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Author Topic: Journalistic integrity?  (Read 529 times)

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Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Journalistic integrity?
« on: October 29, 2011, 08:53:40 AM »
I'm not talking about professional journalists, either. I wrote an article for the university's newspaper this week, and when I submitted the article to the news editor, I carbon-copied the three people who had given me quotes for the article, so that if I had misquoted or misconstrued their quotes, the people could correct me before the article went to print.

I got a note back from the editor: "Also, for future reference, we try to avoid having non-newspaper people review articles prior to publication, for the sake of maintaining journalistic integrity."

I would think that making sure that my quotes and my article, which is a student profile, were accurate would be part of journalistic integrity? Does anyone have experience with this? Can someone explain to me what that means? I thought I'd throw the question out and see what came back, since the insights of the people here are endlessly interesting. :)

Offline Martee

Re: Journalistic integrity?
« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2011, 09:36:46 AM »
Do you think she/he misinterpreted the reason for copying your sources? Perhaps they were under the impression that you sought approval for the overall article from them, rather than simply double-checking the specific quotes. In that instance, I can see where your editor is coming from... It could seem biased if the subject gets final approval on the finished article and could certainly compromise journalistic integrity.

However, that wasn't your intent (and good on you for bothering to double-check, which is another fine example of journalistic integrity). Maybe you could clarify the purpose, both with the editor and the others who were copied, so they understand the limits of input you're seeking?

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Journalistic integrity?
« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2011, 09:55:00 AM »
Well, my first thought is your editor might have wanted to make sure none of these people would go back on things they had said or water them down, because they'd suddenly felt some things were sensitive, or too blunt. So he/she would have thought it was superfluous, or even compromising, to give them a chance to see what quotes you had decided to use, let alone see the full article.

People who have been interviewed sometimes pull back or actively try to stop news outlets from using certain quotes, of course, whether their concern would be truth or the possible reactions of their buddies.  Sometimes, people say things in interviews and later feel they have let down their guard; I know a couple examples of this - "No, you can't print this! Hey, that's not what I said, or, not what I meant!" (even if you have a tape and it's obvious they did mean just what was put into the article). And with high-profile interview subjects, newspapers do sometimes give a certain leeway in withdrawing or patching up statements after the interviewee has had a second look. But a student profile doesn't really sound like the kind of article where this would have been a top consideration, unless the student was engaged in something very controversial.

Anyway, what is put between quotation marks in newspapers, or cited as someone's spoken opinion, without any kind of quote marker but implied to be a quote, isn't always any direct, untouched quote. News reporters and, even more, staff writers and columnists do condense, spice up, occasionally pimp up what their sources have said, to help make the points the writer wants to make, and of those points the interviewed person may be unaware, or actually denying them (rightly or wrongly). That's fairly common practice at many newspapers, and people in the trade know it, though it's very rarely spelled out. And I'm sure many of us have seen sometimes how reporters are visibly working very hard - it comes through in the writing -  to construct a story, or even to suggest a storyline that is not true,  and never really, fully stated as such in the article, but the piece is written so that angle becomes the real line of the article, the red thread. For instance, writing an article about the aftermath of some air disaster where the government avoided stating something (an implication or a sideline fact)  fully openly, but skewing it so that the impression most readers will get is that they were actually *lying* - and then you put the headline "THE GOVERNMENT LIED ABOUT /X/ -- Huge COVER-UP!" but the exact nature of the lie, in the headline, is left so generic that said headline is technically unassailable. Even though it is a - lie. Of course, quotations that have been doctored a bit or pulled out of context can be very helpful in getting there.
« Last Edit: October 29, 2011, 10:04:42 AM by gaggedLouise »

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: Journalistic integrity?
« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2011, 10:09:17 AM »
It's also possible he meant that copying all of your sources in one message as well as previewing any other information that was part of the article was going against the idea of protecting your sources.  Yes, they'll know you've talked to all of them once the article comes out but I could understand his point of not disclosing it ahead of publication if that is where the comment originated.

That would be the only aspect of journalistic integrity I could see that would apply here.  Like you, I'm puzzled about his definition of it here.

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Journalistic integrity?
« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2011, 12:17:06 PM »
I should probably clarify: The article I wrote was a student profile of the Student Government president. The first thing I said to each of my interviewees is that my intent is to inform, not defame. I told them explicitly that I would be carbon-copying each of the quoted persons on the final article so that they could tell me ASAP if I misquoted them or misconstrued them. I set out to write a complimentary piece called "Meet Your SGA Rep" in an effort to get the SGA name out there and to ensure that students in the same position I was in last year, when I and a group of acquaintances formed a student group calling for accountability from the university out of frustration, would know that there are student advocacy groups on campus that are run by students (not just jaded admins).

So before anyone even said a word to me, they knew that I would be sending out the finished article to my sources, and that they would be welcome to correct me. I'm interested right now in making the SGA and various sources comfortable with me, so that I have easy access to the people I want to interview. Right now, I'm interviewing fairly non-controversial people and trying to build up my reputation as an honest and straightforward person to work with. In the future, if something controversial comes up (and it probably will given the nature of student government and administrative bureaucracies), I have that reputation to fall back on.

Martee's post probably hit it on the head. So it's possible that I simply need to explain that to the news editor. I've been somewhat avoiding the news editor as he's been somewhat curt with me and it's hard to tell if that's just his normal manner or if I've somehow ticked him off. My sources don't have control over the article itself (I might provide more leeway to the person who is actually being interviewed if they had a problem with something I was about to publish) but they do have control over what words I put in their mouths.

Offline Cecilia

Re: Journalistic integrity?
« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2011, 07:10:37 PM »
Just saw this...

Giving them the entire article ahead can look like you're asking them to approve it before it goes to press.  In some cases, this can end up looking like the press is in collusion with the people they are reporting on.  When interviewing, it's important to tell people you plan on quoting them, and clarifying as you go if something is on or off the record.  Anything off the record can't be printed, but it would be your word against theirs (and your recording.)  The main thing to do is always record your interviews, that way there's no question about what someone has said and having a recording that you listen to to get the quote will protect you and make sure the quote is right.  Asking people to review before press is opening things up to "What I meant to say is..." and other complications. 

If you are trying to develop good relationships, and you have an iffy quote, like you're pretty sure the thing isn't right, it's fine to call them up and say, "In the interview you gave me the other day, You said...such and such...Is that what you meant?"  And then, you can repeat back to them what they say to clarify it verbally until you have an understanding.  But yeah, handing out copies ahead of time is a no-no. 

As to your editor being brusque, the meanest people I've ever met are old-fashioned reporter/editor types.  I had three of the meanest old farts for profs who, I swear, were born sadists.  They would rip my writing to shreds and then toss it in the air like confetti for fun before telling me just how much they hated what they had just read before sending me out to start it all over again.


Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Journalistic integrity?
« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2011, 07:16:04 PM »
Oh! I should note that I have had more interactions with the news editor and he appears to be a kindred spirit: he writes things short and to the point, but he's actually pretty nice (with a well-hidden and very wicked sense of humor). We've since developed a pretty good working relationship, and I like him very much. I have since decided that I find his critiques - which are neither too harsh nor too honeyed - to be refreshing, and I try to take the advice to heart.