Posted on July 19th, 2016

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando Courtesy Ceylon Today

Modern bookshops and news stands are inundated with a multitude of magazines of all kind with topics including general health, beauty, royalty, medicine, yoga, and international politics. Some of the most interesting and educational ideas are buried in small but less significant news reports and narrow classified advertisements, as they are less likely to have been exploited.
One may discover in a tiny advertisement inserted in a popular Sunday magazine which reads as follows, “An expert rodent catcher required on full time or part time basis. Excellent remuneration. Apply to box…”)
Keeping eyes open!
This may interest an inquisitive journalist who is looking out for material to compose an informative feature article. First of all, he needs to ask himself several questions: “Does this suggest anything? Immediately his mind should go through a prompting process with a string of other questions: “Why does the advertising company require a rat-catcher? What is the purpose behind this unusual advertisement? Does the advertiser experiencing difficulty in finding a rat catcher? What has caused such an explosion of rodents suddenly? Is it due to a strike by council employees, and uncollected domestic garbage piled up on roads and scavengers tearing off rubbish bags giving free access to breeding mice to run about? Could I write a pen-picture of one of the rat catchers? Unusual occupation eh! Is there a plague of rats in the country and is it becoming a health hazard? When the journalist reads news reports it is always best to keep his eyes open for the unanswered theme question of why?

Second option
Consider a brief report published in a tabloid about a social welfare officer making a request from a Court of Law against a rapist of an under-aged orphaned girl.
It doesn’t matter whether the Court complies with the request or simply adjourns the matter. To the journalist, who is looking for ideas, such news can leave a lot of questions unanswered, and in return the answers to those questions might provide him with the raw material for a single article or a series of articles looking at various angles. “What is the legal position about such a matter? Is there an age limit concerning under age or any kind of rape? Has the law been changed in recent years? If so, what is the current legal position? How do other countries deal with such a situation? If the journalist is living in a foreign country, could he compare the law in such a situation within his own native land?”

Other sources
Other sources for journalists to read should be professional or trade publications, house journals, women’s magazines and religious magazines. In a Buddhist journal one may find something written, from time to time, that would be worth following through. Or, the Parish magazine might announce about the peal of bells in the church that needs replacing. How about the latest trend in the Council of Churches’s attempt to sell out ‘unwanted’ old church buildings to property developers, while the local councils placing prohibition orders on such sales of buildings especially not to be converted into Muslim mosques. This will put the church and its bells, as much as the councils and the property developers, in the news for a while. The journalist needs to find out whether it is worth an article for a magazine or a newspaper?
If one cannot afford to buy a lot of magazines and newspapers, a good selection of those are available in the reference sections of public libraries and branches of the British Councils where journalists could benefit as a source of ideas for articles. Journalism is akin to gold mining, and one needs a hard digging at times to get the nuggets out. Informative ‘mines’ are usually written in English especially when it comes to legal jargon, although such terminology is meant to be perfect, clear and concise.
When journalists read a book, newspapers or a magazine, it is important for one to keep his eyes wide open and be inquisitive. For instance, during reading he might suddenly sets his eyes on a female climbing up a long rope ladder fixed on to a tall office block. Unusual and rare the scene may be, but it gives the onlooker a shock at first but, according to a journalist’s vision, it is worthwhile following it up. No one will know what the journalist can come out with through such a stunning experience. That knowledge itself might suggest an article about women doing daring and unusual jobs like window cleaning on high-rise buildings.
The journalist’s world is fairly bursting with all kinds of information all the time. Reading can be a never-ending source to collect ideas. Already published articles in newspapers or magazines may prompt him an idea, which he can follow through, whenever a journalist runs out of new ideas.
Two basic ways
There are two basic ways of obtaining facts for a journalist on any subject. The first and the best would be to go straight to the horse’s mouth – the person directly concerned with. If the journalist wanted to follow through the idea mentioned earlier about the bells in the church, the best person to contact and discuss the matter would be the Parish Priest. If the priest is unable to supply him with all the information, then he might almost certainly be able to put the journalist on to the right individual who could help. It would be the best policy to call in person whenever is possible when seeking information for an article. The telephone call is a poor substitute for a face-to-face conversation, but it is only good as a prelude to make an appointment.
Another fact-finding source would be the printed word. A journalist should be knowledgeable enough as to how and where to find and use reference media of all kinds in microfiche films that are available in modern libraries and museums in developed countries. To track down some information he will need a subject-index which is unlikely to be out in the open on a shelf. The librarian holds this information and anyone can seek the librarian’s assistance on any such endeavour. Every journalist needs to be on friendly terms with librarians as most of the modern libraries are computerised with large databases of all the reference books and material they hold.
Today with the new technology the computer can be the journalist’s closest friend, from writing to digging out information on any subject. Any information could be obtained with the help of search engines some of which are Wikipedia,,,,,, and along with almost all the newspapers in the world and websites that are linked to all communication streams.
[email protected]
The writer holds a PhD
in Philosophy of Media Communication

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