!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: 21st-Century Journalism VII

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

21st-Century Journalism VII

I have now finished The Elements of Journalism, the brief book by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel that I introduced in an earlier post. The strength of the book is that its findings and recommendations are based on considerable careful research. The weakness is that in the fast-moving world of media, it does not have enough to say about the explosion of online sources of news and other information. I hasten to add that Kovach and Rosenstiel deserve credit for clearly recognizing the trends in electronic information delivery; the problem is that their book is now five years old.

From amongst the array of suggestions Kovach and Rosenstiel offer for maintaining quality at newspapers, there are a couple I'd like to highlight.

First, an enumeration of "the intellectual principles of the science of reporting":
  1. Never add anything that was not there.

  2. Never deceive the audience.

  3. Be as transparent as possible about your methods and motives. Obviously, being as detailed as possible about sources is a core aspect of this principle.

  4. Rely on your own original reporting. Avoid just passing along what others have reported, without checking yourself.

  5. Exercise humility. "In other words, not only should [reporters] be skeptical of what they see and hear from others, but just as important, they should be skeptical about their abiity to know what it really means."
Second, here's a checklist for accuracy that Kovach and Rosenstiel adopted from David Yarnold, until 2005 executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News. Yarnold offers seven questions for editors to ask about a story prior to publishing it. (Please note that this list is not exhaustive.)
  • Is the lead of the story sufficiently supported?

  • Has someone double-checked, called, or visited all the phone numbers, addresses, or Web addresses in the story? What about names and titles?

  • Is the background material required to understand the story complete?

  • Are all the stakeholders in the story identified, and have representatives from that side been contacted and given a chance to talk?

  • Does the story pick sides or make subtle value judgments? Will some people like this story more than they should?

  • Is anything missing?

  • Are all the quotes accurate and properly attributed, and do they capture what the person really meant?

As we hear more and more how information is becoming a commodity, it is imperative that newspapers with survival aspirations distinguish themselves by adding value. This means maintaining a reputation for reporting clearly and accurately on stories that are distinctive in some way, e.g., stories that are relatively complex, or that involve material in which a newspaper's reporters have deep expertise. For an example of this thinking, see this article from the July 14 edition of the Wall Street Journal.