Where does news come from, anyway?

News – all around us. Photo: musicandphotography/deviantart

TOPIC: Where does news come from?

First, a quick review: structuring hard news stories:

Good writers structure their stories clearly and logically, enticing the reader in and encouraging them to keep reading. They:

  • Focus on the strongest angle
  • Write a lead that attracts the reader
  • Set out the facts faithfully and lucidly
  • Structure the story to encourage reading
  • Use the most compelling quotes early

The first paragraph is the most important. It is what captures the reader or viewer and keeps them from moving on to other things

Story planning redux

Identify the intro.

The ideal intro

  • Does your intro highlight the most important or interesting point of the story?
  • Do the first six or seven words present a fact that will attract the reader?
  • Can it be read aloud without stumbling or gasping for breath.
  • Is your sentence structure simple enough for a reader to grasp the meaning at first reading?
  • Have you used the active voice?
  • Is it between 18 and 30 words?

We’ve spent some time writing really straight news leads which have predominantly had the Who and  What in the lead, accompanied by the essential piece of info which makes the story worth writing and then reading – i.e. newsworthy. Of course there are, as always, exceptions to the rule! 

Where news comes from

Regular events: Parliament, courts, AGMs, sporting fixtures, council meetings, statistics released regularly by bodies such as the ABS and banks.

  • scheduled and predictable
  • yield straight stories (what happened, what was said)
  • happen whether the media cover them or not

Managed events: Product or appeal launches, all kinds of media conferences.

  • designed exclusively to attract media attention
  • increasingly provide fodder for news pages – what could this mean for independent news gathering?
  • would not happen without the media

Spontaneous events: Crimes, accidents, natural disasters, unexplained death.

  • the purest form of news
  • reporters are rarely there to witness the initial event
  • need verification skills, background, and the reporter’s observation to be reported properly
  • increasingly, intermediaries (police, fire brigade liaisons) ‘facilitate’ news gathering, making it harder to get the story directly from participants in the event

Initiated stories: Fall outside the routine news cycle and start with a tip-off or reporter’s observation


The main newsmakers are the players in the events above. They include:

  • Federal and state politicians, local councils
  • The courts
  • Emergency services personnel – police, fire, and ambulance officers
  • People involved in criminal activity
  • Businesses and unions
  • Social institutions – schools, charities, lobby groups
  • Sporting teams and other athletes
  • Entertainment figures
  • Scientific and medical researchers
  • Ordinary people, who become newsmakers whenever they do something out of the ordinary – growing extremely old, behaving bravely, speaking out on an issue of concern, being a victim of or witness to a crime or accident

Sources and contacts

Sources: provide the information or opinions used in a news story. Sources are often people, but they can also be:

  • statistics
  • media releases
  • reports
  • public records
  • other documents

Contacts: always people

  • provide starting point or background of a story, but aren’t always quoted in the finished article
  • ‘tipsters’ who give bits and pieces of information or point reporters towards possible stories
  • can provide extensive info which puts a news event into context
  • contacts are really important for rounds reporters, who need to generate their own stories

Hard news sources

  • Internet
  • Media libraries – news clippings, video and audio tapes,
  • Public libraries and archives
  • Electronic data bases
  • Expert commentators
  • Official government reports (Hansard, especially answers to questions on notice, annual budget papers, annual reports, reports and transcripts of Royal Commissions, National Crime Authority, etc.)
  • Opinion polls
  • Press secretaries and other media liaison officers

TRY THIS: Identifying sources (from Reporting in Australia, By Sally A. White, p56)

  1. Identify examples of stories that have  arisen from regular, managed, or spontaneous events. Can you find stories which might have been initiated by the reporter?
  2. Work through all the stories run in the general news sections (websites or newspapers) and note the main type of source in each story. Does one type predominate?
  3. How do you source news and identify good sources?

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