21st-Century Journalism VIII 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":
- Never add anything that was not there.
- Never deceive the audience.
- 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.
- Rely on your own original reporting. Avoid just passing along what others have reported, without checking yourself.
- 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."
- 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.