News can be defined as “newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events” (Oxforddictionaries.com, n.d.) and split into two categories; soft and hard news. Whilst soft news is typified by emotive feature stories and pieces more extensive by virtue of the inclusion of context, atmosphere, history and utilisation of descriptive language, hard news serves as the outlet through which news is efficiently conveyed. Hard news aims to provide information easily and effectively and delivers factual accounts of newsworthy instances. Hard news covers events as they happen, focusing on anything that has just happened, is happening, or is about to happen.
Hard news follows the inverted pyramid structure, in which “the most important, or heaviest, information goes at the top of the story, while the least important information goes at the bottom” (Rogers, n.d.). Journalists writing hard news stories attempt to persuade the audience to read the entire article by enticing them through their headline and lead sentence. These two devices must provide the “who, what, why when, where and how” elements of a newsworthy instance in an informative style. Presenting these key details in a quick and orderly manner caters to readers who are “who are in a hurry” (Lamble 2014, p. 54), the targeted demographic when constructing hard news. Following the presentation of the key facts surrounding a story, journalists utilising the inverted pyramid style proceed to include the remaining information in order of importance. This ensures that readers who do not wish to read the full article will still be informed of the events which occurred and enables those who are interested in the subject matter to be provided with additional information.
Though hard news has always been produced on the principle of being fast paced, the social media revolution has impacted the way in which hard news is presented to potential consumers and its place in the public media sphere. Beyond the traditional platform of the newspaper, members of society are now receiving their daily news via the realms of Facebook and Twitter. In the past, journalists would attempt to hook their readers through their usage of attention grabbing headlines and concise, fact laden lead sentences. However in the world of social media, the work journalists produce is marketed in a manner tailored to the internet newsroom. A typical Facebook post sharing an article will feature an excerpt from the piece that is attractive to the reader or a persuasive device such as a rhetorical question posed in relation to the subject matter designed to evoke a response from the reader. Furthermore, the thumbnail accompanying the article contains an image to act as an aesthetic attention grabber, appealing to those who are drawn to visual rather than written stimuli. These factors combined form the term “clickbait”, whose “purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page” (Oxforddictionaries.com, n.d.). The appeal of hard news is no longer solely defined by the opening words, it is now dependent on the specified presentation of the subject matter. News is being consumed on lunch breaks at work, whilst commuting and in the lobbies of meeting rooms at an unprecedented speed and as such journalists must ensure their hard news is both clear and easily interpreted as well as marketable to the social media domain.
Whilst journalists are having to be more flexible in order to meet the demands of their audience, the social media boom has assisted journalists, namely through the optimisation of the releasing of information and the increased opportunity for author to audience interaction. Rather than a story being limited to exposure through the daily newspaper and the publication’s website, the work of a journalist is now published in the constantly active theatre of social media, meaning it is released to the public much more quickly than previously. Often, the status update in which a story is linked will ask readers to give their thoughts below by posting in the moment section. This encourages both reader to reader and author to audience discussion. The more debate that is generated, the greater exposure the story will receive, thus highlighting the importance for a journalist to produce newsworthy content. Such pieces will evoke fervent discussion, leading to a journalist attracting increased attention in the public sphere.
I covered Neale Daniher’s motivational speech to the Melbourne Football Club on Motor Neurone Disease (MND) at the MCG and follow up appearance at the AFL match between Geelong and Carlton for my hard news story. Social media played a significant role in the production of my story. I attained a copy of Daniher’s speech at the MCG through a contact I acquired whilst engaging in discussion in the comment section linked to an article. This is evidence that social media, including Facebook but particularly Twitter, can prove to be a useful resource for journalists.
Daniher’s battle with MND is much publicised and his bravery in defying the crippling illness is well documented. This case was one which required extra caution to ensure I adhered to hard news protocol. Whilst a feature piece outlining Daniher’s footballing history, the context to his fight against MND and the emotional struggle Daniher is undergoing is possible from the information I had at my disposal, in order to produce my hard news story I had to be cautious to avoid straying from my task of presenting a clear and concise report of events. Focusing on a story that had elements of soft and hard news allowed me to enhance my understanding of the difference in the two forms of news and confirm the function hard news has in society – to inform.
The benefits of social media for journalists were evident to me after covering this story. Daniher’s fundraiser to combat MND holds the hashtag “freezeMND”. When sharing my story over Facebook, accompanying my article with the hashtag enabled those with an interest in matters regarding Daniher’s affairs were immediately presented with my article, resulting in exposure for me as a journalist. Through the simple use of a hashtag I was quickly engaged with my target audience, a tool useful for a journalist regardless of their subject matter. In addition, the news I wished to convey was accessible to those who required it, ensuring that those who wished to be informed about Daniher’s MND campaign had news available to them.
Hard news is fast, factual and fundamental to society. Hard news ensures citizens are informed and conscious of the events occurring around them. As journalists, we must play our role by constantly striving to cover newsworthy instances to maintain the awareness of the everyday person. Though social media has influenced the ways in which the news we produce is presented in the public sphere, the purpose of hard news remains unchanged.