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The Responsible Journalist

An Introduction to News Reporting and Writing

Jennie Dear and Faron Scott

Publication Date - October 2014

ISBN: 9780199732340

368 pages
8 x 10 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $129.99

A Liberal Arts Perspective on News Reporting and Writing


The Responsible Journalist: An Introduction to News Reporting and Writing teaches reporting and writing skills from a liberal arts perspective with the understanding that at its heart, journalism is about public service. The text presents journalism as an approach--one that involves careful thought, ethical decision-making, skepticism, an attention to accuracy and an emphasis on truthfulness.


  • Demystifies the practice of journalism so that students understand the reasons for journalistic conventions explicitly rather than through osmosis or appeals to tradition
  • Teaches students how to develop and apply critical thinking skills as both journalists and news consumers, moving beyond superficial cynicism to a considered and tempered approach
  • Emphasizes the journalist's role as a public servant and weaves discussions of ethics throughout the text
  • Examines social values that are reflected in traditional elements of newsworthiness
  • Problematizes ideas about bias, objectivity, truth and reality and provides alternative ways to meet the underlying goals of autonomy, fairness and accuracy
  • Provides numerous, interesting examples and thoughtful analysis that guide students in thinking through both the ideas and skills introduced
  • Assumes that journalists will work in different media, highlighting a skill set that transcends the particular medium
  • Includes in-depth information about how to select sources for stories, emphasizing fairness and accuracy

About the Author(s)

Jennie Dear is a former English professor who is now a freelance writer.

Faron Scott is Professor of English and Communications at Fort Lewis College.


"I couldn't put it down once I started reading. In fact, I read it twice. It's beautifully written and extremely interesting. It is unique because of the ethics component."--Sharon Kobritz, Husson College

"There really isn't anything out there like this. It combines the practical with the critical in a way that I don't remember seeing very often. The authors pull together a lot of important critical and sociological literature that most basic textbooks ignore (at their peril)."--John Jenks, Dominican University

Table of Contents

    Unit 1: What Distinguishes a Good Journalist?
    Habits of mind

    Chapter 1: The Public's Champion
    Defining news media in an era of new media
    If people govern themselves, they need a free press
    -- A bit of historical review
    -- The press as watchdog
    Box 1-1: Bezos buys Wapo
    Box 1-2: The First Amendment
    Exercises for Chapter 1

    Chapter 2: How Do Ethics and Critical Thinking Apply to Everyday Reporting?
    -- Stakeholders
    -- Fairness in stories
    -- Fairness and diversity across coverage
    -- Transparency
    Freedom and Autonomy
    -- Freedom from manipulation
    -- Conflict of interest
    Truth telling
    -- Factual accuracy
    -- Contextual truths
    ---- A caveat
    An ethics case study: The facts of the case
    -- Who are the stakeholders?
    Truth telling: What do we know is true?
    -- Factual accuracy
    ---- Is the autopsy report factually accurate?
    ---- Do you include the blood test results?
    ---- Do you include the murderer's accusation?
    -- Contextual truth
    Humaneness-to whom?
    Freedom: keeping the decision independent
    Justice: What's fairest to all the stakeholders?
    Stewardship: stepping back to think about journalism's credibility
    Making the decision
    How the Durango Herald explained its decision
    Box 2-1: Facebook co-founder says magazine's profits linked to quality
    Box 2-2: Prize-winning journalism
    Box 2-3: The autopsy
    Exercises for Chapter 2

    Unit 2: Get It in Writing
    Habits of mind
    -- What's this mean for a working journalist?
    News values
    Deeper cultural concerns

    Chapter 3: How is News Language Different?
    Newswriting emphasizes reports
    -- Information you can verify
    -- Inferences may be based on insufficient information
    -- Judgments sometimes shut down thought
    Newswriting usually avoids first-person references
    Newswriting is concise and direct
    -- Fewer modifiers
    -- Simple sentence structures
    -- Active voice
    Newswriting uses short paragraphs
    Newswriting tries to use language fairly
    Newswriting is consistent: an introduction to AP Style
    Exercises for Chapter 3

    Chapter 4: How Do You Tell a Basic News Story?
    The inverted pyramid: an introduction
    -- Begin with what's most important and save the rest for later
    -- A news story example
    -- Avoid suspense when you're delivering news
    -- Your audience helps determine a story's form
    Inverted pyramid leads
    -- Who, what, when, where-and sometimes how and why
    -- Brevity
    -- Leads include the most important details
    -- Delay precise identification
    -- The language of inverted pyramid leads
    -- Good leads are like poetry
    Beyond the lead
    -- The second paragraph
    -- The third paragraph
    -- Later paragraphs
    Box 4-1: literary journalism is the un inverted pyramid
    Box 4-2: Here's what literary journalism looks like
    Box 4-3: writing a broadcast lead
    for Chapter 4

    Chapter 5: The Story Changes with the Medium
    News stories in print
    Radio news stories: an overview
    -- Writing a radio news story
    -- Introduce sound bites clearly
    -- A story with voice-over
    -- A story with sound bites
    Adding the visual element
    -- Writing a television or video news story
    Online news stories: an overview
    -- Writing an online news story
    ---- Online news stories use brief summaries or decks
    ---- Online news stories link to other information
    ---- Online news stories are more likely to use subheadings
    Box 5-1: a comparison of storytelling across media
    Box 5-2: tips for print writing
    Box 5-3: tips for radio/audio writing
    Box 5-4: tips for television/video writing
    5-5: tips for online writing
    Exercises for Chapter 5

    Unit 3: Background for Your Stories
    Habits of mind
    -- A bit of internet history

    Chapter 6: A Journalist's Skeptical Research
    Filtering for accuracy: Two examples
    Time to start searching
    Searching the Internet
    -- Search engine insights
    -- Websites for journalists
    -- What does a journalist use from the Web?
    Website credibility
    -- Identity and motivation
    -- Authority
    -- Accuracy
    -- Timeliness
    -- Blogs and aggregator sites
    Social media for journalists
    -- Evaluating social media videos
    Going offline
    Box 6-1: using social media to report breaking news
    Exercises for Chapter 6

    Chapter 7: Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement: Stealing Other People's Stuff
    -- Avoiding plagiarism is a skill
    Copyright and Fair Use
    -- What can be copyrighted-and for how long?
    -- Some copyrighted information is fair game: The Fair Use Doctrine
    Box 7-1: Five ways to avoid plagiarizing by mistake
    Box 7-2: What's public?
    Box 7-3: How do you know whether your use is "fair"?
    Box 7-4: when would a journalist be in danger of violating copyrights?
    Exercises for Chapter 7

    Unit 4: Working with Sources
    Habits of mind
    Your position, your judgment and your practice
    Lenses: A metaphor for worldview
    Objective reporting
    -- Biased journalism
    -- A brief history
    -- Critiques
    ---- Incomplete reporting
    ---- Passive reporting
    Box H4-01: Avoiding false balance

    Chapter 8: Who Gets the Spotlight?
    Beyond convention and convenience in source selection
    -- What's news depends on whom you interview
    -- Don't let sources turn you into propagandists
    Good practices
    -- Confirm facts with more than one source
    -- Allow people to defend themselves
    -- Report diversity
    ---- Covering race and ethnicity
    -- Be aware of bias-or its appearance-when you select sources
    -- Distance yourself from sources
    -- Interview primary sources
    -- Interview expert sources...
    -- ...But also interview the people affected by an issue
    -- Avoid using anonymous sources
    -- Shield laws help--but don't depend on them too much
    -- Don't fabricate sources or quotes
    Finding Sources
    -- Ask each source for other sources
    -- Get out on the street
    -- Don't forget your own contacts
    -- Use social media
    -- When you're stumped for sources, think creatively
    Exercises for Chapter 8

    Chapter 9: How Do You Conduct an Interview?
    Research ahead of time
    Plan your questions
    Contact your sources
    The interview
    -- In person
    -- By phone
    -- By email or text
    Privacy-Some information can't go into your story
    -- Private facts
    -- Intrusion
    ---- The Electronic Communications Privacy Act
    Exercises for Chapter 9

    Chapter 10: How Do You Report What Sources Say?
    Guidelines for quoting
    -- Paraphrase.
    -- In general, don't mark dialect in quotes.
    -- Quotation marks mean that what appears between them is what someone actually said.
    -- Provide context and explanations before a quote, rather than after.
    -- A reporter should not take quotes out of context.
    -- Just because a source says something does not mean you have to report it.
    -- News stories emphasize the speaker rather than the reporter.
    -- News stories use "said" or "says."
    -- Follow basic punctuation rules for quotes.
    Quoting multiple sources
    Defamation: When people say you've lied
    -- Standard practice
    -- Defenses against libel suits
    ---- Truth
    ---- Fair comment and criticism and rhetorical hyperbole
    ---- Privilege
    Box 10-01: For broadcast stories, attribution comes first.
    Box 10-02: How do you make sure you're not defaming someone?
    Exercises for Chapter

    Chapter 11: Working a Beat
    Some basic assumptions about beats
    Professional relationships with sources
    -- Research before you talk to people.
    -- Treat your sources with dignity.
    -- Keep a professional distance.
    A scenario: The education beat
    Watchdog beats
    -- Tips for reporting the crime and police beats
    ---- Getting to know the beat
    ---- Getting beyond snapshots of violence
    ---- Campus crime: A special case
    ---- A checklist for stories about accidents or crimes
    Enterprise Beats
    -- Covering business
    ---- Workers
    ---- Businesses as neighbors
    ---- Business for consumers
    ---- What do other businesses need to know about each other?
    Exercises for Chapter 11

    Unit 5: Storytelling in Other Forms
    Habits of mind
    What does it mean to be skeptical?
    -- Logical fallacies
    ---- False generalizations
    ---- Anecdotal evidence
    ---- False dilemmas
    ---- The straw man
    ---- Ad hominem attacks
    Box 05-01: A list of fallacies in arguments

    Chapter 12: Leading with Something Different
    When to use other kinds of leads
    -- Making an abstract story concrete
    ---- Some tips for creating leads that focus on individuals
    -- Nut graphs
    -- Clarifying a complicated story
    ---- Some tips for bringing background to the beginning of a story
    -- Covering an event with several newsworthy issues
    -- Providing a sense of place
    ---- Some tips for starting with description
    -- Following up on breaking news
    ---- Some tips for leading with a list
    -- Establishing tone
    ---- Some tips for communicating a lighter tone in your lead
    Exercises for Chapter 12

    Chapter 13: What About Other Kinds of News Stories?
    Organizing news stories into pods
    Stories that explain how-to or why
    A problem that needs a solution
    A story with a complicated history
    Structure and fairness
    -- Placement of sources
    -- A question of balance
    Exercises for Chapter 13

    Chapter 14: IMHO: Expressing Your Opinions as a Journalist
    What does commentary add?
    -- Providing context and analysis
    -- Making connections for readers
    When are opinions not helpful?
    -- When arguments aren't grounded in evidence
    -- When too much is based on secondhand information
    -- When opinions are based on sloppy journalism
    Writing in the first person
    -- Persona
    -- Features of a news blog
    ---- A news blog sticks to basic journalistic principles.
    ---- A news blog presents informed opinions.
    ---- A news blog can provide in-depth information about niche subjects.
    -- Writing a news blog
    Box 14-01: "The invisible primary"-commentary with context
    Exercises for Chapter 14

    How Storytelling Connects to Larger Forces
    Habits of mind
    Thinking about the audience
    -- A bit of history
    Forces behind the scenes
    -- Culture and society
    -- What does this mean for a working journalist?
    Final thoughts
    Box H6-01: Audience reactions: A case study

Teaching Resources

Instructor’s Manual/Test Bank (9780190250560) An Instructor's Manual and Test Bank provides teaching strategies, activities, and unit wind-ups called, “Habits of Mind.” The Test Bank provides various question formats, including true/false, short answer, and long answer.

A Companion Website (www.oup.com/us/dear) provides access to the ARC and the authors’ personal book website, with additional links and resources.