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Rethinking journalism practices

caricature-of-steve3 2When I began my career as a broadcast journalist I followed the standard practices of the time both universal for all news organizations and some specific to broadcast.

Now I’m having second thoughts

Universal standards

 The trinity of fairness, accuracy and balance (FAB) still is a useful discipline for journalists. It demands vigilance in how editors and reporters approach a story, collect information, portray newsmakers and disseminate the final report.

Changing practices

I see little value in interviewing prosecuting attorneys and defense lawyers about the guilt or innocence of individuals on trial. Prosecutors will always claim that the person accused committed the crime. Likewise, the defense will assert that its client did not.

Interviewing spokespersons for each side of a trial remains a good practice for no other reason than to record the occasion when a surprising statement is made. But so rarely do those persons deviate from predictable pronouncements that to use the hackneyed replies is a waste of time. Interview yes, but don’t publish trite answers.

Television reporters always appear on screen either at the beginning of their stories (live shot) or midway through the report (standup bridge). The only reason for this is to demonstrate to viewers that the news organization had one of its journalists at the scene of the event. But too often the location is at a time and place where nothing is happening.

An equally bad practice is the reporter’s obligatory greeting to the news anchor when in fact the journalist is supposed to be telling us the story. It makes us feel as if we’re eves dropping instead of being the intended recipient of the story. This technique should be scrapped.

The insistence of asking interviewees to look at the reporter instead of the camera is a questionable technique. With the increasing use of Skype and Facetime, the interviewees look directly at the screen at us. It’s time for TV photographers to ask newsmakers to do the same thing in taped stories.

Quite simply the business of journalism has changed and effective storytelling devices have evolved. The FAB standard has proved to be an effective tool. But other practices should be filed in a cabinet reserved for quaint but anachronistic implements.

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