Wick Communications

When reporters make news

In Ethics on February 27, 2014 at 3:56 pm
Clyde Travis, left, via Romenesko.

Clyde Travis, left, via Romenesko.

Once every blue moon I hear of one of our reporters interacting with newsmakers in a way that makes me uncomfortable. Our guy stands up during public comments and defends his newspaper before the City Council. Our reporter morphs from questioner to critic during a press conference. Our editor begins his duties as moderator of an election forum with a preamble on the state of the city.

This is one of those things that never used to be a problem. Journalists until, say, the year 2000 or so cherished their objectivity. We wore it as a sort of shield against subjective complaint. Because we rarely tipped our hand on how we really felt, politicians, city officials and readers had a hard time painting us with a particular partisan brush. Once we all became bloggers and online commentators, it seems like we lost that moral high ground.

Now, that was always B.S. We always had opinions about the stuff we covered and because we are human those opinions regularly tainted our coverage. Despite that, I’ve always equated a certain remove from the issues at hand with professionalism. These days we know there is a way to comment in an insightful and respectful way and then there is the path chosen by this guy who used to freelance for the Chicago Sun Times.

As you can see for yourself, Clyde here decided to lecture a bunch of high schoolers about their basketball abilities. Apparently, he fancies himself the Dick Vitale of a part-time prep sports reporters. His behavior is obviously ridiculous. It is possible only because the newspaper chooses to pay by the word rather than cultivate a professional environment with staff reporters. …

But Clyde isn’t the only over-sharer. Some parting thoughts:

  • Be careful with your written or recorded ramblings. I wouldn’t send the mayor a detailed critique of his budget proposal. You may think you two have a rapport and that it’s just between you girls, but he may share it widely. For the same reason, I would never step up to the microphone in a city council meeting. I suggest you save your questions for after the meeting, when a clip of your balderall isn’t likely to end up on YouTube. Plus, as a side benefit, the answers to your questions become exclusive content for your news site and not available to everyone at the meeting.
  • Never lecture sports teams. ’Nuff said.
  • Don’t argue. This company has blessed me with a bully pulpit. I have wide latitude to wax poetic about the things happening in Half Moon Bay. I try to state my opinion and then leave the floor to others. Try to avoid a back and forth, written or otherwise.
  • Realize that you are speaking for your organization. You may have deeply held political views, but unless they are fully in line with your news organization, keep them to yourself. Keep them local. No one cares how you feel about abortion or Russia.
  • Respect others. Use professional language. Don’t cuss. Know when you are tired and when you ought to refrain from punditry.

Clay

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