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Ask Michael

Please post your questions for this week in the comments section below. At the beginning of next week, Dr Michael Higgins will respond to the most interesting, useful and/or popular questions. Please ‘like’ questions posted by other learners if you are also interested in having these answered.

Thank you for all your questions and comments, I have enjoyed reading them.

Harrison Ward asks: If someone with no professional journalism experience were to independently research and write a story, what are the odds that they would be able to pitch the story to a relatively well-known media outlet (either in general or in a certain niche) and have a chance of them publishing it? This is assuming that the story is interesting and high-quality, and I am thinking more along the lines of features, investigative journalism, and human-interest stories, rather than current events/hard news. Do most media outlets require previous experience and qualifications to even consider looking at a piece, or is it possible for an unknown freelancer to get their work looked at? (I know this probably varies, but I’m just trying to get a general feel for how the industry operates.)

Hello Harrison. The likelihood is that without a reputation and professional standing, news organisations would be reluctant to look at an uncommission piece of investigative journalism. While undergoing the necessary legal checks, most early-career investigative work as this can only realistically be made public via smaller news outlets or blogs, until sufficient standing is gathered to get commissions from news organisations. In Dr Eamonn O’Neill, we work with an investigative journalist of international renown, so I’ll seek his thoughts on this too. Human interest and stories are a different matter. It is still difficult to get commissions from major outlets without a reputation in place, but if you can pitch a story on the basis that it is: 1. Enormously interesting to the readership of the news outlet, and; 2. You are extremely, if not uniquely, well-placed to write it, Then there is more of a chance.

Elizabeth Duarte Ferreira asks: Michael, I am very confused of how to write for a blog, people say you have to be more informal, because if the readers want to read news, they would go to news paper web site. I don’t know how to get this informality but remain respectable with my writing special because English is my second language. Please help!

Hello Elisabeth. The advantage of a blog is that you can inject your own personality into the writing, more than would be possible in conventional news writing. Of course, you have to balance the expression of personality with authority and factual accuracy, but please do not lose sight of the advantages that a unique style and tone can give your blog. And give us the links to it!

Dominique Krayenbuhl asks: Is there a Facebook page or website where one could exchange features for mutual review like we did in this week’s assignment?

Hello Dominique. This sounds like a good idea! We have to consult with our partners at FutureLearn, but I’ll suggest this to our Course gurus Aidan and Howard.

Grace Winter asks: I found this really interesting story on the American website ABC news. A woman with a 22-month-old child was insulted at her local coffee shop and so bought coffee for the women who insulted her as a way of repaying unkindness with kindness. One thing that got me about this story is that it’s completely unconfirmed by any source other than the woman who it supposedly happened to; not to mention the fact that the story actually changed since the initial Facebook post which caused the story to go viral (in the original post, she “flipped the middle finger” to those women instead of buying them coffee – not exactly the kind citizen of the new story). In addition, the comments the two women supposedly made about the mother’s looks make no sense. With no confirmation from anyone, not even the cashier at the coffee shop, it seems like such an amateurish move for a journalist to pick up a story like that and run it as news. How do you usually go about getting confirmation from multiple sources about a story, and how many do you or your team require before you write up a story?

Hello Grace. This is an interest dilemma, and one you might discuss between yourselves. It certainly seems that life-affirming, “human” stories are in less need of verification than others. We can easily see why this would be the case, but, and placing the story in question to one side, we should be careful not to simply repeat pleasing urban myths.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Journalism

University of Strathclyde