Recently, I had a unique experience of being privy to “insider information” on a hot-topic issue that ran on the front pages of major newspapers across the country. In a way, watching news story after news story come out, it was kind of like being in the middle of a sausage factory, watching it all being made, and being a little disappointed in the process. Without going into any details (my blog is my personal endeavor and I try to keep it that way), I have to say that my eyes were opened at some of the laziness of professional reporting, and my experience has made me think twice about accepting what I read in major news sources simply because they are major news sources.

Here are a few things that I saw that I would have thought were questionable tactics from reputable news sources:

  • The same story getting “repackaged” and “re-titled” over and over again within the same week. I noticed this actually came from the same parent company owning a number of different news titles and needing to fill space. Perhaps one benefit from this was that some of these resources were regional in scope, but most, if not all, were Internet resources, so the story was still accessible to everyone with a web browser. The problem really came from the fact that it looked like the story was presented as being somehow different from the initial story, but when you compared them, it was simply a reprint with a different title and publication date.
  • Reporters quoting other reporters as “facts”. This isn’t new, but it was interesting watching one reporter quoting the story written by another as part of their “fact gathering” process. Most of the cross-quoting was taking pieces of the initial reporter’s conjecture and twisting it into an assumed fact. It was like watching a game of “Telephone” and seeing how it morphed over and over again as the next reporter added another layer of conjecture to the story.
  • Research based completely on what was available on the Internet. I know that the days of Woodward and Bernstein meeting with Deep Throat in a car garage are over, but I at least expected reporters to pick up a phone, or meet with a source in person before writing a story. Instead, what I saw was reporters taking press releases, sending out a “can you give me a quote” email to one or two people, and then writing the story without interviewing a single person. For goodness sake, Above the Law does a better job talking with insiders on a story than some of the most respected newspapers in the country. I watched as reporters chimed in on the comments section of their story saying that they sent an email, but are still waiting on a response. However, I guess in this day of being “first to print,” no one really has time to get out and talk with anyone anymore. After all, if that person does respond, that means a follow-up story can be written and a one-day story can turn into a two-day story.
I guess I expected better out of the corp of professional reporters. I know that they constantly complain about the tactics that the blogosphere takes in running with a story without doing any serious research on the issues, and injecting conjecture into the story in such a way that you can’t really tell what parts are facts versus what parts are conjecture. In this case, however, I watched as a number of professional reporters did the very same actions that they despise from bloggers. 
Ethics and solid professional processes of reporting are two of the most important aspects that hold professionally trained reporters and the sources they work for above the fray of the blogosphere. If professional reporters decide to take short-cuts with those two processes, we all suffer the consequences. I expect better, but I fear that I will just continue to be disappointed.
  • Jan Rivers

    I experienced the same when at my previous employer, who was going through a very public situation that generated much front page and other coverage over a long time period.

    It was fascinating to see how the same story would be run over various publications, but with some tweaking, and how the tone and facts of the story changed across all of them.

    For example, at one point, one of my colleagues was mentioned by name, due to his name being on a communication that was included in the investigation. He was correctly identified in the article as a "staffer." Other republishings/ editings of that same WSJ story listed him as "senior management" and other ranks. I knew the guy. His job level was Staff. Sort of like in the old game of Telephone, things would morph from the original article as others re-used it.

    In all, remain a bit skeptical of everything you read and obtain your news from a wide variety of sources if you want to get a big picture view.

  • Anonymous

    A fun example of shoddy reporting and the subsequent spread of misinformation:
    I live in Wisconsin and right as the Packers were gearing up for the Superbowl this year a 'little known fact' about the G on the helmet started to circulate. People were astounded to learn that the G actually stood for "greatness"

    This interesting fact was all over the news and internet for days and then Milwaukee news stations/papers started to contradict this, having apparently asked people affiliated with the Packers organization. It was sort of fun to see the whole thing unfold.

    And while I do not always quote Wikipedia as Gospel, they did a pretty good job with the mention in their article on the Packers:

    Tip of the iceberg for our future? Will we ever know truths again? Have we ever?

  • eh i wouldn't expect much of anything from reporters

  • Anonymous

    It's difficult to expect better from professional reporters without expecting better from the rest of the chain of command.

    Professional reporters answer to professional editors, who themselves answer to professional publishers. And usually, those publishers answer to shareholders.

    And what, pray tell, are shareholders interested in?

    Well, high-quality journalism, obviously.

    There's blood on all our hands, I'm afraid.