Wick Communications

You are there? Or are you?

In journalism, Uncategorized on 30 Apr 2010 at 9:06 am

At the recent Wick publishers’ conference, a couple of us were talking about watching meetings remotely, which made me think a bit about datelines and the entire question of how we let readers know where information comes from.

By “watching remotely,” I mean watching a meeting or game or whatever in some fashion other than in person with your own eyes. These days it’s possible to watch legislative action – even at the local level – on the Web in real time. Reporting that way is pretty much like watching the big game on television and then filing your report.

That isn’t traditionally how we have conducted journalism.

Having said that, I’m not sure why you couldn’t watch the council meeting back at your desk and then report on what you saw. For better or worse, sports columnists do this all the time these days. How many of the sports columnists who reported on the recent Tiger Woods situation do you suppose were actually at his coming-out press conference? Almost none of them.

I think such remote reporting is OK, within certain guidelines…

First and foremost, be honest with readers. That means you can’t use a WASHINGTON, D.C. dateline on your copy unless you are in Washington, D.C. The AP Stylebook seems to give a little wiggle room on this point, but I think readers associate that dateline with a reporter on the ground in the city mentioned.

When practical, I would also make note somehow that you are watching a feed rather than watching the action live. I think that can be subtle. For instance, a sports columnist might note in the middle of his story, “Woods looked directly into the camera and appealed to his fans…” Something like that. It wouldn’t bother me if you just came out and said that you were watching a feed.

Realize that watching it in two demensions isn’t the same as watching it live. You can’t, for example see the reaction of people away from the camera’s focus. You can’t pose your own follow-up questions. Importantly, the sources know you weren’t there and may come to think you routinely take the easy way out.

To be honest, remote reporting makes me nervous. I think it’s OK, on occasion, when you simply can’t be there. Just make sure readers know you are doing it.

— Clay


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