May 26, 2017
I think a lot about the weight of public trust in journalism. Under all the headlines and cool people and important stories, giving the public trustworthy information is what a news agency is supposed to be doing.
Whenever I end up covering a story that everyone else is doing, I’m reminded that not all news outlets understand the value of conscientiousness in news-telling. Yesterday was a good example.
In a nutshell (you can read the whole story here), the issue centered around a young black woman and a white police officer. There was an accusation of racism from the woman and a corresponding denial from the police.
Rumors fly with rather heroic speeds when incidents like this come out. And doubtless, a story with these kinds of elements needs to be covered.
I’m proud of the way the story was handled at my station (which, for the record, is about two miles from the place the incident occurred). My editor, Mark Haslett, did the heavy lifting, getting the arrest record and statements from at least the city. My attempts to get a comment from the woman’s attorney did not happen before airtime.
Together, we went over the story about a dozen times, honing down what we knew versus what we’d been told via social media outlets, people tapped into the local rumor mill, and, most upsettingly, from news agencies that had been covering the story all day.
Turns out what we actually knew was very little, but what we were hearing was quite something else.
My daily newscasts don’t occur until dinnertime, which meant we had some time to get the story in perspective before we went on the air. But as we zeroed in on deadline, we realized we hadn’t confirmed much of anything. Answers had not come in as quickly as needed and Mark was still putting the story together a few minutes before my first newscast was set to run at 4:32 Central.
And then Mark made the decision to not include the story in the first newscast, because it wasn’t verified yet. Rather than rush a story full of suppositions, the decision was to keep working on it and have it right and ready for the 5:32 newscast. Neither of us wanted to put out the wrong information. So we paused and to make sure we had it right before we opened our mouths.
Is this entry a little self-congratulatory? Sure. But every now and then, you do something you’re proud of.
But far more than being a self-stroke, this entry is my way of reminding everyone who likes to make “the media” out to be the most petulant of boogeymen that there are plenty of conscientious journalists out there like Mark, who would rather keep silent until he has the real story than simply feed the beast that thrives on controversial content.
Maybe you can’t believe everything you hear on the radio or read online. But you can believe there are plenty of reporters out there who take the public trust seriously and who understand their role in responsible journalism.