing that dictates the form. Writing essays or compositions for the mass media is different from other types.

Feature articles, in this context, include radio and television programmes and computer blogs. The articles must be on a topical issue of national importance and should be the author’s contribution or feature on the matter.

The essay or composition must be in a simple and clear language devoid of unexplained terminologies and jargons. In investigative journalism, reporting and feature writing must accord or resonate with the principles and techniques of journalism.

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It is necessary to avoid use of spy or private eye principles and techniques in news reporting and feature writing. Spy and private eye techniques are not applicable in journalism because the outcome of such investigations is not kept secret as it applies to public or private police investigations.

Spy or secret news gathering using hidden cameras and loud speakers violates the rights of the individual to privacy. Article 18 of the 1992 Ghana Constitution states: ‘’(1) Every person has the right to own property either alone or in association with others. (2) No person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of his home, property, correspondence or communication except in accordance with law and as may be necessary in a free and democratic society for public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the protection of health or morals, for the prevention of disorder or crime or for the protection of the rights or freedoms of other persons.’’            

In pursuance of the provision of Article 18, any person, including a police officer, needs a warrant from a judge to invade the privacy of another person. Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo had made her views known on the limit of privacy with regard to public interest.

While addressing the 23rd award ceremony of the Ghana Journalists Association in Accra in October, 2018, she said: ‘’You cannot break into somebody’s home and install cameras claiming you are conducting an investigation in the interest of the public.’’

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She spoke on the theme: The State of Investigative Journalism: Boundaries of Privacy and Borders of Public Interest. Justice Akuffo advised journalists to be cautious in their conduct of investigations and invade privacy of individuals only as the last resort, after exhausting all journalistic techniques available to them.

She added that it was only the court that could determine the limit of privacy with regard to public interest.
 
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