It’s a common thread in our nation’s dialogue. Traditional news organizations are on the decline, while self-made bloggers and citizen journalists rise in both popularity and reach. Traditional journalists shake their heads as bloggers curate content, cut corners and cheerlead for their causes, and citizen journalists marvel at the audacity of reporters in a dying profession as they obstinately turn their noses up from their crumbling ivory tower.
The news environment has changed drastically, and journalists in the old guard are left wondering if their tried and true practices have any place in today’s to-the-millisecond news cycle.
While we at Social Media Chimps understand that there is no way of knowing how the news environment will look a few years down the road, there are a few old journalistic practices that we hold in very high regard, which we think anyone — from blogger to podcaster, from wartime citizen journalist to commentator — would benefit from using in their reporting:
5 Tips for Improving Your Reporting
Sources and Quotes
The more quality sources you quote in your story, the stronger your reporting will be.
You’ll generally want to have at least three sources in your story, including experts, elected officials, stakeholders or everyday people affected by the events of whatever it is you’re covering.
No matter who you are, don’t be afraid to contact experts or officials. Most of them are well-versed in speaking with journalists, and are more than willing to share their opinions with others.
It’s important that you remember to get both the first and last names of your sources, and that they provide you with their personal contact information. It is also common practice to get your source’s age, though some people do not enjoy divulging that kind of information.
Remember that if you do not have at least two sources, your story is not yet fit to print.
There’s an old saying in journalism: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
A good journalist has serious trust issues and takes no quote as gospel.
It is, of course, difficult to effectively fact-check and still keep up with deadlines in today’s news environment, but a reporter who makes a habit of double-checking every bit of information before publishing will in time garner the respect and trust of his or her readership.
If anyone in your readership ever catches an inaccuracy in your work, don’t be embarrassed, and don’t try to hide your edits. Thank your reader publicly, make a note when you change any information in an already-published story, and move on. You’ll be surprised by how much your readers will appreciate this level of openness and engagement.
Hey. You. Yeah, you — in the robe. You’re writing a story about your neighborhood? Then what are you doing inside? You need to be out there, among your readership. You need to be present for your story. You need to GOYA/KOD:
“Get Off Your Ass / Knock On Doors.”
Back when the Washington Post was out there blowing minds with their scoops on the Watergate scandal, the Washington bureau at the L.A. Times was in complete disarray due to their lack of original reporting to add to the story. According to newsroom legend, the editor of the Times learned that reporters were trying to do all of their reporting by phone, and he shouted to the Washington news editor, “Tell them to get off their asses, and knock on doors.”
This sort of advice holds especially true today. When at all possible, you shouldn’t do your reporting from behind your computer. Get out. Talk to people. Scuff up your shoes. More often than not, this will greatly improve your reporting.
It’s generally accepted today that it is impossible to achieve complete objectivity in reporting, but that reporters must be acutely aware of their own biases and keep them in mind in order to be as fair as possible when writing a story. It’s also generally accepted that reporters should take all precautions so as not to betray their biases to the general public. This, to me, is where the old guard is going to learn from the new guard as the world of journalism continues to evolve.
It’s 2012. We’re all connected. We all have Facebook and Twitter. More often than not, our tendencies and biases are going to be public. In the near future, we journalists will no longer have to be so concerned about hiding who we are.
As the new journalism environment continues to take shape, reporters will still do well to be acutely aware of their own leanings, and to be as fair as possible when reporting on subjects in which they have these biases. But instead of hiding their personal inclinations and feigning objectivity, reporters in this new environment will provide full disclosure on issues that may affect their work, proceed with their reporting and leave it up to their readership to determine the merit and fairness of their journalism.
Transparency, Sincerity and Admitting When You’re Wrong
In order to thrive in the online environment, today’s reporter must understand that journalism in the online world is not a one-way street, and that all reporters are fallible beings. Try as you might, you’re going to find that you’re not perfect, and chances are pretty good that you’re not going to have a team of fact-checkers and editors to go through your work with a fine-toothed comb.
This is a cold, harsh truth for today’s small online news organization, but the good news is that we live in a Wiki universe. Your readers are going to take part in the conversation when they read your stories. They’ll congratulate you on your quality work, call you out on your lazy reporting and point out any inaccuracies in your stories.
This interactive news environment will both keep you striving for perfection in your own reporting and help to provide you with your own community of fact-checkers — your readership. In fact, you’ll have a lot more to thank them for than that. Your readers will pitch story ideas to you, lead you to sources and show you stories of their own.
With that in mind, trust between yourself and your readership will perhaps be more important than ever before. This is why you should build a community among your readership. Provide them with as much transparency in your work as you can. Be sincere in your reporting. And, most of all, admit when you’re wrong. Contrary to popular belief, your readers won’t lose trust in you when, on a rare occasion, you report something incorrectly; they’ll lose trust in you when, provided with the facts, you do not openly admit your mistake and move on.