|CREDIBILITY IN QUESTION|
trust in the news media has been shaken by several recent scandals and
lapses of journalistic judgment. Two experts answer your questions about
specific cases of journalistic misdemeanors and how the news organizations
in general can improve their credibility.
Special Report: Credibility in Question
I am certainly confused about the objectivity and credibility of reporters and journalists who also provide analysis and commentary on TV, radio or cable. What are the standards here? Should reporters stick to reporting and leave the commentary to experts and analysts? Thanks.
Jay Rosen responds:
Sometimes the person you want to comment and analyze is the journalist who has done the reporting. I think "know what you're talking about" and "offer first hand insight" are better principles: never mix commentary and reporting.
Personally, I have no problem with a reporter who says into the mike, "First let me tell you what I know. Then I will tell you what I think." The standards are: be accurate, be honest, talk to everyone you can, know a lot about the subject, and offer some insight.
Michael Getler responds:
The standards that I grew up with and believe remain relevant and important require reporters to "stick to reporting and leave the commentary to experts and analysts," as the questioner puts it.
By the way, I would vote against anonymous questions in this forum.
Back in the '70s and '80s, when I was a reporter covering defense or national security or diplomacy, I was an occasional panelist on "Meet the Press" and "Face the Nation." The idea always was to extract news and information from the guest, not to comment. Many reporters still do that.
But there has also been a drift toward pushing reporters more toward commentary as the interview and talk show format has expanded, primarily on cable rather than the networks, and that has lead to some real problems as reporters occasionally cross the line. That damages their credibility and also that of the news organization they work for.
Reporters, however, often know a great deal about their subjects, and that knowledge makes them a resource for the public. So context, background and historical perspective about issues and the questions surrounding them are very valuable to offer. But opinion goes beyond this line. Reporters know if they are doing it, and so do listeners.
Most big news organizations have guidelines that prohibit opinion, but sometimes they are not enforced. Meanwhile, the number of shows that journalists appear on has proliferated.
Finally, the concept of the press, or the media, has widened enormously so that the line gets blurred in the public mind among talk show hosts, commentators and reporters. Sometimes it is probably hard for consumers to know which is which. But the distinction is crucial to retaining credibility for serious news organizations, and a public that has confidence in those organizations.