A good journalist is not a passive participant in the news process but a constantly active inquirer, in pursuit of truthful accounts that inform important occurrences. In the arduous tasks of chronicling events, assisting the masses to make informed choices, keeping those in authority in check as the people's watchdog, or even rallying society towards important public agendas, a journalist unwilling to probe and ask pertinent questions is doomed to come up with a mediocre or substandard report.
And many media practitioners will probably agree that the surest way of churning out outstanding reportage is through a deliberate attempt to ask as many relevant questions as possible, to either have issues clarified, get statements by news sources substantiated and even get to uncover fresh angles in a story. Journalists who opt to take the lazy approach of just relaying to the audience who said or did what, when, where, why and how not only reduce themselves to mechanical appendages but also negate the very essence of helping the public understand the significance of news items. The, 'so what' question now increasingly has to be responded to by journalists, with the move towards interpretational reporting getting entrenched in many a newsroom.
This analytical approach should not to be mistaken to be a deliberate attempt to infuse personal opinions, beliefs, attitudes or biases in a new story. Rather, it is a premeditated decision by a journalist to endeavor to always provide depth and value addition to a given story, either by drawing correlations that create new perspectives, or capturing the views of experts to help with the understanding of issues and raising other areas of concern that are pertinent to the issue at hand.
But if a reporter, for example, goes back to the newsroom to prepare a story, straight after coming from a press conference, where no questions were asked, in the false belief that all the journalistic ingredients are present, at best, the end product will be a shallow depiction of the subject matter, devoid of crucial insights or substantive interrogation of the issues.
And tied to the inability to ask relevant questions is the tell-tale sign of an ill-prepared journalist on a given assignment. It is indicative of a lack of serious research into the subject matter or even a background check into related issues. It is rather appalling for a journalist to entirely base their copy on the issues raised by other colleagues attending the same function, granted that it is not always a guarantee that everybody will be accorded a chance to ask a question. But effort should be made to engage a news source whenever the chance presents itself, other than allowing the, 'are there any more questions,' window to go begging.
This however does open the door to other journalists from competing media houses to get an inkling as to the news angle being fronted and increases the likelihood of all channels carrying similar content. But the astute or more seasoned reporters seek private interviews after a function, which many a times yield exclusive angles.
The mark of a great and outstanding journalist is therefore in many ways hinged on the ability to ask questions.