The Information Hierarchy and Concentric Circles of Sources - American Press Institute (2023)

You can categorize the information you have into a series of concentric circles.

The innermost circle is the information you know firsthand. You stand on the corner and see a dump truck go through a traffic light and hit a bus.

The next circle is the information you have second-hand. They're drinking coffee at a sidewalk cafe and someone runs for help, saying they just saw a truck hit a bus.

The outermost circle is third-hand information. You're in the newsroom and you get a call from someone in the coffee shop saying they heard a truck hit a bus.

Most of the information edited by journalists is in the second or third circle. But most facts fall into the first inner circle, usually from a participant, an eyewitness, or physical evidence.

This does not mean that the narrowest perspective is the truest or even the most accurate. Eyewitness descriptions of suspects, for example, are often unreliable. Also, integrating a journalist into a train doesn't necessarily convey the true picture of a major war.

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But failing to find and verify basic facts is equally problematic. Bad facts create inaccurate assumptions. In the information hierarchy, a story based on inaccurate assumptions will eventually collapse.

With each concentric circle of information advancing, your guard must be higher and higher for verification.

Basically, it boils down to a hierarchy of information. What comes closest to an eyewitness account is factually better than what is secondhand.

Case study: The making of Gabby Giffords

The concentric circles and the best sources for the most accurate facts will likely change throughout history. Sometimes it can happen very quickly, in minutes or hours, while other stories can happen over a period of days or even weeks.

For example, in the first hours after a gunman shot dead Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others, six of whom died, at a constituent meeting in January 2011 in a suburb of Tucson, there were at least three separate sets of concentric circles.

The first set of circles was on site, a parking lot across from a supermarket. The people closest to the event, the participants and eyewitnesses, provided the most accurate accounts of what really happened (there are surveillance camera footage, but they have never been released).

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They saw the gunman shoot Giffords and then the crowd seemingly at random. Witnesses said the gunman stopped to reload but dropped the loaded magazine onto the sidewalk, where a passer-by grabbed it. Meanwhile, another passer-by hit the attacker on the back of the head with a folding chair. Then a 74-year-old retired army colonel, also wounded, knocked the gunman to the ground and others swarmed over the man until police arrived. An intern on Gifford's staff put pressure on the gunshot wound to her forehead, making sure she wasn't choking on blood while a married doctor and nurse went shopping at a nearby store to triage and treat the most seriously injured.

These descriptions were lively, emotional and very personal. Accounts of participants at the center of a concentric circle are often intense and narrowly focused, limited to what they saw, felt, and did.

A clerk at a nearby store saw nothing, but said he heard "15 to 20 gunshots."

The first reporter to arrive was Peter Michaels, news director for the local NPR affiliate, who had been alerted by his wife, who was shopping at a nearby store.

Michaels got close enough to see "at least five bodies, adult bodies, strewn on the sidewalk in front of the store under the Gabrielle Giffords Congress on your Corner sign. I saw the congresswoman slumped in a corner with an apparent gunshot wound to the head. She was bleeding from her face. She wore a red dress. Seconds later they placed her on the stretcher. According to Michael's report, NPR was the first national news organization to publish breaking news.

During the first hour of filming, information came from sources near the concentric circle of the crime scene. The details revolved around "what," "when," and "where": specific facts that were usually accurately reported.

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But then the story shifted to another place, the hospital where doctors were desperately working to save Gifford's life. This second concentric circle was in an operating room and the best sources - its doctors and the next of kin and staff the doctors can talk to - could not be reached.

Thus, news organizations are beginning to trust sources at the farthest reaches of the circle, in one notable case a few thousand miles away. They also recycled sources from the scene of the shooting and began speculating based on eyewitness accounts that Giffords was seriously injured, perhaps fatally.

An hour after the shooting, NPR incorrectly reported that Giffords was dead.

Other news organizations picked up the bulletin and repeated it on air and online, most citing NPR. Fox News and CNN went a step further, saying they "agree" with NPR's story from their own sources.

So what happened? Afteran account by Alice Shepard, according to NPR's Ombudsman, editors are beginning to rely on second- and third-hand sources. In other words, information coming from people too far from the center of the concentric circle, or the wrong circle altogether.

One report came from a local NPR reporter (not Peter Michaels) citing "Pima County Sheriff's sources." The other was an unnamed person at a congressional bureau who was contacted by an NPR congressional correspondent and "confirmed" Giffords was dead.

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So Shepard said, "NPR had two sources, although neither was identified in any way and should have been identified." Additionally, "a key question for each source was, 'How do you know that?' It turns out that none of the sources had accurate first-hand information. A congressional source heard this at a meeting on Capitol Hill where rumors and half-truths were undoubtedly circulating."

Shepard quotes local NPR reporter Mark Moran as saying his information came from "law enforcement sources, another reporter from his news organization, and very old reports on" "I was very confident in the two sources that I had, but unfortunately those sources depended on other sources, almost like a cell phone tag game," Moran said.

An hour and a half after the shooting, the hospital confirmed that Giffords was operating but alive, so doctors and her husband informed reporters.

As the story progressed, the shooter and the police became involved in a third concentric circle. Who was the suspect and were others involved? What were your motives? What physical evidence was there? Why could this happen? And could anything have been done to prevent or mitigate the slaughter?

The most credible sources for this third phase of the story were police investigators and prosecutors, who were more readily available to journalists. As long as they withheld some information, they could at least confirm or deny what reporters heard from others or found out for themselves.

Over time, this third set of concentric circles became institutionalized, even codified, in the trial at which the suspect was found fit to stand trial, eventually pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of a trial. Parole.

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No doubt other concentric circles can be found in this example. However, the point is the same for all of them. The people closest to the center of the concentric circle probably have the best "dates" for that phase of history. However, as the story progresses, the circles change and so do the best sources of facts.

This guide, like many others in API's Journalism Fundamentals section, draws heavily on the research and teaching of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, a consortium of reporters, editors, producers, editors, owners, and academics that has facilitated discussion for the past 10 years . among thousands of journalists about what they did, how they did it and why it mattered. The author, Walter Dean, was CCJ training leader and former API CEO Tom Rosenstiel, who previously served as committee co-chair.


What is hierarchy of information in journalism? ›

In the hierarchy of information, a story that rests on inaccurate assumptions will eventually collapse. So with each concentric circle of information you move outward, your guard needs to be ever higher for verification. Basically, it comes down to a hierarchy of information.

What are the 4 types of journalism? ›

  • Broadcast Journalism.
  • Photo Journalism.
  • Public Relations and Advertising.
  • Media Arts.
  • Radio, TV, and Digital Broadcasting.
  • Communication and Media Studies.
  • General Journalism.
  • Digital/Online Journalism.

Which of these is the definition of journalism coming from the American Press Institute? ›

Journalism is the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information.

How would you explain the information hierarchy? ›

The hierarchy of information is a universal design principle that should be used in all forms of design, including e-Learning design. By definition, it is the arrangement of elements or content on a page/screen in such a way that it reveals an order of importance (either ascending or descending).

What are the 4 levels of hierarchy? ›

They are four levels to management, Entry-Level, Mid-Level, Senior, and Executive. Each group has different responsibilities, and these levels can vary from one company to the next.

What are the 4 C's in journalism? ›

The 4 C's of journalism: Creativity, curiosity, commitment and compassion — Rebecca Aguilar, the first Latina president of the Society of Professional Journalists, shares her story.

What are the 3 C's of journalistic writing? ›

BBC newsreader, Huw Edwards, explains the three Cs of news writing: being clear, concise and correct. Writing scripts and news stories also means understanding that you need to get straight to the point; there's no point in having an amazing news stroy but leaving the most important fact to the last sentence.

What are the 5 W's in journalism? ›

They include Who, What, When Where, and Why. The 5 Ws are often mentioned in journalism (cf. news style), research, and police investigations. They constitute a formula for getting the complete story on a subject.

What are 3 of the main elements of journalism? ›

Journalism's first obligation is to the truth; Journalism's first loyalty is to citizens; The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification; Journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover; Journalists must serve as independent monitors of power; Journalism must provide a forum for public ...

What are the 4 rules of journalism ethics? ›

The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.
  • Seek Truth and. Report It. ...
  • Minimize Harm. ...
  • Act Independently. ...
  • Be Accountable and Transparent.
Sep 6, 2014

What are the 7 important parts of journalistic writing? ›

7 Simple Steps for Journalistic Writing
  • Find a Worthy Subject. One of the main goals with journalistic writing is finding a topic that people care about. ...
  • The Interview. Journalistic writing is generally not about the writer's opinion. ...
  • The Write-Up. ...
  • The Lead. ...
  • The Body. ...
  • The Conclusion. ...
  • Finding the Perfect Title.
Jul 7, 2014

What is the purpose of journalism American Press Institute? ›

Though it may be interesting or even entertaining, the foremost value of news is as a utility to empower the informed. The purpose of journalism is thus to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.

What are the 4 main journalists roles? ›

Media scholars have primarily assessed journalistic role perceptions through the survey method. We propose conceptual and operational definitions for four role enactments observable through content analysis: dissemination, interpretative, adversarial, and mobilization.

Is there a difference between a reporter and a journalist? ›

Key Differences Between Journalists and Reporters

Some of these differences include: Scope of work: Journalists often cover a wide range of stories and work across various media formats, while reporters tend to concentrate on collecting and disseminating news.

What is the correct order of the information hierarchy? ›

Like other hierarchy models, the Knowledge Pyramid has rigidly set building blocks – data comes first, information is next, then knowledge follows and finally wisdom is on the top.

What are the important levels of information hierarchy? ›

There are 6 important components of an information system: people, procedures, software, hardware, networks and data.

What is the purpose of hierarchy? ›

The basic function of a hierarchy is to allow us to make sense of the world, simplify information, and make decisions. Think of it in an evolutionary sense: Back in prehistoric days, when someone said, “Throw the spear now to take down the mammoth,” it was essential to recognize their leadership.

What are the 3 types of hierarchy? ›

The three main organizational structures are Hierarchical, Sequential, and Matrix.

How many types of hierarchy are there? ›

Two types of containment hierarchies are the subsumptive containment hierarchy and the compositional containment hierarchy. A subsumptive hierarchy "subsumes" its children, and a compositional hierarchy is "composed" of its children. A hierarchy can also be both subsumptive and compositional.

What are the 4 C's and how are they practiced? ›

Critical thinking teaches students to question claims and seek truth. Creativity teaches students to think in a way that's unique to them. Collaboration teaches students that groups can create something bigger and better than you can on your own. Communication teaches students how to efficiently convey ideas.

What do the 4 C's stand for? ›

Four simple rules that will help you to stay safe from food-borne illnesses in the kitchen: Cleaning. Cooking. Cross contamination. Chilling.

What does the 4 C's stands for in order? ›

Do you know what they are? Communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity are considered the four c's and are all skills that are needed in order to succeed in today's world.

What are the 3 channels of journalism? ›

In general, television is believed to be the most influential medium in this country, followed by newspapers, radio and magazines. ^ Each of these media are believed to possess specific advantages and disadvantages.

What are the 3 principles of writing? ›

We offer three principles—storytelling, authenticity and argument—to help writers envision the story they will tell, select the data as evidence for that story and integrate quotations to guide the reader's interpretation.

What are the 4 features of journalistic writing? ›

The hallmarks of journalistic writing are:
  • Simplicity and Brevity.
  • Precision.
  • Objectivity and Factual.
  • Fairness and Balance.
  • Inverted Pyramid.

What do the 5 W's stand for? ›

One of the best practices for writers is to follow "The 5Ws" guideline, by investigating the Who, What, Where, When and Why of a story.

What are the six types of questions journalists ask? ›

Journalists are likely to ask six questions in a crisis (who, what, where, when, why, how) that relate to three broad topics: (1) what happened; (2) What caused it to happen; (3). What does it mean.

What are the 5 journalistic values? ›

  • Truth and Accuracy. “Journalists cannot always guarantee 'truth' but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle of journalism. ...
  • Independence. ...
  • Fairness and Impartiality. ...
  • Humanity. ...
  • Accountability.

What are the 5 principles of ethical journalism so important? ›

Five ethical principles for journalists — Truth and Accuracy, Independence, Fairness and Impartiality, Humanity, and Accountability — that compliance professionals can live by.

What are the 7 principles of journalism? ›

While various codes may differ in the detail of their content and come from different cultural traditions, most share common elements including the principles of truthfulness, accuracy and fact-based communications, independence, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, respect for others and public accountability, as ...

What does hierarchy mean in media? ›

It comprises five levels of influence on media content from the macro to micro levels: social systems, social institutions, media organizations, routine practices, and individuals. This framework was introduced in their book Mediating the Message: Theories of Influences on Mass Media Content.

What does hierarchy mean in communication? ›

Hierarchical communication is defined as the exchanges of information and influences the organization's members, because there is any involvement between one and another, manager and employees in formal organization.

What is hierarchy in writing? ›

Hierarchy refers to the chronological order in which each of these elements should be addressed when helping writers revise, not the weight or degree of importance of each element.

What does it mean to use hierarchy of information in a book cover? ›

Keep it small. The hierarchy (order of priority) of important elements goes like this, then: Title, Author's Name, Sub-title, Publisher's Name. How do you emphasize the important elements? Use colors that stand out from the background, large text, and creative fonts.


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