News Reporting

Author: Smita Kheria Illustration: Davide Bonazzi

News reporters may sometimes require the use of copyright material, such as short textual extracts or clips from video footage, to report current events. There is an exception to copyright for news reporting that allows reporters to make use of others’ work under certain circumstances.

In order to report current events, the reporter may use copyright materials to provide information to the public in relation to the respective events.

This is allowed under the following conditions:

1) The material used is not a photograph 2) The purpose is really for reporting current events 2) The use of the material is fair 3) The use of the material is accompanied by sufficient acknowledgement

For example, the illustration above shows several people working together on a newspaper. In order to produce the current issue, they want to draw upon a variety of different sources such as books, magazines, newspapers, film stock and the internet. Sometimes, they will be able to publish ideas and information set out in these sources without copying the expression used to convey such ideas and information. For instance, if a reporter reads an official document containing an explanation by a minister of a new government policy or sees a video footage of a football match where someone runs on the pitch and strikes a player then she can report these events in her own words, without use of any copyright materials. But sometimes the reporter may want to tell the public of the exact words used by a source or show a film clip in order to provide information on the current event in a clear or authoritative manner. Then, reporters may need to use excerpts from books, magazines, films, broadcasts or online content. This exception is aimed at protecting the role of the media in informing the public about matters of current concern.

The criteria needed for using the exception are explained in more detail below:  

1. You have not used a photograph

You cannot use photographs protected under copyright for reporting current events without obtaining the permission of the respective copyright owner. The exception applies to use of all other types of copyright materials, but not photographs.  

2. Your reason for using the material is genuinely for the purpose of reporting a current event

You can use copyright materials other than photographs if the purpose is really for reporting current events. The exception is not limited to any particular type of event and can thus extend to a wide array of current events no matter whether they occur in the field of politics, popular culture, sports, natural phenomena, and so on.

The event itself must be current. What constitutes a current event is interpreted liberally. It includes recent occurrences, in the sense of recent in time, which are of real interest to the public. It also includes past events if they continue to be matters of legitimate and continuing public interest. An example would be the use of material pertaining to a past meeting between politicians which is of current public interest because it may influence the voting behaviour at the next elections.

The news reporting exception can be used if the reporting of the current events is intended for public consumption. For example, news that is tailored for exclusive use by a certain group of individuals for private commercial purposes would not be acceptable.  

3. Your use of the material is fair

You can use copyright material for the purpose of reporting current events provided your use of material is fair. There is no legal definition of what is fair or unfair; it is at the court’s discretion based on the individual facts of the case and the purpose for which the material is being used (see: ‘Legal language’ below). However, there are guidelines which you need to consider.

First, is or would your use of the copyright material be in commercial competition with the copyright owner’s exploitation of the material? Are you really using copyright material to report on current events or are you pursuing another purpose? It would be unfair if your work is a substitute for the probable purchase of authorised copies of the original material, or if it severely devalues the original material. For example, a verbatim passage of a memoir or a politician’s diary entry can be used in a news article if it is essential for the content that is being reported on because it serves an additional purpose by rectifying an error or inaccuracy or by highlighting a new perspective and engaging in political discourse. However, it cannot be included if the passage simply is to make the article more colourful or attractive or appealing to the readers and bring resulting commercial value. Ask yourself: Is there a compelling need to use the copyright work for the purpose of reporting the current event? Would the use unreasonably prejudice the commercial interests of the copyright owner?

Second, has the material that you want to use already been published or disclosed to the public? Even though copyright material that has not been available to the public, such as material that has only been made available confidentially, can be used, you should bear in mind that this could make your assertion of the news reporting exception very difficult unless there is some legitimate and continuing public interest in making such use. Therefore, ask yourself: Is it really necessary to use the previously undisclosed copyright material for the purpose of reporting the current event? If the material used is already available to the public, such as historical material, then also you must ask yourself: Is it really necessary to refer to these materials in order to report the current event? For example, reprinting historical correspondence dealing with nuclear reactors which have just had a core melt-down would be relevant in order to report on the current event. However, reprinting historical personal correspondence of a public figure simply because they have recently died would not necessarily be relevant.

Third, what is the amount of copyright material used and what is its importance? A substantial amount of the material can be used provided that it is not excessive and only what is needed to report the current event is used. If an excessive amount or the most important parts of the material are used to further commercial interests, although it was not necessary for reporting the current event, then such use would be unfair. Ask yourself: Is it really necessary to use the amount of material and the type of material for the purpose of reporting the current event?  

4. Your use of material is accompanied by sufficient acknowledgement

Finally, you must include an acknowledgement to identify the creator of the work and the title of the material. It is the author who should be identified and not the owner of the copyright. Alternative forms of identification such as the television transmission of a company logo can suffice if the author of the television programme is accustomed to identifying itself by that logo. However, it is not enough to make a simple reference in a newspaper article to the fact that the story originates with another newspaper.

This requirement does not always have to be observed. The author must be clearly identified for all copyright materials used unless you are using sound recordings, film or broadcasts and it is impossible to give credit to the creator for reasons of practicality or otherwise. The requirements for ‘impossible’ are considered strict and you must be able to show that you made reasonable efforts to identify the author.

Legal language:

This is a quote taken from a book on Copyright and Designs, which explains the relevant considerations for determining whether a copyright work has been used fairly for the purpose of reporting current events. The quote has received support in a legal case ( Ashdown v Telegraph Group Ltd [2002] Ch. 149) as being a helpful summary:

‘It is impossible to lay down any hard-and-fast definition of what is fair dealing, for it is a matter of fact, degree and impression. However, by far the most important factor is whether the alleged fair dealing is in fact commercially competing with the proprietor’s exploitation of the copyright work, a substitute for the probable purchase of authorised copies, and the like. If it is, the fair dealing defence will almost certainly fail. If it is not and there is a moderate taking and there are no special adverse factors, the defence is likely to succeed, especially if the defendant’s additional purpose is to right a wrong, to ventilate an honest grievance, to engage in political controversy, and so on. The second most important factor is whether the work has already been published or otherwise exposed to the public. If it has not, and especially if the material has been obtained by a breach of confidence or other mean or underhand dealing, the courts will be reluctant to say this is fair. However this is by no means conclusive, for sometimes it is necessary for the purposes of legitimate public controversy to make use of “leaked” information. The third most important factor is the amount and importance of the work that has been taken. For, although it is permissible to take a substantial part of the work (if not, there could be no question of infringement in the first place), in some circumstances the taking of an excessive amount, or the taking of even a small amount if on a regular basis, would negative fair dealing.’

Laddie H, P Prescott and M Vitoria, The Modern Law of Copyright and Designs (Butterworths, 3rd ed. 2000) at [20.16]

Legal references:

The law on reporting current events in the United Kingdom is found in Section 30(2), (3) of the Copyright Designs and Patent Act 1988, which you can read here:

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There are two exceptions to be aware of, one specifically for criticism and review and a more general exception for quotation. Both exceptions apply to all types of copyright material…

Copyright Bite #3

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Copyright Bite #3 considers how you can lawfully make use of, or borrow from, works that are still in copyright, but without having to ask for permission or make payment to the copyright owner.

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Reporting the News

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Reporting the News springs out of a successful experiment famous among newspapermen the world over, the Nieman Fellowships at Harvard University. All told, more than 300 newsmen have been awarded a year’s respite from the daily pressures of their work to read, write, reflect, participate in seminars, and take any courses they choose.

The book begins with a major introductory essay by Louis M. Lyons, who as a Boston Globe reporter was one of the original Nieman Fellows in 1938–39 and then was Curator of the Fellowships for the next twenty-five years, until his retirement in 1964. It contains fifty-one outstanding articles from Nieman Reports , the quarterly publication of the Nieman Fellows, which Lyons edited for seventeen years. He has grouped these articles in seven parts, entitled “A Responsible Press,” “Role of the Press,” “Newsmen at Work,” “The Writing,” “Foreign Affairs,” “Government and the Press,” and “Books and Men.”

Six of the reprinted pieces are by Louis Lyons himself. Many are by other former Nieman Fellows, including such distinguished journalists as Edwin A. Lahey, Christopher Rand, Anthony Lewis, Clark R. Mollenhoff, and Irving Dilliard. But the company of authors is not confined to Nieman Fellows. There are sparkling pieces by A. J. Liebling, Edward R. Murrow, Zechariah Chafee, Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, Clifton Daniel, Mark Ethridge, Theodore Morrison, Richard L. Neuberger, and many others.

On-the-scene articles show foreign correspondents at work in Moscow, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and the Congo, other newsmen at work in Washington and on Broadway, in Mississippi and Little Rock. A few sample titles: “Free Press and Fair Trial,” “Fewer Papers Mean Better Papers,” “Crusading in a Small Town,” “Can a Yellow Rag Change Its Color?” “Why Should News Come in Five-Minute Packages?” “Editorial Writing Made Easy,” “The Built-in Bias of the Press,” “The Reporter in the Deep South,” “The Thalidomide Story,” “Newspapermen and Lawyers,” “How Best Prepare for Newspaper Work?” “The Business of Writing,” “Congo: Reporter’s Nightmare,” “Managing the News,” “The Newsmen’s War in Vietnam,” “Censors and Their Tactics,” and “Why Diplomats Clam Up.”

Mr. Lyons in his introductory essay, written with charm, humor, and insight, makes characteristically tart observations on journalism and tells the history of the Nieman Fellowships as no one else would be in a position to do.

Here, for the professional newsman, student of journalism, and those who have only a hazy or fictionalized notion of what goes on inside the newspaper business, is a completely authentic book about the press—its role in society, its techniques, and its excitement.

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How Newspapers Work

Reporting the News

Reporters hard at work in the newsroom at The Herald-Sun

Curiously, for a publication called a newspaper, no one has ever coined a standard definition of news. But for the most part, news usually falls under one broad classification -- the abnormal. It is human folly, mechanical failures and natural disasters that often "make the news."

Reporters are a newspaper's front-line eyes and ears. Reporters glean information from many sources, some public, such as police records, and others private, such as a government informant. Occasionally, a reporter will go to jail rather than reveal the name of a confidential source for a news story. American newspapers proudly consider themselves the fourth branch of government -- the watchdog branch -- that exposes legislative, executive and judicial misbehavior.

Some reporters are assigned to beats , or an area of coverage, such as the courts, city hall, education, business, medicine and so forth. Others are called general assignment reporters , which means they are on call for a variety of stories such as accidents, civic events and human-interest stories. Depending on a newspaper's needs during the daily news cycle, seasoned reporters easily shift between beat and general-assignment work.

In the movies , reporters have exciting, frenzied and dangerous jobs as they live a famous pronouncement of the newspaper business: "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Although a few members of the media have been killed as a result of investigations into wrongdoing, newspaper work for the great majority of reporters is routine. They are our chroniclers of daily life, sorting, sifting and bringing a sense of order to a disorderly world.

All reporters are ultimately responsible to an editor. Depending on its size, a newspaper may have numerous editors, beginning with an executive editor responsible for the news division. Immediately below the executive editor is the managing editor , the person who oversees the day-to-day work of the news division. Other editors -- sports, photo, state, national, features and obituary, for example -- may also report to the managing editor.

However, the best known and in some ways the most crucial editor is the city or metro editor . This is the editor that most reporters work for directly. The city or metro editor assigns stories, enforces deadlines and is among the first to see reporters' raw copy. Underneath the city or metro editor are other editors who report directly to him or her.These editors are called gatekeepers , because they control much of what will and will not appear in the next day's paper. Often working under the stress of breaking news, their decisions translate directly into the content of the newspaper.

Once an editor has finished editing a reporter's raw copy, the story moves to another part of the news division, the copy desk. Here, copy editors check for spelling and other errors of usage. They may also look for "holes" in the story that would confuse readers or leave their questions unanswered. If necessary, copy editors may check facts in the newspaper's library, which maintains a large collection of both digital and print reference materials, including past newspaper issues.

The copy-desk chief routes finished stories to other editors who fit local and wire service stories, headlines (written by the editor, not the reporter!) and digital photographs onto pages. Most newspapers do this work, called pagination , with personal computers using software available at any office supply store.

Before we see what happens to the electronic pages built by the copy desk, it will be helpful to understand how other divisions of a newspaper contribute to the production cycle.

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This study of reporters for two daily newspaper in "Southeast City" focuses on the key organizational process of recruitment, socialization, and control, especially as they relate to the problem of media bias. Biased news coverage is found to be the product of a series of organizational processes which are structured to avoid conflict between reporters and their superiors. The Implications of this picture of the reporter-organization relationship (a picture which is far different from the one which has been presented in other media studies) are briefly explored.

Current issues are now on the Chicago Journals website. Read the latest issue.Established in 1895 as the first US scholarly journal in its field, the American Journal of Sociology (AJS) presents pathbreaking work from all areas of sociology, with an emphasis on theory building and innovative methods. AJS strives to speak to the general sociology reader and is open to contributions from across the social sciences—political science, economics, history, anthropology, and statistics in addition to sociology—that seriously engage the sociological literature to forge new ways of understanding the social. AJS offers a substantial book review section that identifies the most salient work of both emerging and enduring scholars of social science. Commissioned review essays appear occasionally, offering the readers a comparative, in-depth examination of prominent titles.

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How news happens, a study of the news ecosystem of one american city.

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Who really reports the news that most people get about their communities? What role do new media, blogs and specialty news sites now play?

How, in other words, does the modern news “ecosystem” of a large American city work? And if newspapers were to die—to the extent that we can infer from the current landscape—what would that imply for what citizens would know and not know about where they live?

The questions are becoming increasingly urgent. As the economic model that has subsidized professional journalism collapses, the number of people gathering news in traditional television, print and radio organizations is shrinking markedly. What, if anything, is taking up that slack?

The answers are a moving target; even trying to figure out how to answer them is a challenge. But a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which takes a close look at the news ecosystem of one city suggests that while the news landscape has rapidly expanded, most of what the public learns is still overwhelmingly driven by traditional media—particularly newspapers.

The study, which examined all the outlets that produced local news in Baltimore, Md., for one week, surveyed their output and then did a closer examination of six major narratives during the week, finds that much of the “news” people receive contains no original reporting. Fully eight out of ten stories studied simply repeated or repackaged previously published information.

And of the stories that did contain new information nearly all, 95%, came from traditional media—most of them newspapers. These stories then tended to set the narrative agenda for most other media outlets.

The local papers, however, are also offering less than they once did. For all of 2009, for instance, the Sun produced 32% fewer stories on any subject than it did in 1999, and 73% fewer stories than in 1991, when the company still published an evening and morning paper with competing newsrooms. [1] And a comparison of one major story during the week studied—about state budget cuts—found newspapers in the area produced only one-third as many stories in 2009 as they did the last time the state made a similar round of budget cuts in 1991, and the Baltimore Sun one seventh as many. Yet the numbers suggest the addition of new media has not come close to making up the difference.

Indeed the expanding universe of new media, including blogs, Twitter and local websites—at least in Baltimore—played only a limited role: mainly an alert system and a way to disseminate stories from other places.

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And this faster dissemination of news was tied to three other trends. As news is posted faster, often with little enterprise reporting added, the official version of events is becoming more important. We found official press releases often appear word for word in first accounts of events, though often not noted as such.

In the growing echo chamber online, formal procedures for citing and crediting can get lost. We found numerous examples of websites carrying sections of other people’s work without attribution and often suggesting original reporting was added when none was. We found elements of this in several major stories we traced.

And sometimes old stories that were already obsolete were posted or linked to after events had changed and the original news site had updated them.

These are some of the results of a close examination of the media covering Baltimore, MD, during the week of July 19-25, 2009.

Among the findings:

About the Study

The study examined the news produced by every local news operation we could identify in the city—from radio talk shows, to blogs, specialized new outlets, new media sites, TV stations, radio news programs, newspapers and their various legacy media websites. We identified 53 outlets that regularly produce some kind of local news content. We tracked every piece of content these outlets produced for three days during the target week. [3]

Then PEJ did a deeper, secondary analysis of six major story threads during the target week, charting the course of the story, where it started and how it grew, story to story, minute-by-minute. The six narratives were selected from among the biggest of the week to reflect a range of different kinds of stories, from breaking news about crime, to state government budget cuts to stories that clearly involved the use of new media. PEJ identified which stories contained new information or added new angles and which sources and people drove the narrative. And Twitter feeds about the news were tracked as well, to see who was using that technology to communicate. That analysis identified 10 additional outlets that passed information along and 15 outlets that offered Twitter updates on the major storylines of the week.

Those six major storylines are provided as detailed chapter narratives of their own in this study, allowing a reader to examine exactly how each story broke, the flow of each narrative through the course of the week, and the lessons it revealed about the news system in the city.

The six storylines included:

This study is only one attempt at trying to understand who is producing news and the character of what is produced. Additional reports could tell more. But this snapshot was in many ways a typical week—marked by stories about police shootings, state budget cuts, swine flu, a big international soccer game in town and a mix of fires, accidents, traffic and weather.

The array of local outlets within this snapshot is already substantial, and as times goes on, new media, specialized outlets and local bloggers are almost certain to grow in number and expand their capacity, particularly if the Sun and other legacy media continue to shrink. New outlets such as local news aggregators, who combine this increasingly mixed universe into one online destination, have cropped up in some other cities such as San Diego. There is a good deal of innovation going on around the country, much of it exciting and promising. But as of 2009, this is what the news looks like in one American city.

The Ecosystem

Of the more than four dozen outlets identified as producing original content about local events in Baltimore, there are four local TV stations, all with their own websites. There are five general interest newspapers: the Baltimore Sun, City Paper, Towson Times, the Washington Post and the Baltimore Times, which focused on African American culture, as well as two long-standing specialized papers—the Daily Record and the Baltimore Business Journal. There are also four general interest websites in town, from the, a local watchdog reporting website started by former Baltimore Examiner employees, to, a local news website produced mostly by former Baltimore Sun staffers. There are five local blogs, two of which focus on crime, one called Inside Charm City, a hyperlocal general interest blog produced by a single person. And there are more than 30 that exist inside the universe of the Baltimore Sun newspaper website.

Among more than three dozen radio stations operating in the Baltimore area, just a handful broadcast local news or talk. Those were identified on two commercial stations, WBAL and WCBM, and two public radio stations, WEAA and WYPR. [4]

That first level analysis found that, over those three days, these media produced 715 different stories about local events in the city. Those stories came from 41 different outlets. Twelve outlets produced nothing.

Local TV newsrooms produced more content than any other sector, an average of 73 stories per station (a total of 291 stories either in broadcast or on their websites out of the three day sample of 715). That was followed closely by newspapers. The five papers studied produced 186 stories during these three days, or 37 per outlet.

Yet the quantity of stories produced does not tell everything about their nature.

Some media were more locally focused than others. The media sector that devoted the greatest level of its coverage to local events was TV news. Fully 64% of the stories on the local 6 p.m. TV newscasts were about local matters. [5] By comparison, 53% of stories studied in Baltimore area newspapers were local. In talk radio, the majority of the segments were about national or non-local events (52%).

The new media content in new media, on the other hand, was highly local and mostly locally produced, though, as we will see, it was often brief and derivative of other news accounts. More than eight out of ten of the postings or stories (85%) were locally focused.

The level of original work also varied. Eight out of ten newspaper stories (80%) were straight news accounts written by local staffers.

In television, there was also less original content from staff reporters. Roughly a third the stories, 34%, were edited packages featuring correspondents doing the reporting (the TV equivalent of an original staff written story), and another 13% were anchors narrating a taped package that did not feature a correspondent from the field. But more than a third 36% were “anchor reads” and “tell stories,” often material from wire services.

In radio there was little of what would be considered reporting. Roughly half the segments were anchors doing monologues, and 38% of the segments involved the host interviewing a guest or a caller. There was no original reporting found, either in talk radio or in the news inserts and radio headlines that were produced during the periods studied (during the 7 a.m. drive time hour).

Looking at the topics covered, too, the news agendas of these outlets were strikingly different. The world one encounters differs dramatically depending on where one seeks his or her information.

On local television, for instance, fully 23% of stories studied were about crime, twice as many as other subject. [6] In newspapers (online and print) coverage of crime was almost matched by that of government and closely followed by business and education. On radio in Baltimore, by contrast, government was the No. 1 topic. New media was most often focused on government.

To go deeper, however, to see how the ecosystem moved, how information traveled from one sector to another, who initiated the news and who was first to transmit and frame the narratives that the rest of the media followed, the study also took a look at six of the major stories of the week more closely.

Six Major Storylines

1. The proposal by Governor Martin O’Malley to cut $300 million from the state budget, or about 40% of the total cuts he sought to make from the state’s $14 billion budget.

2. A shooting incident in which a 34-year-old Baltimore man, apparently high on the drug Ecstasy, terrorized two former female companions and then shot two city police while being wounded and apprehended himself.

3. The announcement that the University of Maryland, Baltimore had been selected as one of eight sites nationwide that would test the new H1N1 vaccine for the National Institutes of Health.

4. The auction of the historic Senator Theater, an old movie house in north Baltimore that continued to fight for survival while defaulting on its loans.

5. A plan by the Maryland Transit Administration to put listening devices on buses died a sudden and conclusive death once the press discovered it.

6. A series of different events intertwined and formed the biggest narrative of the week—framed by an investigation by the local newspaper—involving how the state and the city approached juvenile justice and incarceration.

1. According to Factiva, the Sun produced 23,668 2 stories on all topics from January 1 through December 31, 2009 and 34,852 in the same time frame in 1999 and 86,667 in 1991.

2. Three days of content was analyzed for the study. This included content from July 20, 22 and 24, 2009.

3. Early evening local TV newscasts were recorded and analyzed. For WMAR, WJZ and WBAL, we examined the 6 p.m. newscast. WBFF, the Fox affiliate, does not air news at 6 p.m., so we examined its 5:30 p.m. newscast.

4. A third commercial station, WJZ, could not be captured by PEJ.

5. This analysis examined the early evening newscasts of ABC affiliate WMAR, CBS affiliate WJZ, NBC affiliate WBAL and Fox affiliate WBFF

6. Add accidents (another 13%), and more than a third of all the coverage related to public safety—numbers that track closely with research on local TV that PEJ has produced over the years. And if one looked at the stories that led the newscasts, crime and accidents made up roughly six out of ten stories (58%). That number, incidentally, is also identical to that we found in a five-year study of more than 33,000 stories in local TV news examining 150 stations around the country. “We Interrupt This Newscast: How to Improve Local News and Win Ratings, Too.” Columbia University Press, 2007, p. 33.

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About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

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