Journalism training rules

Reading the KC Star’s opinion column from Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times News Service,  I was reminded of some very important rules that the Mizzou’s School of Journalism included in our training.  My degree was in news ed, and the Columbian Missourian instructors really hammered at us to use some very primary rules of reporting:

  1.  Follow the money.  Whenever trying to investigate a story that seemed questionable, follow the money.  Another words, looking at city, county, state, or federal government, follow the money.  If an individual was living differently than one might anticipate for their position, follow the money.  If an organization, especially when using public money, could not explain its budget, follow the money.
  2. Get the story from three different sources.  If a reporter can substantiate a story from three different sources, the likelihood is that there is a true story to report.  Of course, the reporter must be responsible enough to locate three different, unrelated sources to substantiate the story.
  3. Check your quotes.  When taking notes, make sure they are accurate even checking them with the person before walking away.  When using a direct quote, read it back to that person to make sure it is accurate and to let them know that you are planning on using it.  When using an indirect quote, also check it with the person being quoted.

Needless to say, journalists have taken a beating considering the entire tirade calling the news “fake.”  But, I firmly believe that trained journalists who remain faithful to the Canons of Journalism, the Journalist’s Creed, and the principles the universities taught, are reporting real news.  If they are responsible, then no one can support such accusations.

Sadly, the immediacy in which the news is transmitted leads to mistakes–many times a listener’s misunderstanding rather than the report.  At all cost, the headlines need to be direct and unbiased.  Listeners need to turn to fuller reports whether through further web research or through more traditional sources as the written word in newspapers and magazines (which are sadly unable to sustain the cost of publication).

Recently a news article concerning the deportation of a professor more fully explained the circumstances that lead to ICE’s attempt to deport him.  The story continues, but as so often is the case, the full story is not able to be broadcast in the 30-60 second sound bites.  The story is complicated, and it takes study to follow and understand it.  We still do not have the whole story, I am afraid.

But back to Friedman’s editorial, Whatever Trump is hiding is hurting all Americans now. Regardless of one’s personal stand, the article reminds us to follow the money.  In our government, serving in an elected position places one’s life under the microscope.  If reporters cannot follow the money, that leaves so many questions unanswered.

My fear is that by the labeling of news as fake, the work of our journalists is compromised.  If the profession of journalism is not allowed to function freely in our democracy, then how can we check the three branches of our government.  We need ethical journalists to keep our elected officials accountable now, just as we did during Watergate.

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Filed under History & Government

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