Q&A with Karen McIntyre sheds light on reporting beyond breaking news

There’s been a gradual increase in stories that look beyond the immediate aftermath of an event or tragedy. Journalist Eli Saslow, for instance has written about the lasting effects of gun violence on a community members. Rather than focusing on the violent act itself, Saslow’s reporting puts focus on the survivor, not the offender, of a mass shooting. This type of storytelling fosters a deeper understanding of a community beyond breaking news.

Yet, “despite the increase of this type of news, there is scant academic literature on these genres of reporting and what this increase may mean for journalism,” Nicole Dahmen, a Researcher and Assistant Professor of Visual Communication at University of Oregon, told ivoh.

We recently published a story about the research study Dahmen collaborated on with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Karen McIntyre, and the University of Oregon’s Jesse Abdenour. The study sheds light on journalists’ attitudes toward the Restorative Narrative genre, Solutions Journalism, Constructive Journalism and other means of reporting beyond breaking news.

For the study, which we published a story about, Dahmen and her colleagues surveyed a national sample of more than 1,300 daily print/online newspaper journalists to learn about their attitudes toward specific emerging contextual genres that go beyond breaking news.
According to Dahmen, the survey results show that “journalists highly value professional roles associated with contextual reporting (such as being socially responsible) and that they were largely supportive of reporting beyond breaking news.” And, while some of the journalists the team surveyed were not entirely familiar with the specific genre names, “they expressed positive attitudes toward these genres and experience with the genres after being presented definitions,” Dahmen said.

We recently interviewed (via email) the study’s lead author, Karen McIntyre, to learn more about reporting beyond breaking news:

Gloria Muñoz:  According to the research, what does the rise of contextual reporting indicate?

Karen McIntyre: A rise in contextual reporting indicates a shift away from the traditional detached journalist who isn’t concerned with the effects of his or her work and toward the more active, participatory journalist who cares very much about the effects of his or her news stories. This shift shows that today’s journalists (in the U.S. at least) care about acting socially responsible. Potentially, a rise in socially responsible reporting could mitigate some of the negative effects of negative news.

Muñoz: Did any of the journalists you spoke with discuss best practices for finding support to pursue stories that may require long-term reporting?

McIntyre: We did not speak with any journalists, as our study was an online survey. However, it’s important to recognize that not all contextual news stories require more time or resources to report and write. Journalists can practice contextual reporting by developing constructive story ideas. For example, when developing stories, instead of asking, “Who has a conflict?” or “What has been lost,?” journalists can ask themselves, “Who has collaborated?” or “Who is working toward a solution to a certain problem?” or “What has been gained?” This type of shifting mindset can inherently add context to a newsworthy issue.

Muñoz: Could you expand on the survey results, which indicate that journalists highly value professional roles associated with contextual reporting?

McIntyre: Existing research has shown that journalists tend to view their jobs in certain ways. For example, some journalists view themselves as disseminators — detached observers collecting information and passing it on to the public. Other journalists tend to view themselves as having more of an interpretive role, analyzing information for the public. Researchers determine these classifications by asking journalists what roles they most value. For example, disseminators highly value roles such as “getting information to the public quickly” and “verifying information,” whereas interpreters highly value roles such as “investigating government claims” and “providing analysis of complex problems.”

What we found is that some journalists highly value roles such as “acting socially responsible” and “contributing to society’s well being.” These roles represent the values inherent in contextual or constructive reporting, which call for journalists to consider society’s best interest when making journalistic decisions in an effort to contribute to a healthier public climate. Our findings suggest that many journalists in the U.S. value these types of roles, which is encouraging for proponents of contextual reporting or similar forms of journalism such as constructive journalism, solutions journalism, or restorative narrative. Further, we found that younger journalists and female journalists especially valued these forms of journalism.

Muñoz: What advice could you offer reporters who are interested in reporting beyond breaking news?

McIntyre: Journalists who are interested in reporting beyond breaking news can maintain relationships with their sources from breaking new events and follow up with them after the immediate impact, be that a natural disaster, crime, or something else. These types of follow-up pieces tell a more thorough story — one that often includes themes of resilience, recovery or restoration, leaving the reader feeling hopeful and inspired and thus mitigating some of the negative effects of reading negative news. Additionally, reporters can ask their sources future-oriented questions. In other words, in addition to including the details about the current event, reporters can ask, “What next?” This type of question can push the conversation forward, often facilitating a more constructive conversation.

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