For journalists to hug or not to hug isn’t the point

The back-and-forth tweets between St. Louis TV reporter Melanie Moon and University of Missouri journalism professor Joy Mayer on Thursday weren’t about hugging.

But that’s what made the news.

“I really want to be talking about how sad it is that a large-market TV reporter covering a nationwide story had a key fact about the case dead wrong,” Mayer wrote Friday on her blog.

Instead, coverage of the tweets was mostly about hugging. That is, to be fair, how the whole thing got started.

 

 

Moon, a reporter and co-anchor for KPLR News 11, went to Columbia, Mo., Tuesday to cover the release of Ryan Ferguson, who was accused of murder in 2001. Ferguson’s sentence was vacated. He was not declared innocent. And Moon hugged him. That hugging, and questions about it, are what a few news outlets chose to focus on, Mayer points out. But that wasn’t the point of Mayer and Moon’s back and forth. Moon being factually wrong, repeatedly, and then deleting her tweets, was.

Mayer created a Storify that shows how everything unfolded, which you can see here. Boiling the back and forth down to whether or not journalists should hug is too black and white, Mayer told Poynter on the phone.

It’s an easy sound bite, she said, “it gets people worked up.”

And they did get worked up. In the comments section of the hugging story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mayer points out people are overwhelmingly defending Moon and her hugging. But journalists and the nuanced choices they make about their sources isn’t a black and white topic, Mayer said.

“One thing that is black or white is facts.”

I’m disturbed by Melanie Moon’s cheerleader style of reporting on a controversial news story and her apparent pride in sitting squarely on Ferguson’s side. I’m also disturbed that she thought she could take back her problematic tweets by deleting them.

But I’m even more disturbed by the fact that she didn’t read or didn’t understand what the court ruling actually said. Even when faced with evidence that she was wrong, she didn’t back down.

Moon didn’t return a call or e-mail to Poynter, but she has included Mayer in Twitter messages from supporters who continue defending Moon’s right to hug.

Editor’s Note: After this story was posted, Melanie Moon sent this tweet:
@Poynter twitter is a forum.I would invite  @mayerjoy to actually watch any of her RF stories.I can assure u they were very accurate!

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  • PhelpsHawk

    This is just a distinction without a difference. Whether getting the facts wrong (or not explaining them fully) or not being objective, detached from the story, both are utterly unprofessional. At the same time, we should note that abject boosterism is part of many TV newsrooms today, both at the anchor desk and in the field. Here in Savannah, GA, it is so over-the-top that I doubt the purported newspeople even know they’re at odds with tradition and ethics.

    Phelps S. Hawkins
    Assistant Professor, JMC
    Savannah State University