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Ferguson: a journalist's questions

A journalist who makes her living writing copy for advertisements sent an email today that asked some interesting questions:

"I've been paying close attention to the Michael Brown case and Ferguson. I don't want to comment on right or wrong or the details of the case itself, but more on the role of the media throughout.

"It became clear in those first few hours after Michael Brown was killed that "witnesses"—in some sense of the word—were using social media to offer up what they saw ... or heard ... or what they thought they knew. News outlets picked up on this quickly, because of course, time is of the essence. But I can't help but to wonder if a 24-hour news cycle is ruining the integrity of the journalism industry.

"Reporters and casual users of social media grasp at straws to write stories in the name of timeliness and competition for readership, but at what cost? It seems to cause a new brand of ruthlessness, bias, sensationalism and costs a person's and organization's integrity. As an editor, where would you draw the line between being timely while also providing a cohesive, honest story? What do you teach in those regards?

"These are all questions stemming from curiosity—not only from the Michael Brown case, but in the hopes of somehow improving the industry someday. I never was very good at getting my internal journalist to be quiet—even as an ad copywriter."

My long-worded response can be boiled down to two ideas:
1. Be first with the story, be correct, and be credible.
2. If being first endangers being correct and credible, then don't be first. Get it right first.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 27th, 2014 05:40 am (UTC)
I may have said this before, in which case stop reading:

A few years ago Bill Clinton was doing a press conference or speech - can't remember which - and the subject of media accuracy came up. He was speaking with a reporter who admitted their priority was being FIRST, which in this 24/7 world of news coverage trumps being accurate. Unfortunately.
Nov. 27th, 2014 02:21 pm (UTC)
People who watch, read and hear their news and actually think about it tend to gravitate away from unreliable media. I go to the NYT first every morning, but when there's a particularly big breaking story, I go next to The Guardian (U.K.) for a different perspective. I need to work Al Jazeera into that list too. NPR is bookmarked; so is BBC.

Unfortunately, too many people are willing to get their news *from any source*, regardless of how unethical those sources are. These are the folks who keep all of those cheesy news "sources" in business. They don't recognize the rightward slant of FOX, or the leftward tilt of MNNBC.

I almost just started writing about what a joke the phrase "liberal media" is, but have to stop or I'll start pounding the keyboard. Anyone who uses that phrase and believes it is not qualified to discuss the media rationally.

Dec. 1st, 2014 06:16 pm (UTC)
"The media" is largely responsible for the widespread outrage over this case. Most people who are outraged do not know a thing about the evidence the grand jury reviewed, much of which was not reported in "the media". This is comparable to the OJ Simpson case - so many people couldn't believe he was acquitted, but if you read about the evidence, the way it was handled, and what REALLY happened, not what was just reported, there truly was reasonable doubt from a legal standpoint. Here, the grand jury, who saw ALL the evidence, found there wasn't enough evidence to indict. The prosecutor was smart to convene the grand jury - it wasn't a one person call.
Dec. 7th, 2014 11:59 pm (UTC)
The grand jury process was flawed. The prosecutor simply dumped all of the evidence in the grand jury's lap so that either way, he could claim, "Not my fault."

Much as it pains my liberal heart to say it, there was doubt about what happened in Ferguson. As to what really happened, only the shooter and God know for sure.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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