The newswriting process : a protocol analysis case study of three practicing journalists

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Pitts, Beverley J.,|d1942-
Birkel, Lane F.
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Thesis (D. Ed.)
Department of Secondary, Higher, and Foundations of Education
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The general purpose of this study was to gather data to describe the newswriting process as conducted by three practicing journalists. Protocol analysis was employed as the primary research tool. Verbal protocols require subjects to "think out loud" as they compose; the writing sessions are tape recorded.Three reporters who covered news daily were selected by their editors for the study. In the first protocol session the subjects wrote from sets of news facts. The second and third protocol sessions were conducted in the newsroom. All three reporters composed at least one szcry at the video display terminal. The protocol transcripts, interviews, notes from the stories, and the completed stories provided the data for analysis. A coding scheme was prepared which isolated and labeled activities of the newswriting process.Findings indicated that the selection and writing of the lead was the most time-consuming task,that the writers wrote in a patterned sequence, that they concerned themselves with -small units rather than the story as a whole, and that no overall goals or evaluations for the story were made. In addition, the writers showed evidence of recursiveness in their writing, and they had difficulty writing when the information for the story was not from their own newsgathering process.A major conclusion was that the lead writing task was the most important act the writer performed because the selection of the lead determined the direction of the entire story; the lead selecting and writing had to take place before any other writing could be completed. The story was organized as it was written, not planned in advance. Editing was an integral part of the writing process, not a separate act of refining. Memory was the writer's most important tool for obtaining information during the writing process; notes provided cues for initiating a more detailed recall of the incident. The newsgathering and news writing tasks were so closely related that they could not easily be separated. The writers planned and wrote one sentence at a time by orchestrating a complex set of activities all directed at the immediate task at hand.