Digging for News
Posted on July 18th, 2016

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando

A journalist’s main function is to gather ideas. Here, the journalist is faced with a big question mark … ..  ‘Where to find them and the facts to support them’? This can be one of the biggest headaches for the beginners to journalism – the cub journalists!

A glance at any newspaper counter will reveal the vast number of newspapers and magazines that are available today. Therefore, information cannot be in short supply at all. Indeed not! There is a real stockpile of ideas, which demand only a certain approach to have access for a journalist to ‘think like a journalist’.

What was mentioned in my earlier columns dealt mainly how to formulate an article by training one’s mind and not just to browse as a reader while going through some informative material but to look at through ‘journalistic eyes’ and to think broadly as a writer.

In such situations the journalists will be training their minds to look at any issue impartially and objectively. Once turned into an ‘objective journalist’ one will be able to analyse what has been written by placing the whole written piece under the ‘journalistic microscope’ and to understand by carefully scrutinising paragraph by paragraph, the areas of strengths and weaknesses, if there be any at all, before despatching to an editor for publication.

Ideas will flow around those who have the knack of thinking like a journalist. The main ingredients necessary to gather news is to have one’s ears and eyes tuned in at public places – be it a supermarket, hair dresser’s salon, public places like the bus stand, railway station, or even on the road, news is everywhere including in their own neighbourhood. Generally people always come out with various topics which interest them, and those are the things that should enter a journalist’s head to write about.

What is News?

As an example, let’s take citizens Perera and Peiris discussing a topical issue while travelling by train about the latest hot potato, the VAT problem in Sri Lanka. Despite assurances given by the President on several occasions publicly by appearing on the TV, the Finance Minister has introduced this extra increase in tax, which is seen as an additional burden on the public. Naturally, this has expanded and become controversial and rather complex and a confusing issue where the ordinary man on the street has to suffer by having to pay extra money for everything he purchases; even for a cup of plain (black) tea! This is due to every trader, registered for VAT or NOT as stipulated by the government, is hell bent in taxing the poor public through the ulterior motive of fattening his wallet! This type of willy-nilly operation by unscrupulous traders will automatically put the cost of living up, at rocket speed!

Another area of controversy on the VAT, which is ammunition to journalists, will be this extra tax on channeling charges to doctors and also to the hospital separately, not forgetting on drugs, TV subscriptions telecommunication levy ( on mobile phones), which add up to nearly fifty percent as VAT on usage.


If the journalist can come up with an article comparing the cost of living immediately prior to the introduction of the VAT (11 per cent) and also with comparisons a year ago, five years ago, in the eighties or nineties, he will have sufficient information to write not only one article but several features by going into detail about the history of the VAT, and causes as to why the government is determined to tax the public; then from there he could touch on the fragile nature of the finances of the country, government borrowing, existing international debts amounting to billions of dollars etc, which will make the feature article balanced, newsworthy, educational as much as giving a full picture of the situation and the associated problems the government is facing which has led towards such taxation! Here, the journalist being objective gives the reader a balanced view rather than making the public prejudiced either way!

Another important aspect in such a situation is that the journalist does not have to prove that his common assumptions are correct as long as the article carries the nucleus of the problem highlighting the causes and compulsions on the part of the government, which affects ordinary households up to the cream of society.

Second example

In a similar fashion if citizen Silva and Professor Perera were to engage in a conversation about building techniques and high rise buildings in Sri Lanka as against the structure and the modus operandi in putting up skyscrapers and residential blocks in America and England, bringing into focus about the latest trend at home to change the skyline not only in Colombo but throughout the country with multi-storey boxes with numerous luxuries thrown into them at sky rocketing prices, it will be fodder for a journalist to come out with a juicy article highlighting the pros and cons about the exercise.

He could probe into the areas where prospective buyers are asked to make millions of rupee deposits as advance payments (to buttress developers’ budget) without any explanations about the COC (Certificate of Conformity) obtained by the property developer or not, and the level of service charges, tariffs and what interval of increases are to be expected (annually or at a specific period); how often the general maintenance is carried out on the building; who are responsible to share repair charges (for instance to roof repairs)? Do those who live at ground level pay for lift maintenance (although they are not using lifts in their daily use), as much as for roof repairs when it comes to all apartment owners of units below roof level etc.

The inquisitive journalist needs to probe well in to all such areas making use of all human faculties, and not only ears! The eyes, for a start, are used for seeing purposes primarily to read. But if a journalist reads local newspapers that circulate in his home town area, and has access to both local and regional tabloids, and community papers and magazines, apart from information from broad sheets, the journalist would be able to turn the ‘journalist’s antenna’ to dig out adequate material to write about.

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The writer holds a PhD in Media Communication


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