We define radio news as reliable information about current events. However, that’s just the starting point. Many questions arise about facts, truth, and meaning.
Let’s start by understanding human beings. According to Wikipedia, humans exhibit a nearly universal desire to learn and share news, which they satisfy by talking to each other and sharing information. Each person is an anticipatory system. We each contain an internal predictive model about ourselves and our environment. We understand our past, present and possible futures. Some of this anticipation is carried out by our biology and is sub-conscious. Consciously, however, we continuously seek information about our world and predict future activities. This is where news comes in. Simply put, news makes us aware of events which are outside our immediate senses.
Journalism arose from conversations in coffee houses and pubs. At first, people consumed news by asking friends and strangers about what was going on. Eventually, the printing press gave rise to pamphlets, journals and eventually in 1605, newspapers. Print media let us read the news without asking. In the 20th century, radio let us listen and then television enabled us to watch the news. More recently, the Internet supports a search and connect model for news consumption.
Radio journalists strive to do two things. First, they try to get the facts right. Second, they try to help the listener make sense of the facts. In some cases, facts speak for themselves. For example, the weather report might provide a temperature of 20 degrees. We don’t really need an explanation for that. On the other hand, the forecast might mean different things to different people – compare the reaction to a forecast of rain by a farmer versus a sports fan.
So, radio news and all journalism is not just facts; it is stories. A good news story should correspond to the facts (reality) and provide enough information to help you create meaning. Since journalism is a human process, it can never be free of bias. It’s up to you to make sense of facts, even if the media is biased. Unlike facts, finding truth really is a personal process.
A quick word about fake news. A story without real facts is not news. It used to be that people with political agendas stuck to spin, i.e. spinning the story the make the facts fit a biased narrative. Today, we get both spin and made up “facts”. Not a good situation.
Define Radio News as Democracy
At its core, news should not be different across media. Radio news follows the same codes of practice as television and digital news. And these are not much different from the press. One distinguishing feature of radio news used to be immediacy; not so much any more. Another differentiation used to be ability to listen to news while doing other things, such as driving or working.
Unlike social media, we define radio news as curated. Someone else selects, writes, organizes and broadcasts the news stories. Each media has its own curation style – what news to cover and how. Sometimes hard, sometimes soft. Sometimes local, sometimes global. You pick the broadcaster that provides you with the news topics you are interested in. (Although, for me, these are getting harder to find.)
What first defined radio news was providing common information about current events in a very democratic way. Anyone could afford a radio and listen to it. Rich or poor, urban or rural, black or white – everyone heard the same news from Hawaii on the afternoon of December 7, 1941.
We will talk more about radio news codes of practice in a later article. Coming up next, the story of how it all started.