Identifying indicators of excellence in journalism practice: An Australian experiment

TitleIdentifying indicators of excellence in journalism practice: An Australian experiment
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Green, K. P., J. Cokley, and J. Sykes
Affiliation (1st Author)School of Communication, International Studies and Languages University of South Australia
Section or WGJournalism Research and Education Section
DateThurs 27 June
Slot CodeJRE T3c
Slot Code (Keyword)JRE T3c
Time of Session14:00-15:30
Session TitleCreative Skills vs. Creative Destruction of Journalism Education Theme V: Generic Studies of Journalism
Submission ID6240

At a time when journalism practices are being called to account around the world and the very existence of the mass media is challenged by the rise of social media, quality journalism is seen as a potential saviour of large institutionalised news institutions. Putting aside the question of whether such organisations deserve or need to be saved, this paper investigates the Australian news industry’s own perception of “quality” by examining dominant news values and technical writing quality in Walkley Award-winning journalism. The Walkley Awards – Australia’s version of the Pulitzer Prize for journalism – were instituted in 1956 and have expanded from rewarding only newspaper journalism entries to include all forms of media.   This paper examines winning entries from 1956 to the present in an attempt to define what the industry itself considers to be excellent journalism and to distill the underlying practices that produce award-winning entries. The research sheds light on the kinds of news values that appeal to industry arbiters of excellence, on industry practice with regard to gender equality, and on centres of excellence within Australia’s journalism community, as well as highlighting technical aspects of writing quality through measures such as reading ease scales (we use two readability scales – the Flesch Reading Ease scale and the Flesch-Kincaid Readability scale).   As journalism educators, it is important to know what the news industry considers quality journalism and the practices it encourages and supports to achieve those ends. A technical as well as philosophical understanding is required if educators are to be able to recommend or discourage those practices in their students. With that in mind, we posed the following research questions:   Research questions:  RQ1: What indicators of excellence are evident in a longitudinal study of Walkley-award winning articles?                 RQ1.1: How can these be systematized into a framework which can be learned and improved?                 RQ1.2: How can these be leveraged to improve learning outcomes among university journalism students?                 RQ1.3: How can these be leveraged to improve sustainable revenue opportunities for journalists and publishers?   A detailed inspection of the award-winning entries produced a dataset that highlighted trends and anomalies over the period. In a nutshell, the vast majority of winners were male; very few winners wrote short, although almost all wrote concisely; most wrote for an audience with an average reading age of 14 years; the news values of conflict, novelty and timeliness were dominant; and while it was possible to win writing in passive voice, the winners were predominantly active-voice articles.   The researchers conclude there are clear implications for journalism education, including a re-examination of the validity of the inverted pyramid writing model. The results, especially with regard to news values and the invisibility of News of Consequence , may call into question the industry’s own claim to moral authority through application of the Fourth Estate function. This is the focus of further research.

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