Passengers evacuate the Los Angeles International Airport on Friday Nov. 1, 2013, in Los Angeles. Shots were fired at Los Angeles International Airport, prompting authorities to evacuate a terminal and stop flights headed for the city from taking off from other airports. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Breaking News: Resources for covering shootings

Today’s shooting at the Los Angeles airport is another reminder that covering breaking news can be fraught with opportunities to get it wrong.

A fake tweet picked up by media outlets in the heat of the shooting coverage is an example.

Here is a list of resources for covering shootings and, once the rush is over, some training suggestions to consider that can help newsrooms develop the best practices for shooting stories and breaking news in general:



Poynter’s media ethicist Kelly McBride added the following tips:

  • Stay away from anonymous sources.
  • Attribute all your information because if it turns out to be wrong, people will be mad at your source, not you. For example, use the names provided in police reports and attribute the information to them. Add more context if you think viewers need it.
  • Be very cautious if you listen to police scanners.

Poynter’s broadcast expert Al Tompkins said he used Geofeedia, a tool that searches social media based on location, as the story unfolded. Using it, he was able to read tweets and Tumblr posts from people at Terminal 3 of LAX. (NewsU has an upcoming tutorial on Geofeedia.)

Tompkins first saw reports that the shooter might be a Transportation Security Administration employee on the Los Angeles Times’ live blog. (The report remained unconfirmed as of 4 p.m. ET.)

In previous stories, Poynter has written about errors that have occurred in the coverage of the Navy Yard shooting, Boston Marathon bombings and Sandy Hook shootings. Craig Silverman’s Regret the Error column also sheds light on how to issue corrections, especially for breaking news. These can be helpful in understanding mistakes that can happen in covering breaking news. Read more


Don’t call it an impasse, stalemate, or standoff

Don’t call it an impasse, or a stalemate, or a standoff.

Yes, it’s a shutdown. But accurately describing how our government arrived at this point requires more than one word.

To suggest that this current government shutdown is an example of Republicans and Democrats simply unable to reconcile their differences is to ignore the facts of how budget appropriation bills are passed.

Dan Froomkin points this out in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera. James Fallows calls it out in The Atlantic. And Greg Mitchell screams about it in the The Nation.

Bill Adair, the Knight Professor at Duke University and the founder of PolitiFact, told me Wednesday during a phone call that if he were editing reporters, he would insist they use more words to describe exactly what happened, rather than allowing them to reduce the government shutdown to a deadlock, a political stare-down, or gridlock, all of which imply mutual responsibility. Making it seem like the House and the Senate simply couldn’t agree is just untrue. Instead, there is a faction of Republicans operating outside the normal appropriations process.

“I would urge reporters to avoid terms that convey a sense of equal blame on both sides and instead use precise descriptions of what has happened,” he said.

Accurately describing political machinations has always been a critical function of journalism. But speaking and writing with crystal-clear precision and authority on confusing issues is even more important in our modern information ecosystem, where there are so many voices tossing around contradictory messages.

Journalists have a moral obligation to use language that accurately describes what has happened. And that doesn’t mean they are choosing sides. You can still argue about whether the Republicans were justified in shutting down the government as a last-ditch attempt to derail the Affordable Health Care Act before it went into effect. You just can’t forget to mention that that’s what happened.

It is not accurate to simply describe Congress’ failure to pass the appropriations bill without describing how House Republicans deviated from the standard procedures by including language in the bill that would change a current law that has nothing to do with appropriations.

Adair thinks journalists need to go even further and describe what has happened to the entire progression of appropriations in Congress.

“The process is broken,” he said. This Politico story describes the buildup.

The current bill that Congress failed to pass was simply a bill to authorize the government to continue running at current levels. It didn’t actually change anything about the government’s responsibilities. There are a dozen appropriation bills every year and Congress is passing none of them, Adair said.

“Specificity is the way to counter false equivalence,” Adair said.

Reporters covering the shutdown must competently describe how it happened. Using vague throwaway terms is misleading, inaccurate and undermines the core journalistic value of seeking the truth.


“The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century” is now available. The book is a compilation of essays and case studies edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, with a foreword by Bob Steele, for use in newsrooms, classrooms and other settings dedicated to a marketplace of ideas that serves democracy. You can find more information about the book here. Read more


Republicans trust media more than they did last year


Thirty-three percent of Republicans surveyed by Gallup in 2013 said they had a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in the news media. That’s hardly a ringing defense of the Fourth Estate, but it’s higher than last year, when 26 percent of Republicans said the same. Independents also held a more favorable view of the press than they did last year.

Overall, Americans viewed the news media more favorably in 2013: 44 percent said they trust the press, up from 40 percent last year. (In 1976, 72 percent said they trusted the media a lot.) 46 percent said the news media was too liberal, and 37 percent said it was “Just about right.”

Previously: Gallup: Americans mistrust media more than ever Read more

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NPR ombud’s latest report raises important questions, but it’s not without flaws

The modern ombudsman has been a prominent fixture in several of the largest American newsrooms since The New York Times instituted its public editor in the wake of the Jayson Blair debacle a decade ago.

While the position itself has been controversial among journalism leaders, newsrooms that contract with an ombudsman signal to their audience that they take their work seriously enough to open themselves up to independent critique.

Every ombudsman worth his (or her, but most of them have been men) tenure produces a few particularly noteworthy reports or analyses during his tenure.

In 2004, Daniel Okrent took a look at The New York Times’ failure on weapons of mass destruction and did a very smart examination of whether The New York Times was liberal. Then Arthur S. Brisbane riled up readers as well as Times brass last year when he asked whether the Times should be a “truth vigilante.”

ESPN’s Don Ohlmeyer’s received a particular gift from the network in the form of “The Decision”  — LeBron James’ notorious announcement that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami. In that report, Ohlmeyer examined many of the central conflicts present at ESPN.

And now NPR’s current ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, has published a 35,000-word report excoriating a celebrated investigative series from 2011 in which the radio network examined the high rate at which the state of South Dakota places Native American kids into white foster homes.

Schumacher-Matos concludes that NPR should not have aired the series, citing two factual errors and a significant amount of missing context.

NPR has pushed back, but it’s also acknowledged a lack of attention to nuance, inadequate citation of sources in some cases, and that its reporters didn’t try hard enough to represent the view of the state once officials refused to answer questions.

This report likely will be what Schumacher-Matos is remembered for.

I’ve been following the work of ombudsmen since Okrent was appointed. I’ve been consulted for various columns with all of the previous New York Times public editors. I interviewed for the job at the New York Times and at NPR. And I served as the lead writer on ESPN’s Poynter Review Project, an 18-month stint in which we at Poynter offered public critiques of the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

Among the significant challenges to doing the job well:

  • selecting the right topics from a constantly growing pile of complaints, questions and concerns
  • producing a timely, yet thoughtful response
  • doing original reporting (something New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan has done a good job of)
  • establishing collegial rapport, yet maintaining a professional distance from the employees of the organization
  • finding an outside editor to provide the necessary editing and to ensure the pieces serve the audience

The most interesting columns from ombudsmen are those that examine the complicated process of journalism — who does it, how stories are selected and how that process impacts the marketplace of ideas. That process has become increasingly complicated to explain in the wake of the digital revolution.

There is no doubt after reading Schumacher-Matos’ report that NPR made mistakes in the series. And it’s even reasonable to argue that because of those mistakes, NPR overreached in assigning blame and motives to state officials responsible for taking children from Native American families.

But Schumacher-Matos’ report also gets bogged down in arguments about which statistics to use, how to add up certain numbers and how to frame the story. Those philosophical arguments are great for a master’s thesis in journalism or a case study for a classroom, which is ultimately what he produces. But they significantly distract the audience (and perhaps even NPR officials) from the flaws in the stories. In doing so, Schumacher-Matos undermines his legitimate criticisms with an exercise in changing the subject.

This is one of the perils of being an ombudsman. Every issue is a quagmire. Your job is to wade through the messy backstory and identify how and where journalism’s core values were violated. Doing that as an independent person with limited support is tough. It’s why most ombudsmen have a contact list full of fellow thinkers to sort through ideas. It’s why most rely upon a trusted outside editor, who often doesn’t get paid. Every writer needs a good editor.

I don’t know whom Schumacher-Matos was relying on for help. I emailed him and he politely declined to do an interview or answer additional questions. He did post a follow-up, where he described his sourcing and his consultation with other journalists.

So I can’t describe what process he used to write his report, beyond what he has provided. What I can say is that the very length of his report, which tackles factual inaccuracies, missing context and broader philosophical questions about poverty and Native Americans, undermines its effectiveness.

Schumacher-Matos nails NPR on serious flaws and oversights. Namely, he identifies two numbers that were carelessly and erroneously thrown about and he identifies contextual issues that should have been addressed.

He also points out other valid concerns. The families who provided anecdotal material weren’t asked to sign waivers so that reporters could look at their case files, which meant any documented evidence of neglect that authorities were relying upon — weak or strong — didn’t make it into the story. Also, the problems of foster care cross cultural boundaries, affecting all poor communities.

Schumacher-Matos could have pointed out the errors and true contextual deficiencies in a single substantial column. By expending so much energy on the nebulous issues of how reporters could have framed the story and counted foster children differently, he turns a solid critique into something squishy that can be dismissed.

Perhaps the most glaring flaw of his critique is a lack of Native American voices. He  imports their voices from the original NPR report, as well as a follow-up talk-show conversation. But nowhere does he bounce his findings or theories off of the people who are at the heart of the story.

Janice Howe, the grandmother whose painful narrative of losing her four grandchildren to foster care was part of the NPR story, called Schumacher-Matos. In the introduction to his report, he describes her story as “unsubstantiated” and “based largely on hearsay.”

In response to her call he wrote, “I do not know the full truth about what is happening on the ground in South Dakota. My investigation focused on NPR’s adherence to its own journalism standards, not on the state, or the Indian Child Welfare Act, or government policy concerning Native Americans.”

Schumacher-Matos inadvertently seems to erase the connection between the current foster-care system endured by so many Native American children and a history of forced separation. While he is right to point out that you can’t simply assign racist motives to state officials running the social-service system in South Dakota, you likewise can’t insist that Native Americans’ past experience of suffering has no connection to their present experience.

It would have been reasonable for Schumacher-Matos to conclude this critique by suggesting that the staff on the series possibly shared a preconceived liberal bias that allowed them to oversimplify who the bad guys were (state officials) because it fit a convenient narrative.

Instead, he suggests that the journalists were asking the wrong question when they asked why most Native American children in South Dakota who enter foster care end up in white homes, in spite of a federal law that says that shouldn’t happen.

My fear is that this report will sour NPR leadership so much that Schumacher-Matos will be the last NPR ombudsman. I hope that doesn’t happen.

Having an ombudsman makes a newsroom better, even when that ombudsman seems unfair or off-base in making an assessment. Transparency has become a core value in modern journalism, and ombudsmen provide a significant mechanism for such transparency. And even when I disagree with their conclusions, I believe that ombudsmen provide a vital way for communities with connect to journalists and hold them accountable.

“The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century” is now available. The book is a compilation of essays and case studies edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, with a foreword by Bob Steele, for use in newsrooms, classrooms and other settings dedicated to a marketplace of ideas that serves democracy. You can find more information about the book here. Read more

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Is Truth-O-Meter the real issue in Maddow’s latest blast at PolitiFact?

The Tampa Bay Times’ fact-checking site PolitiFact has drawn another heated rebuke from MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow, who accuses it of “ruining fact checking” and being “truly terrible.”

But at the risk of looking like a homer — the Times signs my checks as its media critic — I think Maddow’s gripe with PolitiFact boils down to the same thing that’s rankled other critics: the site’s Truth-O-Meter rulings. (Additional disclaimer: Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times.)

On Tuesday, Maddow took issue with PolitiFact ruling as “Half True” a statement from tennis legend Martina Navratilova that “in 29 states in this country you can still get fired for not just being gay but if your employer thinks you are gay.” That number is the amount of states with no statewide law banning employment discrimination for sexual orientation.

But PolitiFact noted that several factors work against making blanket statements based on a lack of state laws. Some government employees have protections against sexual-orientation discrimination even in those 29 states. Cities in states lacking such laws have passed their own legislation banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are two examples.) Some employers have union rules and written internal policies barring such discrimination. And some laws banning gender discrimination can also protect gay people, depending on how a case is argued.

But are such exceptions enough to make Navratilova’s statement “Half True”?

I’m betting that’s what bothered some who read the PolitiFact analysis. I would have given Navratilova’s words a rating of “Mostly True,” since a) PolitiFact didn’t seem to calculate how many people might be protected by these exceptions; and b) the exceptions seem like minor ones. As I see it, “Half True” overstates the case because it implies a substantial error or falsity.

The Truth-O-Meter, which assigns statements to six categories on a scale from “True” to “Pants on Fire” for out-and-out falsehoods, has been both PolitiFact’s most successful and most controversial element.

On the one hand, it provides a handy, quick method for branding PolitiFact, recognizing its rulings and communicating its decisions. Anyone looking to laud or blast a statement can use this shorthand; Daily Show host Jon Stewart even used his smartphone to read former GOP candidate Herman Cain a “Pants on Fire” ruling during the program’s visit to the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

But on the other hand, the Truth-O-Meter can provide an easy source of criticism. Maddow also blew up at PolitiFact in February 2012 when the site ruled “Mostly True” a claim by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio that “Americans are majority conservative,” citing a 2011 Gallup poll that found 40 percent of Americans identified as conservative, compared to 21 percent liberal and 35 percent moderate.

Again, this is ruling I would dispute, because 40 percent is a long way from 51 percent. I probably would have ruled it “Mostly False,” because the real number isn’t a majority, even though it is the largest category of the three measured by the poll. (After taking a lot of criticism, PolitiFact eventually changed its ruling to “Half True.”)

PolitiFact’s explanations of its rulings are an effort to go beyond the literal truth of a fact or set of facts to judge the overall impact of a statement. In politics, it is easy to lay out three true statements and reach a false conclusion; the subjective Truth-o-Meter rulings are a way of addressing this issue. And by laying out the facts it weighed in reaching a ruling, PolitiFact lets the reader make his or her own decision. As long as the facts PolitiFact presents in its arguments are true, criticism that the site is “ruining fact-checking” overlooks much of what it does.

Some critics have asked whether PolitiFact has set out to tweak liberal sensibilities with some of its rulings, perhaps offering a harsher Truth-O-Meter setting to look even-handed in political squabbles. People who work on the site insist that isn’t happening, but readers can look over PolitiFact’s rulings and decide for themselves.

That’s an important difference between PolitiFact and Maddow’s latest critique of it. Even while lambasting PolitiFact for a supposed error, Maddow never fairly explained the facts assembled by the site to challenge Navratilova’s statement, dismissing them as “unrelated information.” And that makes it tougher for Maddow’s viewers to judge if her analysis was fair.

So in this case, it seems, both sides might have a little to learn about fair arguments and rulings. Read more


Al Neuharth and the pursuit of the mediocre

I once heard Ben Bradlee describe former Gannett CEO Al Neuharth as a “mountebank.” I rushed to the dictionary: “a person who sells quack medicines from a platform; a boastful unscrupulous pretender.”

How’s that for an epitaph: “Al Neuharth: Snake Oil Salesman.”

If you think I’m irreverent, consider the fun that some long-time Gannettoids had at Neuharth’s expense. Over the years, many placed pennies on the eyes of his ridiculously monumental bust at Gannett headquarters in Virginia.

Then there was the famous joke about Neuharth’s peculiar fashion sense, dominated by black, white, and fifty shades of grey: that when he wore a shark-skin suit, it was hard to tell where the shark ended and Al began.

I’ll give the devil his due. He created USA Today, a paper I’ve always enjoyed; he promoted diversity in news companies, especially on the television side; and he created the Newseum — which, among its many other excellent features, sells my books in its gift shop.

That might seem like a large enough record for any media tycoon. But none of it can compensate for the dark side of his legacy. Leaving USA Today aside, I dare you to name one great Gannett newspaper.

There were once-great newspapers, such as the Louisville Courier-Journal, that retreated to mediocrity after their acquisition by Gannett. And I am not arguing that the chain did not acquire some newspapers and make them a little better. But, in spite of the great efforts and aspirations of many Gannett reporters and editors, some gravitational force constantly pulled Gannett newspapers back to the middle of the pack.

In a sense, the razzle-dazzle of USA Today can be seen as a Neuharth sleight-of-hand, a distraction from the editorial underperformance of Gannett’s rank-and-file newspapers.

There were other annoyances:

  • By 1979, when I arrived at Poynter, Gannett owned 79 daily newspapers, adding to the concentration of ownership that the Hutchins Commission had once designated as among the greatest threats to a free and responsible press.
  • At a time when newspapers were still flying high, Neuharth set a harmful precedent for all public media companies by insisting that his papers show a profit for Wall Street investors for each and every quarter. Short-term profitability — the “net” in Gannett — elbowed out long-term planning and investment in enterprising news.
  • Managers of Gannett newspapers came to be seen as interchangeable parts, shuffled from one locality to another, seemingly on a whim. Under Neuharth’s regime, Gannett editors advanced without settling in and growing roots in the communities they served. Without such homegrown leadership, Gannett newspapers rarely reflected the distinctive quality of their geographic communities. No matter how much advertising they contained back in the flush years, the papers always felt “thin.”

It didn’t have to be that way, but Neuharth made it so. His high-flyin,’ limousine-ridin’ approach to news-media leadership helped create an oligarchy atop Gannett that seemed to place more value on self-promotion and executive salaries than on a common good grounded in excellent news coverage. The result was a hegemony of mediocrity that remains Neuharth’s unfortunate legacy.

Al, the reporters and editors who worked for you deserved better. So did the communities they served. Read more


Vague descriptions in Boston bombings hurt more than they help

My colleague Al Tompkins reminds journalists to remember the case of Richard Jewell as they cover the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. Jewell was the security guard wrongly accused of the bombing at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta.

But there is another cautionary tale to be told, and this one comes out of Massachusetts itself. It is not the Salem witch trials, but it can stand in that tradition of paranoia and scapegoating. It involves racial identifiers in stories about suspects.

In 1989, a young Boston man named Charles Stuart shot and killed his pregnant wife after childbirth classes, shot himself as a cover, and then told police that his family had been mugged by a black man. After a wide and aggressive dragnet by police in the city’s African-American neighborhoods, an arrest was made and Stuart identified a black man as the killer of his wife and unborn child.

But then Stuart’s brother informed police of the plot. Before he could be arrested and charged with the murder, Stuart killed himself by jumping off the Tobin Bridge into Boston Harbor.

Stuart wasn’t the first white man in America to blame his crimes on a person of color. In a city like Boston, with a long history of racial discord and violence, it was easy enough for a calculating white-collar murderer to spark a police investigation that targeted hundreds of young men who were merely guilty of being black.

In the aftermath of the Stuart case, those of us teaching journalism ethics at Poynter began to look much more closely at the routine practice of signifying the race or ethnicity of criminal suspects. What we discovered is that news descriptions of race and ethnicity rarely resulted in bringing a criminal to justice and often wound up dragging many innocent young men into the spotlight.

I was reminded of the Stuart case while following the news of the Boston Marathon bombings. As I watched coverage by CNN, which has proven to be disappointingly unreliable, the “crawl” on the bottom of the screen indicated that police had interest in a person who was black or dark-skinned, was wearing a hoodie, and spoke with a foreign accent. I am not sure if this was meant to describe a single individual or more than one. It should be obvious that in a college town like Boston there are countless young men who might fit such a vague description.

When I first heard the news of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, I had an image in my mind of the perpetrator. He was male, he was young, he had dark skin, he wore a hoodie, and he spoke with a foreign accent. I had to face my own xenophobia with the arrest of the oh-so-white and American Timothy McVeigh.

I have been following Reddit critiques of the decision of the New York Post to publish page one photos of two young men photographed near the site of the Boston bombings. In case you couldn’t spot these “suspicious” characters, the Post added circles around their faces, a visual metaphor that they were targets, and that we all should be looking for them.

They both have what I would describe — compared to me — as dark skin. So who are they and where are they from and what does that say about them? Are they Arabic or Egyptian or Palestinian or Saudi? Are they African-America or Puerto Rican or Greek or Italian? Are they foreign or domestic?

The Stuart case of 1989 taught us to be cautious with and skeptical of generic physical descriptors, especially in stories that involve criminal violence. Whatever vague evidence those descriptors provide to terrorized communities, their value is outweighed by the harm visited on thousands of innocent people who just happen to fit the description. Read more

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Boston explosions a reminder of how breaking news reporting is changing

Terrible events such as yesterday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon have always meant “all hands on deck” for news organizations, with staffers pulled off their regular beats to contribute.

But the endpoint of the newsgathering and reporting is no longer a front-page package of stories explaining — the best one can — what happened, why it happened and what might be next. Now, there is no endpoint — events are reported in real time, with stories in constant motion, and the front page is a snapshot of an organization’s reporting at the moment when the presses needed to roll.

Boston was a reminder of that, and a look at what’s changing in real-time journalism. Through Twitter and various live blogs, I found myself looking over my shoulder at the Boston Globe, the New York Times, Reuters and other news organizations, and was able to make some observations and draw some conclusions.

My first observation doesn’t speak to what’s changed in journalism, but to what’s remained the same. The Boston Globe’s impressive reporting was driven by having boots on the ground — quite literally, since the newspaper had reporters and photographers at the finish line very near the site of the two bombs.

That’s how John Tlumacki captured the image that seems likely to become the iconic photograph of this tragic day in Boston, and how reporters such as Billy Baker and Chad Finn contributed a wealth of detail — by turns horrifying and surreal — from the scene.

The tools have changed, with Twitter an instant printing press for bite-sized bits of news, but the skills — a keen eye, empathetic ear, and a good list of contacts — have not.

But these days there’s another layer to reporting such events. Besides boots on the ground, news organizations also need an eye in the sky — someone charged with gathering information, deciding what’s credible and what’s not, and presenting it to readers.

Such traffic cops have been part of covering breaking news for generations, but once their role was an internal one aimed at producing those front-page packages. Now, the role is external — and the assets they use can no longer be limited to their own news organizations. The roster of reporters (and those acting like them) for a breaking-news event is ever shifting and changing, bound not by whose ID tag someone wears but by where they are, what they see and what they know.

Other journalists are seeing and hearing things and tweeting them, and must be incorporated into what an organization knows and communicates to its readers. That’s also true of all the people once bundled together under the heading of “sources” — government officials, hospital spokespeople and others now release information directly to the public, without funneling it through the media. And so do people who are participants in an event or observers.

Take the tweets from Bruce Mendelsohn, a marketer who was attending a party just above the site of the first explosion. Mendelsohn is the kind of witness reporters hope to find but rarely do — a former Army medic with an eye for detail and the ability to assess spectators’ injuries and what might have caused them. A photo he took was picked up by the Associated Press, and news organizations quoted him — but only after they discovered his tweets, which were available to all.



(By the way, next time journalists are quick to dismiss citizen journalism, point them to Mendelsohn’s tweets and photograph. He was reporting on his own, and quite capably.)

The role of a news organization’s eye in the sky demands far more than just aggregating the work of others. It requires the ability to juggle all the parts of a developing story, continually account for new information, and quickly vet tips, photos and descriptions. In a situation such as the Boston Marathon, few bits of information will be able to be vetted the way news organizations would like. The eye in the sky will have to make those calls, relying on another old tool: the reporter’s gut instinct. (Though lessons like these will help.)

Which brings us to the most wrenching change for news organizations confronted by an event like Boston: News gathering and reporting — an intrinsically messy hodgepodge of verifying facts and debunking chatter — is now done in front of readers. Instead of waiting for a carefully crafted report on the news or a front page, readers are now in the “fog of war” with the participants and reporters and officials and everybody else.

Whether we like it or not, this isn’t going to change — given readers’ hunger for news on such days, news organizations can’t remain silent about reports until they’ve been verified with officials and subjected to the organization’s own system of scrutiny. The chaos of breaking news is no longer something out of which coverage arises — it’s the coverage itself.

One of the many difficulties with this is none of us — reporters, officials and readers alike — is used to it. Reporters want to be first but fear the consequences of being wrong. Frustrated officials seeking to figure out what’s going on may pass along a reporting mistake, seemingly verifying it and thereby amplifying it. Readers want information from the beginning of the reporting process but still hold news organizations to the same standards that governed the final product. All of this adds up to a profound change — one we’ve only begun to grapple with.

In a situation like this, the best way forward for news organizations is acceptance and transparency. We have to tell readers what we’re sure we know and how we know it, acknowledge and assess things that we’re hearing, and provide constant updates and cautions that what we think we know is changing rapidly. Establishing facts has value, of course — as does wise analysis. But so too does providing information, publicly asking questions (and providing a forum for answers) and debunking rumors. Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer’s rules of a crisis are good advice here:


In time, all of us will become more accustomed to reporting in the fog of war, with the entire newsgathering process taking place in public. We will develop language, standards and procedures for such reporting, shaped in part by readers — who will in turn learn how to use them to assess and respond to our work. Those standards and procedures are already emerging. But there is much thinking and work still to be done — and the lessons of days like yesterday are part of that process.

Previously: Covering what comes next in the aftermath of the blasts | How journalists are covering, reacting to Boston Marathon explosions |, other sites drop paywalls following Boston Marathon explosions

Correction: This post originally misspelled Tlumacki’s last name. Read more


24% of the public gives journalists ‘high’ ethics rating

Less than a quarter of the American public gives journalists high marks for honesty and ethics, according to the latest survey from Gallup.

The polling organization asks Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of 22 common professions. Journalists fell in the middle of the pack, with 24 percent giving a “high”/”very high” rating, 45 percent “average,” and 30 percent “low”/”very low.” Only 5 percent said “very high.”

Journalists ranked narrowly behind bankers, but ahead of business executives, various politicians, lawyers and salespeople. (The medical field dominates the most-trusted professions: nurses, pharamacists, doctors, dentists.) Read more


Gallup: Americans mistrust media more than ever

Sixty percent of Americans said they trust the mass media “Not very much” or “Not at all,” a Gallup survey published Friday says. That’s the highest percentage since Gallup started asking the question regularly in the ’90s, it reports.

Republicans and independents are pushing that number up. Nearly 60 percent of Democrats trust the media a “Great deal” or a “Fair amount.”

Read more


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