The use of time and form indicators in news reporting: some lessons from reporting on BSE in the UK

Samantha Lay (University of Bedfordshire, UK)

In the Internet age, and in a country with a Freedom of Information Act, citizens have access to an extraordinary range of materials generated by the agencies of the state. So how might journalists respond to an increasingly information-savvy public, some of whom might feel that they no longer need the services of professional journalists? Is it time for a re-evaluation of certain journalistic conventions? Rather than providing answers to the who, what, why, where, when, and how questions, some journalistic conventions actually militate against such provisions. This paper focuses on the use of two specific journalistic conventions in news reporting: time indicators (when something occurred), and form indicators (how the journalist came to know about what had occurred). The paper draws on research conducted on the reporting of BSE in the UK’s national daily press. It will argue that in news reports on BSE in 1990 and 2004, issues of time and form were obfuscated to conceal the routine ways in which news was disseminated. This suited journalists and official sources. However, this paper also demonstrates that in 1996 – when the news of a link between BSE and variant CJD in humans was announced to Parliament – journalists used time and form indicators differently, and with real accuracy and precision. Does this suggest that rigorous, open journalism only surfaces during times of national crisis? What lessons can be learned from the uses of time and form indicators in the case of BSE reporting? And how might such lessons contribute towards a better journalism?

Timing - Saturday - Panel Session E1
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