|Proceedings of the seminar "International Standards" in Almaty, March 4-6, 2002
|The training seminar was conducted by representatives of the London office of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. The main issues that were discussed at the seminar are the standards of international journalism, genres of journalism, the technique of interviewing and searching for sources of information, the work of a journalist and editor on an article, etc. |
International standards. Genres of journalistic articles. Article structure
Andrew Strohlen: Despite these or other differences, it is possible to identify common features characteristic of journalism in all countries. I met more than 80 journalistic codes and found that they have a lot in common. It does not matter where a journalist works - in Brazil, Japan or in another country, their ideals, concepts are the same. Nevertheless, each code has its own characteristics. For example, in the code of journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a lot of attention is paid to discrimination, for historical reasons. In the Code of Belarus, I found something like a demand for professional solidarity. In Japan, the Publishers Association places a very strong emphasis on giving more attention to the prosperity of the world and the nation.
Everyone has a clear idea of what good journalism should not be. Every code condemns such things as defamation, plagiarism, deliberate distortion of facts and taking bribes. Such facts are considered unacceptable in the work of journalists.
Journalism has developed in such a direction as to meet the interests of a certain group of readers. There are different styles of journalism. We want to teach you the standards that meet the requirements of our readership. This audience has its specific requirements for the material with which they are acquainted. And if we want them to read us, we must follow these requirements.
We offer our audience materials in a certain form. These forms, or genres, are four. The first is a news article or news article. The second type is a news article with elements of analysis or an analytical article. The third type is an essay, a descriptive narration. The fourth view is a comment.
Let us consider in more detail the features of those genres that we most often use in our work.
The first genre is a news article. We can find such articles on the websites of news agencies, for example, Reuters, ITAR-TASS. These articles mainly cover facts, specific events, they do not reflect anyone's personal opinion. These articles are tied to the event and their life is short: new events occur, and new news articles appear. Say, the problem of AIDS, alcoholism is a topic that does not belong to the news, because they are eternal, and, for example, the visit of a president to a particular country is just material for a news article. An article written immediately in the footsteps of events is a news article.
Our Institute is not a news agency, so we rarely give such articles on our website.
The second genre is a news article with elements of analysis. This genre is the main one in our work. Almost 90% of our articles belong to this genre. The main purpose of these articles is not only to state the facts, but also to tell and explain what stands behind them. In other words, you are doing some kind of analysis, giving an explanation of the events that have occurred. But this explanation is based on a specific fact, on some kind of news event.
In the analytical article there is no place for personal opinion. You reflect the facts and indicate from which sources information about these facts is obtained. One of the main requirements is the balance of opinions. This means that if you have expressed someone's opinion on some fait accompli, evaluated on the one hand, then you will definitely need to reflect the opinion on the other side. The problem of balance is very important, and here is not so simple. It is wrong to think that if you presented one opinion and the opposite to it, then it means that the balance has already been achieved. There are events that are not evaluated by only two opposing views, there may be other points of view. Therefore, the more opinions you submit, the fuller will be the analysis.
We at the Institute decided to create a kind of scheme - how an analytical article should be written. It seemed to us true that if a journalist has a specific scheme, a formula in accordance with which he will write an article, the desire to meet this scheme will limit it. Nevertheless, we went to the creation of such a scheme, because many journalists with whom we work in different regions, all the time asked us about it. And after some journalists wrote two or three articles based on the scheme developed by us and learned this format, they already began to go beyond the strict scheme. They realized that in some ways one could not follow this scheme so blindly, but they already had a structure, and this greatly facilitated their work.
When you write for IWPR, you can not worry about the title, if you have any difficulties in this. The editor will put some name anyway. But a very important part of the analytical article is a summary. A resume is a concentrated presentation of the main idea. Then comes the first paragraph - you write that such an event happened, you bring the facts, describe the event, the actors. But there are still no details. That is, this message about what happened. In the next paragraph, you should explain why this event happened.
For example, you write that more and more adolescents are becoming victims of AIDS terror. Then you tell me that such and such a schoolgirl from such and such a school was recently the last victim. Then you explain why. All this usually takes 2/3 of the article, and only after that you can give a historical background or coverage of the history of this problem. Let's say you are writing an article on smuggling drugs. Initially, you report that, due to the smuggling of drugs, there have recently been clashes between two mafia groups - Kyrgyz and Tajik. The reason for their collisions became disagreements about the use of traffic. Then you give details: when were these clashes, which groups participated in it, when it was noticed, etc. And only then it is possible to cite a historical background stating that this drug traffic existed for a long time, that people on the Tajik side were implicated in this, because the main share of drugs passes through them, and so on. Then a historical certificate is given that these drugs go from Afghanistan, that Central Asia is used as a transit territory, and that people can earn some money, etc. After the historical background, you can, either in chronological order or for some other requirements, describe the struggle between different mi groupings. For example, you say that there were such-and-such clashes, that they began at the end of last year, when the Taliban were still in force, and now these clashes have become more frequent, etc. In other words, after a historical reference, you can return to more detailed description of this confrontation.
At the end of the article a kind of conclusion is usually made. This conclusion includes a forecast of what the consequences of the described events may be. Sometimes this prediction can be more definite, since you know what this may lead to. In other cases, the forecast may be predictable. Let's say you write: "If no measures are taken, this can lead to - ?? ..."
The main requirements for the conclusion of the following: in the conclusion should not be new information; the conclusion is the end of your story, not the beginning of a new topic; The conclusion should give the reader the feeling that the problem has been solved. In conclusion, you have the opportunity to make your reader a strong impression. Because, whatever valuable facts are reflected in the article, the reader will not be able to remember all the information. Therefore, you need a bright, strong image. To some extent, the conclusion is the creation of an image. You can repeat the basic idea, but with more vivid, sharp, impressive words.
Kubat Otorbaev: Is it possible to use quotations for conclusion?
Andrew Strohlen: In international journalism, an article very rarely ends with someone's quote. But there are exceptions. An article can be completed with a quote if it is very bright, impressive. It is better to use such a technique in the essay genre. I would not recommend completing an analytical article with a quote.
The important point is the volume of the article. And in this regard, the requirements are very tough. Try to keep your sentences short. There is only one or two sentences in each paragraph, and the total volume of the article is 800 words. Why do we follow such rigid rules? This is due to the fact that our articles are published on the Internet. Scientists conducted a study of how information is perceived on the Internet. It turned out that the reading speed on the Internet is 75% compared to reading printed text. For the human eye to read the text on the screen is much harder than a sheet. Therefore, in the Internet journalism requirements are different than in the print media. First of all, it is not allowed for paragraphs to be very large, consisting of several sentences. Because if a person is distracted while reading, it is very difficult for him to return to the place where he read. We have more small paragraphs than in printed texts. When there are gaps, it is easier for the human eye to read, easier to move around the screen. The volume of our articles is about 800 words, while on other sites the articles are much shorter, about 400 words. Sometimes we publish articles in which more than 800 words. This is due to the fact that our readers are interested in the in-depth analysis that we offer them, because it is interesting to them. I must say that writing an article of 400 words is even more difficult.
Writing an article is necessary in the third person. All dates in the article should be specified specifically, indicating the date, month, etc. This is very important, since the materials on the Internet are saved, and people can turn to them even after a year. Therefore, the time parameters must be specified accurately and completely.
Usually we work according to this scheme: first we present the most important facts and stronger ones, and then less significant ones. Why do we put the main, main news in the first place? Because our audience is people who work and they always have little time. These people usually do not read the text, but browse it. If a person does not find anything new or interesting right away, he is looking for other information. And our task is to attract a person by the very beginning of an article, to delay his attention so that he begins to read this material.
The third genre is essay, narration. Articles written in this genre make up only 9% on our website. Essays play more on people's emotions. In the essay, any problem is revealed with the help of images, with the help of emotional impact on the reader. The structure of the essay resembles a sandwich. At the very beginning, you must create an image with words, and this is done in order to evoke some kind of emotion in the reader. You figuratively describe the scene of the events in question. You must very vividly describe the place of the event, so that the reader can clearly, visually imagine it. The first 3-4 paragraphs of the essay present such a description. And then there is a build-up - you can include statistics, historical background, help, and only then return to your image. For example, first, in the first five paragraphs, you describe a woman, poor, young, describe the environment around her, describe her crying child, who is crying because he has nothing to eat. At the very beginning, creating an image, you do not write that there was a prolonged drought in the area, how many crops were ruined. This image of a woman is needed in order to lure the reader, and when we lured him, after that we begin to tell the reader that there was a drought, that there was famine in the country, and experts explain this by the fact that there was no water coming from the neighboring republic, etc. P.
Another example. Some 30-year-old man works in a factory, and in the evening goes to work as a night watchman. Describing this person figuratively, his difficult life, you reveal a difficult economic situation: people do not have enough earnings, so they have to work in two places. You can start such an article by describing how early a person goes to the factory, how he works and then goes to another job in the evening. Then you tell why he has to work so much, how many such people. At the end of the article you will need to return to this image, for example, describing how he leaves his night shift. Then it will give the dynamics in time. You must give the facts so that the most interesting were at the beginning, and the least interesting at the end. As in the article with elements of analysis, there should be a summary or introduction in the essay. But if in a news article with elements of analysis we strive to interest our reader in very important facts, then in an essay article we must draw it at the level of emotions.
Daur Dosybiev: From what should proceed to select the genre of the article? How can I decide - do I write a news article with elements of analysis or an essay?
Andrew Strohlen: Any event can be described both in an analytical article and in an essay. But there is such a pattern: traditional and social problems more easily fit into the outline descriptive format. By the way, in the essay it is not necessary to use only people to create an image, you can describe some kind of scene or landscape. For example, if this is an article about the Aral, then it can be started with a description of barges filled with sand, which sailed the sea 10 years ago and are now abandoned and not needed by anyone.
Daur Dosybiev: Lead, that is, the introduction, to the essay article and to the analytical one - is it the same thing?
Andrew Strohlen: No, these are different things, although the requirements for them are the same, because they have the same goal - to communicate something very important in order to lure the reader. However, in an analytical article you are enticed by the facts, and in a sketch - in a bright way. Accordingly, the entry is written. For example, take the problem of the Aral Sea. Let's try to make two introductions - for an analytical article and for an essay. Imagine that the topic of the article is this: where does the money allocated for saving the Aral go. If you are writing an analytical article, the introduction may be this: "The international community has allocated millions of dollars to save the Aral Sea, but 10 years have passed, and people have not received significant results." If you are writing a lead (introduction) for an essay article, then instead of saying that millions of money have gone and nothing has changed, you need to start with what a person stands on the banks of the Aral: a 30-meter boat covered with sand , she once swam. Further you describe how this place looks, what winds blow there, and describes all this in such a way that the reader will present it visually. To make it even difficult for him to breathe, so that he feels the stuffiness, heat, sand.
Alesken Ramazanov: And in the essays a journalist can express his emotions?
Andrew Strohlen: When we talk about the presence of emotions in essays, then it is not about your emotions, but about the fact that you have to reflect the emotions of the person you are describing. With your images you should evoke the reader’s emotions. But your emotions in the essay should not be. You are an outsider and a descriptor.
We believe that it is not your emotions that are important to the reader, but the emotions of the people you are talking about. A journalist should not express his opinions and emotions, imposing them on the reader.
When we talk about creating an image, about the need to evoke emotions, this does not mean that emotions should only be negative. There are many positive images that you can use to reflect some happy moments. A good example is the article by Galima Bukharbayeva on how the Afghan diaspora in Uzbekistan for the first time over the years had the opportunity to watch an Afghan film shot by an Afghan director. The journalist with them was watching the film and saw how people touched their culture, applauded the film. When we go to the cinema, we do not clap, but they sang songs, clapped their hands - and the journalist used this to create a positive image of the Afghans.
Lydia İsamova: Why don't you use photos?
Andrew Strohlen: This is a flaw in our work, and this has its own reasons. We agree with you that photographs are a very effective means, and we are sorry that we are missing this opportunity. Technically, photos are very difficult to place on the site, however, we are now working on it. Designers of our page made a mistake, over time it can be changed.
I will say a few words about one more genre - comments. A good comment is very hard to write, so we have very few such articles. When it comes to comments, this does not mean that a journalist can write whatever he thinks. There is no room for any emotions in the comment. The commentary is not written in order to preach any idea, but in order to reveal something, to show it. A comment that looks like a preacher’s speech or someone’s political speech is a bad comment. Nevertheless, in the comment there is, of course, something individual from the person who writes it. This is a type of journalism in which a journalist can afford to write something on his own behalf. The commentary is closer to the analytical article than to the sermon. A comment is written in order to bring something new to the discussion on some problem. In order to develop some kind of argument and present it, the author of the commentary uses not someone's opinion or his own, but facts. In the comments, people do not give examples from their own lives to argue their point of view. Usually, we turn to some politicians for comment, although this may be a well-known journalist who has gone into active politics, or people like Chingiz Aitmatov. These are people who can make a serious analysis.
Now let us recall once again what should be the structure of the article. In the structure of the article, we highlight the introduction (the main idea of the article), the main part of the article and conclusion. The main purpose of the introduction is to interest the reader. Here in one sentence, literally from 15 words, it is necessary to tell completely what happened, where, when and why we write about it. Entries are of two kinds. The first is an introduction in which you summarize all the information completely, that is, include as much information as possible about what happened where and when. The second type of entry is a figurative introduction to the article, a sketch entry. The main part of the article should include all the information and all the facts that explain or emphasize the main, main idea of the article. Often, one of the difficulties for a journalist is that he has too much information, and he does not know what to include in the article and what to remove. Here it is necessary to make a selection of material and take only what is most important and bright. The main mistakes that journalists make when writing the main part of the article are very large quotes, repetitions, the use of additional numbers and facts that are not related to the main idea. We advise our contributors to cut quotes, just to leave their main idea. The main part should also include the most important information at the beginning, and if a historical excursion is given, this should be given in chronological order.
The article ends with a conclusion in which there should not be any new information. The conclusion should leave the reader with some way or with some very interesting thought.
Lydia İsamova: Why not use a joint journalistic investigation? After all, we in Central Asia have a lot of common problems - illegal migration, the problem of the Aral Sea, territorial disputes, drug trafficking. We could, each in our own country, do our own investigation, and then prepare a general article.
Andrew StrohlenA: We have not done this before, but now we can identify joint topics, think about how to conduct joint investigations.
Editing. Legal aspects.
Andrew Strohlen: Very often, journalists who give us their articles for publication are literally shocked when they receive their materials after editing. Often the text of the published material is much different from the original material presented by the journalist. In the tradition of the Institute to conduct very hard editing. Texts that are written very close to our standards are subject to less editing. Sometimes journalists are offended that their material is subject to strong processing, but we do this not to offend anyone, but simply because the article needs to be tailored to our format. And it does not depend on what kind of journalist it is. Whoever he is, this journalist, but if his material does not meet our requirements, he is subjected to rigorous editing. The fact is that our organization exists and receives money from donors not for the fact that we publish a weekly newsletter. There are a lot of such agencies. And we get money for teaching journalists. The second reason for hard editing is that we have to publish on the Internet, and not in print. On the Internet, 8 million new pages appear daily. And in such conditions there is fierce competition. We must present the material in such a way that it is different from others. This should be a new and valuable information. And therefore the reputation that a particular publication has on the Internet is the most important. If we do not pay such careful attention to the editing process and the selection of material, we will not be in demand on the Internet. Editing is a process during which a thorough verification of the facts takes place, the selection of material or information takes place, which will be presented in its original form in the article. There is also the addition of material on some issues that are mentioned in the article, because often journalists do not always take into account what they write for an international reader. The editing process also reduces the volume of the article, if it exceeds 800 words, quotes and paragraphs are reduced.
The first stage is the editorial task. It includes an agreement between the editor who accepts or orders the article and the author who proposes the idea. In principle, the editorial assignment should be in writing, so that both parties can clearly understand what the article will be about, what its structure will be. This agreement on the editorial assignment should first of all reflect the topic, the main idea, the structure of the article, what it is about, how it is, when the material will be submitted, what should be the size of the article, what genre it will be written. And before a journalist starts writing an article, it’s necessary that all these points be discussed. It would be nice to reflect in this editorial assignment what people the author will meet and talk with in order to get information. This is necessary in order to make it clear whether there will be a balance between political opinions, between experts and non-experts, what opinions will be presented. It is also good to designate what is the news occasion that prompted you to write an article on this topic.
Such editorial tasks help the editor to draw up his plan so that there are no repetitions, that two or three people do not write on the same topic. In addition, the existence of such a written assignment will help resolve a conflict situation, if any, arises between the editor and the author. Say, the editor claims that he asked you to write about one thing, and you wrote about something else, and therefore the editor refuses to accept the article. Referring to the editorial assignment, the editor and the author can resolve their dispute. An assignment is a kind of document, a confirmation that the author undertakes to complete the assignment by a specific date. It is very important that the author specifies in the editorial assignment where he will be, how you can find it, if it becomes necessary to clarify some facts, the timing of the assignment.
When all the information on the editorial assignment is discussed, the journalist starts writing the article. When the article is ready, the journalist delivers it to the regional editor. This is the first version of the article, but from this first version to the final one, which appears on the Internet, there can be up to seven versions. From the regional editor, the article is sent to London, from where it can be sent to the author for revision. If the changes are minor, they are made by the London editor.
In most cases, we receive articles in Russian. Sometimes an article is written in Uzbek or Kyrgyz, and then translated into Russian, and then it also undergoes editing.
Edited in London version is sent to transfer.
The translation is also subject to editing. Our Institute has an editor-in-chief and he has an assistant. But this assistant does not edit all articles, because he has a very large amount of work: Balkan Bulletin - 8 articles per week, Caucasus Bulletin - 5 articles per week, Tribunal - 5 articles per week, Central Asia - about 5 articles per week and Afghan project - three articles. The editor-in-chief and his assistant must edit all these articles. This is difficult, and therefore our chief editor has a team of freelance editors. We send our editors to these editors, and they implement the first edition in English. It is called first copy, meaning the first copy in English. After that, the article goes to the editor-in-chief. This is the second edition, in English it is called copy edited. This is an edited text.
After the editor-in-chief has finished the second edition, the third edition is carried out - this is the work of the regional editor, who reviews the final version before it is published. The strongest changes in the article are during the first edition, the second edition is the cleaning up of the article. With the third edition there are no special changes, but there is a check of facts, geographical names, names, positions, etc. In fact, the article goes through about six stages of verification.
The article published on the Internet in English is translated into Russian. Moreover, if the original article was, especially in structure, by the main thought, very close to the last, final English version, then we can leave it in Russian for what it is. If the article has changed a lot, then a translation from English to Russian is done. To the translator, we send the English version of the article that was redone and the first original version.
Thus, each article not only goes through different stages, but also through different people.
Question: Were any court cases brought up based on articles published on the IWPR website?
Andrew Strohlen: There were cases of denials. As for the correction or refutation, on the Internet they differ from what is being done in the newspaper. The newspaper has to put a refutation. On the Internet, you can the article where something was wrong, just fix it. Here, however, touched upon the ethical side of things. If you make a mistake, it's best to admit it publicly. And so it turns out that we just change something in the article, and no one will notice anything. One of the reasons why we have to publicly admit our mistakes and give a rebuttal is that not all of our readers get acquainted with our articles on the Internet. Most of our readers are those who have subscribed to our email newsletter. We should inform them that in the previous issue there was a mistake in such an article. As for legal proceedings, so far there have been no such cases. One of the merits of this is that we subject to strict control all the material that we pass and is published.
And this is due to the fact that we work according to English laws.
It should be emphasized that we do not adhere to any particular political line. Among our editors there are conservatives and more liberal people. But it does not matter. We do not set ourselves the task of protecting those who are ill. Our task is to say why they feel bad. We are not trying to change something in Kazakhstan, for example, we are not going to overthrow anyone, we are just talking about what is happening. The sole purpose of our Institute is to help journalists improve their professional skills.
Alesken Ramazanov: Does the article go through such editing in other institutions in the West?
Andrew Strohlen: Not everyone adheres to such editing principles. We do this primarily for the purpose of educating journalists. I think what we do is unique. Not very many organizations are doing this. Of course, other sites also have information about Central Asia, but we have this information from the scene, and local journalists tell about the events. We want to see our Institute as a kind of bridge for local journalists. It is they who know best what is happening in their country, they have their own unique contacts, their own sources of information. And we help them present their knowledge in such a format that they can see and learn all over the world.
Saule Mukhametrakhimova: Of course, there are many good institutions in the world, many very interesting materials and sources of information about Central Asia. But our Institute has occupied a kind of niche, and we may have such materials, which, in principle, you will not find anywhere. For example, articles on social topics. An example would be an article about changing Islamic traditions in Kyrgyzstan. It described how the muftiate convinces people not to arrange an expensive funeral, because people live in poverty. Such material could hardly be found on another site. Or an article about the housing rack in Kazakhstan, or how a subscription to newspapers was held in Uzbekistan - in the best traditions of the Soviet times, when everyone was forced to subscribe to newspapers, and some teachers did not even receive a salary. Such articles in English could hardly have appeared if not for our journalists.
I would like to dwell on some legal aspects of publications, in particular, on what laws apply to defamation. English laws, for example, are more on the side of those who sue, believing that he has been slandered. IWPR is registered in England and therefore we can be held accountable in accordance with English law. The law, according to which we can be attracted, deals with cases of defamation, insults of honor. And cases involving defamation issues can be both civil and criminal. Criminal cases a little. Most cases are civil. Someone, for example, files a lawsuit stating that information about him in an IWPR article is defamation. Why are publishers cautious and afraid of this? Because when it comes to moral damage that was caused in the event of libel, this damage is very difficult to determine. Under English law, the decision to compensate for damages resulting from libel is not made by a judge, but by a jury, and jury trials are very unpredictable. Huge amounts can be named here. Therefore, it is not important that you know something about someone, but whether you can prove it. If you know that some deputy takes bribes, and he himself told you about it, then you must still have proof. At trial, he may declare that you have slandered him, and if you do not have proof, you will lose.
Publishers do not want to be involved in this kind of litigation also because if they work in a limited liability company, then such a company does not protect the rights of the individual person. In such cases involving the accusation of slander, a person can sue not only the company, but also a specific person who is the source of slander. If you wrote an article that someone took bribes, and he sued, and you could not prove anything, then this person can sue, according to English law, not only the company, but also the employee of this company - to the director or editor who allowed such a publication. Any article that may be presented as defamatory puts at risk all that we have. Generally engaging in publishing or publishing in England is a very difficult matter. That is why we are so careful.
Of course, if the court decides to pay 30 thousand for the damage caused by defamation, the Institute can collect and pay this money. But if a man has lost, he will have to pay the costs of the court, which in England amount to millions. Therefore, we are very careful and very carefully edit the article. Before publishing any dangerous material, we show it to an expert. And if a lawyer says: “I don’t think you can prove it in court,” we don’t publish such material. Moreover, the English law is biased towards the protection of those who allegedly suffered from slander. And this man, who believes that he has been slandered, should not prove in court that he is indeed slandered. He can simply say that he believes that the material is slander and will not prove anything. Prove the one who gave information about him.