Reviews of The News Manual

The following reviews was written by Peter Lomas in the Pacific Islands News Association's magazine Pina Nius, published in Suva, Fiji, in July 1991.


If you're a young journalist in Tarawa struggling to write an intro, help is at hand. If you're an experienced reporter in Port Moresby wondering how to begin an investigative reporting project, help is at hand. If you're an editor in Nuku'alofa struggling with ethical issues, help is at hand.

The helping hand comes it the form of The News Manual, a three-volume training book for journalists which has just been published. It is being distributed to newsrooms throughout the region by Pacjourn, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's Pacific Journalism Training and Development of the Print Media project.

Pacjourn helped fund the book, which is written by Pacjourn's coordinator, Peter Henshall, and a former colleague from the University of Papua New Guinea's journalism programme, David Ingram. It provides a lasting legacy from the successful Pacjourn project, which is closing because of difficulties getting more funding from Europe.

Why did Henshall and Ingram write The News Manual and why is it already being rated the best training manual yet for Pacific Islands journalists?

"This book was born out of a fruitless search, back in 1985, for the right textbook for our journalism students at the University of Papua New Guinea," the pair write in their preface. Since those days Henshall and Ingram have moved on to new jobs. Henshall, a British journalist and journalism educator, was recruited to launch and run Pacjourn, something he has done energetically for the past two years. Ingram is now a freelance writer in Australia, where he also teaches journalism to ethnic minority groups.

The pair add: "We still hope that the book will be useful for journalism students, but we also intend it to be used b working journalists and by other people in the media, such as non-news broadcasters, information officers, and advertisers. We have aimed the book at people for whom English is not a first language, and especially at people living and working in developing and less developed countries.

"One of the main advantages of this book, we hope, is that it is written in clear language, designed for second language users. We have also tried to place all examples within a cultural context which is not Western." All the examples are drawn from the Pacific Islands. "We also try to tell the reader how to do something, step by step," Henshall and Ingram add.

Travelled the region

Henshall is the best known of the authors. As Pacjourn's coordinator, he constantly travelled the region running training programmes, providing equipment for small, struggling publications, and sending senior journalists on study tours. Pacjourn covered 13 countries and territories and Henshall is known in the newspaper and magazine newsrooms of all.

He was not always popular and never sought to be. He had little time for those who viewed training as just another opportunity for a trip overseas, as one government publication found to its cost. When one of its people travelled to a regional course then missed most sessions, it found it had to explain why to Henshall and tell him what it was doing to ensure it did not happen again. Only then would Henshall consider it for any more Pacjourn activity. Henshall also resisted efforts by government broadcasters to get themselves on Pacjourn trips. Broadcasters were already well catered for by the Pacific Islands Broadcasting Association's German-funded Pacbroad project, he said. Pacjourn was for the print media and that was where its resources were going. What Henshall did seek was for Pacjourn to make a difference, through providing the equipment and training for Pacific Islanders to produce better newspapers and magazines.

The News Manual continues that work, but also includes radio and television journalism. This is obviously where Ingram's expertise comes to the fore, for he has worked as a broadcaster in both Britain and Australia. The manual's three volumes are titled: basic techniques, advanced reporting, and ethics and the law.

That journalist in Tarawa struggling with an intro should turn to page 30 of volume one. There he or she will be told what makes the perfect intro ("Based on the most newsworthy aspect of the story ... short, uncluttered and relevant to the main story ... simple grammatically .., make the reader want to read the rest of the story ... appropriate in style to the story"). Then he or she will be taken step by step through the writing of different types of intros, using Pacific Islands examples.

That investigative reporter in Port Moresby should turn to page 116 of volume two. Listed there are some of the reasons societies need investigative reporting.

  • People have a right to know about the society in which they live. They have a right to know about decisions which may affect them, even if people in power want to keep them secret.
  • People in power - whether in government, the world of commerce, or any other group in society - can abuse that power. They can be corrupt, steal money, break laws, and do all sorts of things which harm other people. They might just be incompetent and unable to do their job properly. They will usually try to keep this knowledge secret. Journalists try to expose such abuse.
  • Journalists also have a duty to watch how well people in power perform their jobs, especially those who have been elected to public office. Journalists should constantly ask whether such people are keeping their election promises. Politicians and others who are not keeping their promises may try to hide the fact; journalists should try to expose it.

Then the would-be investigative reporter is taken step by step through the techniques of investigative reporting - and some of the legal and ethical problems an investigative journalist could face.

That editor in Nuku'alofa should have volume three by the side. It runs the gamut of legal and ethical issues with chapters on: fact and opinion; fairness; pressures on journalists; sources of information; taste and bad taste; privacy and public interest; introduction to the law; court reporting; privilege; contempt and defamation.

Advice from page 38: “Sometimes, executives in companies or government departments will devote a lot of time and energy to making you into their friend. They may take you out for meals, buy you drinks, invite you to their home. Beware of this. If it is genuine friendship, there may be no problem; but it may be an attempt to win your loyalty. It is as bad to run a story which is just a free advertisement, or to suppress bad news, as a favour to a friend, as it is to do the same thing in return for a bribe."

Throughout The News Manual the reader, whether the trainee in Tarawa, the investigative reporter in Port Moresby, or the editor in Nuku'alofa, is left in no doubt what Henshall and Ingram believe is the best way. As they say at the beginning: "There are some parts of the book where we take a firm stand on matters which are open to various opinions. We make no apology for this. The purpose of this book is to get journalists started and to build up their professional skills. It does not seem to us to be helpful at this stage to introduce many different possibilities. This is more likely to confuse the reader than to enrich them."

Confuse Pacific Islands readers is something The News Manual is unlikely to do. Enrich skills and standards is something it will.

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Reviews of The News Manual
  1. Pina Nius
  2. Australian Journalism Review
  3. Catholic Media Council
  4. Assoc. Professor David Robie
  5. Pacific Media Centre blogspot
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