7.3

Writing the News: Different Formats and Their Functions

Standard 7.3: Writing the News: Different Formats and Their Functions

Explain the different functions of news articles, editorials, editorial cartoons, and “op-ed” commentaries. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T7.3]

Launch_of_Apollo
News Reporters Watch the Launch of the Apollo 11 Moon Mission (July 15, 1969),
NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), Marshall Image Exchange, Public Domain

FOCUS QUESTION: What are the Functions of Different Types of Newspaper Writing?

Newspapers include multiple forms of writing, including news articles, editorials, editorial cartoons, Op-Ed commentaries, and news photographs. Each type of writing has a specific style and serves a particular function.

News articles report what is happening as clearly and objectively as possible, without bias or opinion. In reporting the news, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics demands that reporters: 

  1. Seek truth and report it
  2. Minimize harm
  3. Act independently
  4. Be accountable and transparent

Editorials, editorial cartoons, and Op-Ed commentaries are forums where writers may freely express their viewpoints and advocate for desired changes and specific courses of action. In this way, these are forms of persuasive writing. Topic 4/Standard 6 in this book has more about the uses of persuasion, propaganda, and language in political settings. 

Photographs can be both efforts to objectively present the news and at the same time become ways to influence how viewers understand people and events.

Check out Reading and Writing the News in our Bookcase for Young Writers for material on the history of newspapers, picture books about newspapers, and digital resources for reading and writing the news.

As students learn about these different forms of news writing, they can compose their own stories and commentaries about local and national matters of importance to them

    1. INVESTIGATE: News Articles, Editorials, Editorial cartoons, Op-Ed Commentaries, Photographs, and Press Conferences

    Reporters of the news are obligated to maintain journalistic integrity at all times. They are not supposed to take sides or show bias in written or verbal reporting. They apply those principles as they create news articles, editorials, editorial cartoons, Op-Ed commentaries, take news photographs, and participate in press conferences.

    The Inverted Pyramid

    News articles follow an Inverted Pyramid format. The lead, or main points of the article—the who, what, when, where, why and how of a story—are placed at the top or beginning of the article.  Additional information follows the lead and less important, but still relevant information, comes after that. The lead information gets the most words since many people read the lead and then skim the rest of the article.

    7_3pyramid.jpeg
    “Inverted pyramid in comprehensive form” by Christopher Schwartz is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

    Editorials

    Editorials are written by the editors of a newspaper or media outlet to express the opinion of that organization about a topic. Horace Greeley is credited with starting the “Editorial Page” at his New York Tribune newspaper in the 1840s, and so began the practice of separating unbiased news from clearly stated opinions as part of news writing (A Short History of Opinion Writing, Stony Brook University).

    Editorial or Political Cartoons

    Editorial cartoons (also known as political cartoons) are visual images drawn to express opinions about people, events, and policies. They make use of satire and parody to communicate ideas and evoke emotional responses from readers. There are differences between a cartoon and a comic. A “cartoon usually consists of a single drawing, often accompanied by a line of text, either in the form of a caption underneath the drawing, or a speech bubble.” A comic, by contrast, “comprises a series of drawings, often in boxes, or as we like to call them, ‘panels,’ which form a narrative” (Finck, 2019, p. 27).

    Boss_Tweed
    Caricature of Boss Tweed, by Thomas Next, {{PD-art-US}}

    An exhibit from the Library of Congress noted how political or editorial cartoons are “no laughing matter.”  They are “pictures with a point” (It's No Laughing Matter: Political Cartoons/Pictures with a Point, Library of Congress).  Washington Post cartoonist Ann Telnaes stated: “The job of the editorial cartoonist is to expose the hypocrisies and abuses of power by politicians and powerful institutions in our society” (Editorial Cartooning, Then and Now, Medium.com, August 7, 2017).

    Benjamin Franklin published the first political cartoon, “Join, or Die” in the Pennsylvania Gazette, May 9, 1754. Thomas Nast used cartoons to expose corruption, greed, and injustice in Gilded Age American society in the late 19th century. Launched in 1970 and still being drawn today in newspapers and online, Doonesbury by Gary Trudeau provides political satire and social commentary in a comic strip format. In 1975, Doonesbury was the first politically-themed daily comic strip to win a Pulitzer Prize. Editorial and political cartoons are widely viewed online, especially in the form of Internet memes that offer commentary and amusement to digital age readers.

    Commentators including Communication professor Jennifer Grygiel have claimed that memes are the new form of political cartoons. Do you think that this is an accurate assertion? Compare the history of political cartoons outlined above with your own knowledge of memes to support your argument. What are the different perspectives?

    Op-Ed Commentaries

    Op-Ed Commentaries (Op-Ed means "opposite the editorial page") are written essays of around 700 words found on, or opposite, the editorial page of newspapers and other news publications. They are opportunities for politicians, experts, and ordinary citizens to express their views on issues of importance. Unlike news articles, which are intended to report the news in an objective and unbiased way, Op-Ed commentaries are opinion pieces. Writers express their ideas and viewpoints, and their names are clearly identified so everyone knows who is the author of each essay. The modern Op-Ed page began in 1970 when the New York Times newspaper asked writers from outside the field of journalism to contribute essays on a range of topics (The Op-Ed Page's Back Pages, Slate, September 27, 2010). Since then, Op-Ed pages have become a forum for a wide expression of perspectives and viewpoints.

    News Photographs

    Photographs are a fundamental part of newspapers today. We would be taken back and much confused to view a newspaper page without photographs and other images including charts, graphs, sketches, and advertisements, rendered in black and white or color. Look at the front page and then the interior pages of a major daily newspaper (in print or online) and note how many photographs are connected to the stories of the day.

    The first photograph published in a US newspaper was on March 4, 1880. Prior to then, sketch artists created visual representations of news events. The New York Illustrated News began the practice of regularly featuring photographs in the newspaper in 1919 (Library of Congress: An Illustrated Guide/Prints and Photographs).

    From that time, photography has changed how people receive the news from newspapers. The 1930s to the 1970s have been called a "golden age" of photojournalism. Publications like the New York Daily News, Life, and Sports Illustrated achieved enormous circulations. Women became leaders in the photojournalist field: Margaret Bourk-White was a war reporter; Frances Benjamin Johnson took photos all over the United States; Dorothea Lange documented the Great Depression; the site Trailblazers of Light tells the hidden histories of the pioneering women of photojournalism. Also check out "What Is The Role of a War Correspondent?" later in this topic.

    Photographs convey powerful messages to readers and viewers, but they are not to be viewed uncritically. A photo represents a moment frozen in time. Its meaning depends on multiple levels of context: What happened before and after the photo was taken? What else was happening outside the view of the camera? Why did the photographer take the photo from a certain angle and perspective? Why did a newspaper editor choose to publish one image and not another?

    Press Conferences

    A press conference is a meeting where news reporters get to ask public figures and political leaders (including the President of the United States) questions about major topics and issues. In theory, press conferences are opportunities for everyone in the country to learn important information because reporters ask tough questions and political leaders answer them openly and honestly. In fact, as Harold Holzer (2020) points out in the study of The Presidents vs. The Press, there has always been from the nation's founding "unavoidable tensions between chief executives and the journalists who cover them."

    The first Presidential press conference was held by Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Every President since has met with the press in this format, although the meetings were "off the record" (Presidents could not be quoted directly) until the Eisenhower Presidency. In March 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt was the first First Lady to hold a formal press conference. John F. Kennedy held the first live televised press conference on January 25, 1961; you can watch the video of Kennedy's first televised press conference here.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt held the most press conferences (881; twice a week during the New Deal and World War II); Richard Nixon the fewest (39) (quoted from Presidential Press Conferences, The American Presidency Project). Donald Trump changed the news conference format dramatically, often turning meetings with the press into political campaign-style attacks on reporters, "fake news," and political opponents. He regularly answered only the questions he wanted to answer while walking from the White House to a waiting helicopter; this "chopper talk" -- in Stephen Colbert's satirical term, since it does not have a formal question and answer format -- has enabled the President to tightly control the information he wanted to convey to the public (Politico, August 28, 2019).

    Presidents are not the only ones who participate in press conferences. Public officials at every level of government are expected to answer questions from the news media. Corporate executives, sports figures and many other news makers also hold press conferences. All of these gatherings are essential to providing free and open information to every member of a democratic society, but only when reporters ask meaningful questions and public officials answer them in meaningful ways.

    Media Literacy Connections: Newspaper Design & Analysis

    • Analyze Newspaper Photographs
      • WARM-UP: As a class, analyze an image from the New York Times section "What's Going On in This Picture?" and collaboratively agree upon a caption that best communicates what is happening in the photograph.
      • Then, individually, choose a famous newspaper photograph or a photograph from a recent newspaper; you can also check out The Most Influential Images of All Time from Time Magazine. 
      • After choosing a photo, answer the following questions suggested by Sophia Modzelewski, a 2020-2021 history teacher candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and by The New York Times Learning Network.
        • What is going on in this photo?
        • What do you see that makes you say that?
        • What emotions do you see in the expressions/actions of the people in the photo?
        • What emotion do you feel when looking at it?
        • Who is one figure in the image whose actions may be mis-represented by the photograph?
        • Why was the name or description of this image chosen? What do you think might be an alternate name or description?
        • What more can you find out?
    • Create a Class Newspaper
      • Ask students to choose different roles and responsibilities (e.g., photographer, editorial writer, Op-Ed writer, editorial cartoonist, news writer). 
      • Use digital tools like LucidPress, Google Docs, or Wix to publish the newspaper. 
      • Have students create a PSA or presentation about the importance of their designated role (e.g., photographer, editorial writer).
      • Bonus Activity: Have students create the front page of the newspaper with and without photos and then ask family/peers to compare and contrast the two options and reflect on their impact on learning from the news. 

    Suggested Learning Activities

      • Create a Class Newspaper 
        • Ask students to choose different roles and responsibilities (e.g., photographer, editorial writer, Op-Ed writer, editorial cartoonist, news writer). 
        • Use digital tools like LucidPress, Google Docs, or Wix to publish the class newspaper. 
        • Have students create a PSA or presentation about the importance of their designated role (e.g., photographer, editorial writer).
        • Bonus Activity: Have students create the front page of the newspaper with and without photos and then ask family/peers to compare and contrast the two options and reflect on their impact on learning from the news. 
      • Compose a Broadside About a Historical or Contemporary Issue 
        • A broadside is a strongly worded written statement attacking a political opponent or political idea, written on single large sheets of paper, printed on one side only, and designed to have an immediate emotional impact on readers.  
        • History teacher Erich Leaper has students construct colonial broadsides as a learning activity when teaching Op-Ed Commentaries. During colonial times, proponents of the American Revolution posted broadsides expressing their opposition to British colonial acts and policies. Broadsides were the social media and Op-Ed commentaries of the time. Students are grouped and to begin, each group pulls one sheet of paper from five options: the Tea Act, Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Intolerable Acts, Quartering Act, and the Townshend Act.
        • Steps to follow: 
          • The teacher writes a broadside as a model for the students. Erich wrote his about the Sugar Act, entitling it "Wah! They Can't Take Away My Candy!"
          • Analyzing one of the acts, each group writes and draws a broadside expressing opposition to and outrage about the unfairness of the law. Groups display their broadside posters around the classroom or in a virtual gallery.
          • In their groups, students view all of the other broadsides and discuss how they would rate the Acts on an oppressiveness scale—ranging from most oppressive to least oppressive to the colonists.  
          • The assessment for the activity happens as each student chooses the top three most oppressive acts and explain her/his choices in writing.

      Online Resources for Newspapers

      2. UNCOVER: Two Pioneering Women Cartoonists: Jackie Ormes and Dale Messick

      Zelda “Jackie” Ormes is considered to be the first African American woman cartoonist. In comic strips that ran in Black-owned newspapers across the country in the 1940s and 1950s, she created memorable independent women characters, including Torchy Brown and Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger. Her characters were intelligent, forceful women and their stories addressed salient issues of racism and discrimination in African American life. In 1947, a Patty-Jo doll was the first African American doll based on a comic character; there was also a popular Torchy Brown doll.

      Google honored Jackie Ormes with a Google Doodle slideshow and short biography on September 1, 2020.

      Jackie_Ormes
      Jackie Ormes in her Studio, Public Domain 

      Dale Messick, a pioneering female cartoonist, debuted the comic strip, Brenda Starr, Reporter on June 30, 1940. The comic ran for more than 60 years in hundreds of newspapers nationwide. Throughout its history, the creative team for the comic strip were all women, including the writers and artists who continued the strip after Messick retired in 1980. Based on the character, style, and beauty of Hollywood actress Rita Haywood, Brenda Starr was determined and empowered, lived a life of adventure and intrigue, and always got the news story she was investigating.  

      Suggested Learning Activity

      Assess the Historical Impact of Jackie Ormes and Dale Messick

      State Your View: Why is it difficult for women to enter and succeed in professions where there are mostly men?

      3. ENGAGE: What is the Role of a War Correspondent?

      War Correspondents and War Photographers have one of the most important and most dangerous roles in the news media. They travel to war zones, often right into the middle of actual fighting, to tell the rest of us what is happening to soldiers and civilians. Without their written reports and dramatic photos, the public would not know the extent of military activities or the severity of humanitarian crises. 

      Typing in the War
      War Correspondent Alan Wood typing a dispatch in a wood outside Arnhem; September 18, 1944, Public Domain

      War correspondence has a fascinating history. The Roman general Julius Caesar was the first war correspondent. His short, engagingly written accounts of military victories made him a national hero and propelled his rise to power (Welch, 1998). As a young man in the years between 1895 and 1900, Winston Churchill reported on wars in Cuba, India, the Sudan, and South Africa (Read, 2015).

      The only Black war correspondent for a major newspaper at the time of the Civil War, Thomas Morris Chester reported on the activities of African American troops during the final year of the war in Virginia for the Philadephia Press (Blackett, 1991). Morris had been a recruiter for the 54th Massachusetts regiment - the first unit of African American soldiers in the North during the Civil War.

      Women correspondents have played essential roles in documenting the events of war. At the end of August, 1939, British journalist Clare Hollingworth was the first to report the German invasion of Poland that began World War II, what has been called "probably the greatest scoop of modern times" (as cited in Fox, 2017, para. 6). It was her first week on the job (Garrett, 2016).

      America's first female war correspondent was Nellie Bly who covered World War I from the front lines for five years for the New York Evening Journal. Peggy Hull Deuell was the first American woman war correspondent accredited by the U.S. government. Between 1916 and the end of World War II, she sent dispatches from battlefields in Mexico, Europe and Asia.

      For 28 years, Martha Gellhorn covered fighting in the Spanish Civil War, World War II, Vietnam, the Middle East and Central America. Combat photojournalist Dickey Chapelle was the first American female war photographer killed in action in World War II.

      War correspondents and photographers face and sometimes meet death. Ernie Pyle, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his stories about ordinary soldiers during World War II, was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire in 1945. Marie Colvin, who covered wars in Chechnya, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East was killed by the Syrian government shelling in 2012. When asked why she covered wars, Marie Colvin said, “what I write about is humanity in extremis, pushed the unendurable, and that it is important to tell people what really happens in wars—declared and undeclared” (quoted in Schleier, 2018, para. 8). 

      How did the lives and deaths of these two reporters and their commitment to informing others about war reflect the role and importance of a free press in a democratic society?

      Media Literacy Connections: Reporters' Perspectives

      Focus Question: How do the decisions news reporters make influence the way viewers perceive an event? 

      Print and television news reporters make multiple decisions about how they report the events they are covering, including who to interview, which perspective to present, which camera angles to use for capturing footage, and which audio to record. These decisions structure how viewers think about the causes and consequences of events.

      In one notable historical example, historian Rick Perlstein (2020) described how, during the beginning of the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979, ABC News vaulted to the top of the TV news show ratings with its late night broadcasts of "America Held Hostage: The Crisis in Iran" (the show that would soon be renamed Nightline). The network focused on showing images of a burning American flag, embassy employees in blindfolds, Uncle Sam hanged in effigy, and more and more people watched the broadcast. Perlstein (2020) noted, "the images slotted effortlessly into the long-gathering narrative of American malaise, humiliation, and failed leadership" (p. 649) --themes Ronald Reagan would capitalize on during his successful 1980 Presidential campaign.

      Hong Kong protest Admiralty Centre
      "Hong Kong protest Admiralty Centre" by Citobun is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

      Activity 1: How Reporters Report Events

      • Just as the accounts from Marie Colvin, Nellie Bly, and other war correspondents shaped public opinion during the past, photos and videos taken by reporters from today's conflict zones can have a huge influence over how people view and understand those events.
      • Below are the links to two videos taken by two different correspondents covering the same event at the same time - the Hong Kong protests in 2016: 
      • After analyzing the two videos, respond to the following prompts:
        • List three adjectives to describe videos. Your adjectives can be based on your immediate emotional reactions or more technical aspects of the video (editing, type of shots, sound).
        • What is the primary message that each reporter is trying to communicate to the audience about the event?
        • If the goal of a correspondent is to inform the public about an event, which of these correspondents do you think accomplished that goal better? Why?

        Activity 2: How You Might Report an Event

        • Select a recent local, national, or international news event.
        • Find news clips about this event on YouTube.
        • Remix these clips (screen record the clips; add sound/narration/images) to present a different perspective of the event. 
        • After completing the remix, explain the reactions you sought to create through your selection of images, audio, and video.

        Additional Resources: 

        • For Teachers
        • For Students
          • Allsides.com roundup of top weekly stories with articles from across the political spectrum (allsides.com)

        Suggested Learning Activities

          • Write a People's History of a War Reporter
            • Describe the life of Marie Colvin, Ernie Pyle, Dickey Chapelle or another war journalist or photographer and highlight their time spent covering war (see the online resources section below for related information). 
          • Compare and Contrast 
            • How do the lives and jobs of modern war correspondents compare and contrast to those in different historical time periods (i.e. American Revolution, the World War II, Vietnam War).

          • Engage in Civic Action 
            • Design a Public Service Announcement (PSA) video or podcast to convince politicians to provide war correspondents with mental health care support and services once they return from reporting in a war zone.

          Online Resources for War Correspondents

          Standard 7.3 Conclusion

          INVESTIGATE looked at news articles, editorials, political cartoons, Op-Ed commentaries, news photographs, and press conferences as formats where writers and artists report the news and also present their opinions and perspectives on events. ENGAGE explored the roles of war correspondents, using the historical experiences of Marie Colvin (writing 1979 to 2012) and Ernie Pyle (writing 1925 to 1945) as examples. UNCOVER told the stories of two important feminist comic strips drawn by pioneering women cartoonists, Jackie Ormes (writing 1930 to 1956) and Dale Messick (writing 1940 to 1980).