Journalists educate the public about events and issues and how they affect their lives. They spend much of their time interviewing expert sources, searching public records and other sources for information, and sometimes visiting the scene where a crime or other newsworthy occurrence took place. After they've thoroughly researched the subject, they use what they uncovered to write an article or create a piece for radio, television or the internet.
Before journalists can write about a subject, they must first gather information. They usually conduct several interviews with people involved in or having knowledge of the subject. They may also go to the scene of an event, such as a crime or an accident, to interview witnessees or law enforcement officers and to document what they see. In addition, they often search public records or other databases to find information and statistics to back up their stories. Researching a story is often similar to conducting an investigation, and journalists must sometimes ask difficult questions. They may have to invest a lot of time tracking down information and people relevant to the story.
WORKING WITH PEOPLE
Even though a news article bears a single journalist's byline, the process requires significant collaboration. How good a journalist's story is often depends on how adept he is at communicating and working with others. For example, journalists take instruction from their editors regarding what angle to approach when writing a story, how long the story should be and whom to interview. They also need strong people and communication skills so they can persuade sources to talk to them. Journalists frequently approach people they don't know, whether when reporting from the scene or calling to request an interview. If they're uncomfortable around strangers, they'll make others uncomfortable as well, making it less likely that people will want to be interviewed.
In addition to serving the public interest, journalists must also follow the law, especially regarding the confidentiality and privacy of the people they interview or write about. For example, while journalists often tape record their interviews to ensure accuracy, federal and state laws generally make it illegal to record a conversation without the permission of the other party. In this case, journalists must tell their sources they're recording the interview before it begins. Journalists must also understand the laws regarding libel and invasion of privacy. If a journalist is careless when reporting criminal allegations against a person, for example, he could face a defamation lawsuit if the accusations are proved untrue.
Some aspects of a journalist's job are not subject to any kind of law but are just as important. Journalists must strive to present an accurate, well-balanced explanation of the stories they cover. For example, they have an obligation to present all sides of an issue, and to conduct extensive research and talk to several sources knowledgeable about the subject. If they present only popular opinion, or if they conduct minimal research without fully exploring the subject, they don't give readers and viewers the information they need to understand the implications of the event or issue. Journalists must also be honest with the people they interview, telling them before talking to them what the article is about and that they plan to quote them in the piece.