It’s curious to me that my story yesterday about a St. Louis TV reporter’s questionable journalism has been distilled by so many into a black-or-white conversation about one question: Should journalists hug sources?
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.
But first, let’s address the hugging thing.
I’ve hugged sources and will continue to hug sources. The same way it is sometimes most polite to accept a piece of pie in a source’s living room or tell a source you’re sincerely sorry for a struggle she’s having, it has sometimes felt appropriate to me to accept or offer a hug as part of my work as a journalist. There are times when backing off a hug when it’s offered would be awkward or rude.
The trick is to know when the emotion behind the hug would compromise my ability to do my job, or when the perception the hug leaves would compromise my integrity.
I’m actually an advocate for journalists embracing their humanness, and I’m vocal in my suspicion of black-or-white ideas about objectivity. My work in journalism lies in the changing nature of the relationship between journalist and audience/community. Frankly, I’m not a fan of living by a lot of strict rules in general. And a journalism that bans hugging altogether isn’t one I’m interested in.
Which is why I was interested in a Twitter conversation Wednesday night about journalists having been seen hugging Ryan Ferguson and his family. I wanted to see where the conversation went. My interest turned to curiosity and then outrage when the reporter I was talking to made it clear she was completely misinformed about a key fact of the story she was covering.
(If you missed my story, read it here: How a St. Louis TV reporter got both ethics and facts wrong.)
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.
I’m willing to forgive a hug (or sometimes applaud it). But I can’t forgive irresponsible distribution of facts.
Let’s pay attention to THAT problem, and bemoan the fact that so many people get their news from Moon and others like her rather than people who prioritize accuracy over emotion.
News coverage of the dustup that focuses on hugging:
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch: KPLR’s Melanie Moon defends hugging man whose murder conviction was overturned
- Jim Romenesko’s media blog: St. Louis TV reporter: Yes, I hugged Ryan Ferguson while covering his release from jail
- **ADDED: Minnesota Public Radio: When reporters hug newsmakers
News coverage of the dustup that focuses on facts:
- Riverfront Times: Tweet and Delete: How KPLR’s Melanie Moon Got Facts Wrong on Ryan Ferguson’s Release
- **ADDED: Poynter Institute: For journalists to hug or not to hug isn’t the point
- **ADDED: Why KPLR’s @Moon_Melanie needs to address deleted Tweets
- **ADDED: Why this Melanie Moon thing with Ryan Ferguson actually matters
This post is intended primarily to provide info to students interested in taking J4700/7700, Participatory Journalism.
***Student feedback added below.
This class is about social news — about how journalism organizations can listen as well as talk, and how to invite interaction rather than just provide information. We think it’s important for people to see themselves in the journalism and easily find ways to get involved with it. It’s key to staying relevant as news providers.
Luckily, the Columbia Missourian agrees. And as part of this class, you’d be joining the staff of the Missourian, on the community outreach team.
Our team is constantly evolving. It’s a giant experiment. “Because we did it that way last time” is hardly ever a reason for doing it that way again. We’re continually assessing the effectiveness of what we’re doing, tossing out ideas that aren’t working and inventing new strategies to try (something journalists need to know how to do). The fall 2013 team is working on SUCH different projects than the spring 2013 team did, and that’s part of what I love about the work. And the duties of the inaugural team, in the fall 2011 semester, bear little resemblance to what we’re doing now.
Warning: As part of the team, you’d be assessed on how well you participate in and extend the experiment, not on how well you follow directions. If that sounds horrifying, this is not the class for you.
I lived in Oklahoma for years, and so many people I love are in or near Moore.
I’m first so thankful that my people are safe. My best friend’s kids go to school just a few miles south of Moore. My 9-year-old called my friend’s 8-year-old last night to make sure she was okay and tell her he loves her.
Second, I’m heartbroken for the people whose lives just got torn apart. I can hardly bear to think about the parents and the children.
Third, I’m grateful for the first responders. I think of first responders as the people who run into tragedy rather than away from it, with a goal of helping. And while that of course includes safety and medical personnel, in my world, it also includes journalists.
Journalists in the Oklahoma City area are working around the clock to not only keep those of us far away up to date about what’s going on on the scene, but more importantly to bring that information to their own neighbors in shelters, staying with friends, working as first responders or wondering how they can help. I heard so many government or nonprofit officials say during interviews yesterday that they were getting their information and perspective from news reports, same as everyone else.
It’s easy, and understandable, to question the role journalism plays in a culture where information is everywhere. But imagine during a situation like this if there weren’t people committed to asking the questions we all have and to being our window into the tragedy.
It’s especially poignant for me, since I learned how to be a journalist while covering an Oklahoma tragedy. Every since the OKC bombing, when I was 20, journalism has been a way for me to cope — to have a purpose during times of disaster. Disasters are also what I think of first when I hear people question why journalism is worth investing in.
As a long-distance spectator, I’m grateful for the news footage, the photos, the questions, the facts and the survival stories. I’m grateful for the people who hug their own children, then head back out to talk to parents who have lost theirs. Who verify and share the names of people missing before they sort through the rubble of their own neighborhoods.
To the non-journalists out there: If you find yourself in a conversation about where you get your news, whether you trust journalists, or what role journalism has in your life, think about what you did when you had vital questions yesterday, and what it feels like to want to know something you can’t know on your own.
It’s How To Get a Job week in Participatory Journalism. I hear from students all the time that they don’t get enough of this while they’re here (or that they just feel like they could always use more), so all are welcome for our two classes this week. We meet Monday and Wednesday from 12-1:15 in Lee Hills Hall, 101A.
Today, we’re going to talk about figuring out what the narrative of your work is, and how to use social media to make that clear. Then we’ll go over some basics of resumes, portfolios, cover letters and references.
On Wednesday, we’ll talk about interviews and go more into personal branding. Then we’ll have a show and tell. The students on the community outreach team at the Missourian are going to make quick video pitches — what they would say if they found themselves in an elevator with someone who was hiring for their dream job. Here are some samples from last semester.
A few other links:
Here are some lessons I previously shared about how to behave professionally in the newsroom, and what pitfalls to avoid.
One I’ll add: Don’t misuse digital communication. Don’t ask a detailed question in a direct message or text message. Those are for quick things — answers I want to type on my phone. Don’t also ask something important, like whether or not I’ll be a reference for you, in a text or DM. Respect the importance of that question by doing it in a more thoughtful way, and using please and thank you.
Here’s where I collect links on how to get a job. See the related links to the left if you want more on a specific topic (resumes, cover letters, etc.).
Here’s what might be my favorite unconventional “resume” ever, because it gets across this guy’s story, not just his list of skills or experience.
Here’s why you should show a pulse and convey your energy and optimism.
I’ll likely add to this file today and tomorrow. And feel free to add your own links or questions in the comments!
Seth Godin, whose work inspires the heck out of me, had a recent blog post about audience.
He poses a list of questions for marketers, about how to make focused change by first determining who exactly you are trying to reach.
If you can’t answer this specifically, do not proceed to the rest. By who, I mean, “give me a name.” Or, if you can’t give me a name, then a persona, a tribe, a spot in the hierarchy, a set of people who share particular worldviews.
It reminds me of conversations we’ve been having in my newsroom with reporters: Who’s your audience? Where are they already talking? How can you reach them? What do you hope your story will accomplish? What can the audience do with your story, or in response to it? (Here’s a post I wrote recently about those questions.)
Seth has defined marketing as “the art of telling a story that resonates with your audience and then spreads,” and after listening to a recent interview he did with the show “On Being,” my view of marketing has expanded substantially. (On that show, he talked about it as trying to get noticed.)
Don’t journalists want their work to get noticed? Don’t most of us believe the work we do matters, in ways big and small?
After his list of questions to ask about who your product/message is intended for, Seth closes with this:
Now that you know these things, go make a product and a service and a story that works. No fair changing the answers to the questions to match the thing you’ve already made (you can change the desired audience, but you can’t change the truth of what they want and believe).
The members of my community outreach team will be paired up with some of our reporters this week to ask some key questions about what they’re working on. These reporters are all pitching projects — meaty, lengthy projects that they’re hoping editors will give them many weeks to work on.
My goal is that the reporters will bring an awareness of audience and a sense of who they’re writing to — and for — to their early work. Because really, if you can’t answer that fundamental question, what’s the point? If you can’t picture the people who you think will really benefit from the information you hope to share, why is it worth your effort? Not every day-turn story is worth this approach, of course. But for any project, series, investigative report, etc., it’s a discipline I think we should make part of our routine.
Here’s the list of questions I wish reporters would answer about any project.
- Who’s already talking about what you’re covering? Where/how (offline and online) are those conversations taking place?
- Whose experience or expertise could help you in your reporting? What sources are you looking for, and how could we get creative about finding them? (This could be specific people, or communities of people.) Or should we invite someone to contribute their own voice as a companion to your story?
- Is there an opportunity for — and would there be benefit from — letting the community know what you’re working on as you’re still reporting? Is there any danger in doing that?
- What do you hope your story will accomplish? Is there conversation that might (or should?) follow? If so, what could (should?) we do to facilitate or be a part of that?
- Who’s your target audience? Who do you think most needs — or would most enjoy — the story you’re telling and information you’re providing? How can you make sure they’re invited to see what you produce, and interact with it?
- What can the audience DO with your story, or in response to it?
I think 15 minutes spent with this list could help make a project relevant. It could help foster a community’s connection to a project from the early stages. It could show community members what they stand to gain by getting involved with their news, and how a relationship with news could help them be more involved in their communities.
I know reporters feel overwhelmed by all their being asked to add to their plates. But a focus on the audience seems necessary for news organizations, and I think that can begin with individual reporters.
What would you add to the list?