This weekend’s coverage of the 9/11 anniversary and related political stories had me shaking my head in amazement.
As I was reading tweets, Facebook posts and coverage about Hillary Clinton and her leaving the 9/11 ceremonies early, it struck me (again) how news organizations have changed.
If you’ve been around more than a few years, you remember how it used to be on major stories. We reported what we knew, confirmed and what we could stand by. That did NOT include what we heard via hearsay or rumors or a post by someone we didn’t know. We didn’t guess what happened. We sent reporters or picked up phones to find out.
I hear more and more on local broadcasts a reporter in the field say “unconfirmed reports…” Since when has it become acceptable to air unconfirmed information?
How did we get to this point?
- Many of today’s producers and reporters grew up in the social media world.
- In some shops, the push to post something — anything — just to show they are on top of the story is the priority.
- With streamlined news operations and pressure to fill more air (often with reporters straight to air), there’s a missing editorial process where a script is reviewed and, if necessary, the “facts” are challenged.
- Producers are often the final stop before air. But besides dealing with the actual stories, they are also handling graphics, are responsible for coding the scripts, and they format machine controls in automated control rooms. Actually overseeing story content isn’t always the priority.
- With expanded newscasts, the entire staff is pressured to find content to fill the news hole. Along the way, there’s a missing step: asking, “Is this a story? What do we know? Why is this important?”
To preserve what’s left of already-shredded attitudes toward journalism, we have to stop.
News managers and station managers have to find ways to fix these issues. In some cases, it may mean new processes. In many cases, it may mean you’re not first to report a story and accepting that your priority is being right and credible.
Journalism is supposed make us different than what the guy at the corner posted on Twitter or Facebook. This also means refraining from retweeting or posting content unless it’s from a reputable news organization.
What to do now.
There are two critical questions we must ask of every story : What do we know as facts? How do we know these facts?
A few steps you might consider as you evaluate your process:
- A news manager should be part of the process as a script is reviewed or a reporter prepares for a live shot. A 5-minute investment will not only improve the product but protect your news credibility.
- Producers, when in breaking news mode, should provide the facts to the anchor via the IFB. Rumors or guesses/assumptions from those in the newsroom or something “heard” on the scanner should not reach the anchor desk.
- Anchors should also play a role. They’re the last line of defense. Besides proofing Prompter copy, they can look at stories and ask, “How do we know this?” Being first only counts if you’re right.
This presidential campaign season has led to an even greater mistrust of the media. We see it in our research: some are convinced we all have an agenda. We can’t compete with every tweet or Facebook post. We shouldn’t try! But we can make sure what we report is not unconfirmed or hearsay but based on our reporting – a difference you can even promote.