Hands up! (or, on transparency in newsrooms)

Media types are all a-twitter about this Seth Godin post, “Principles for Responsible Media Moguls“.

So I thought I’d cross-post a piece I wrote in 2011 on transparency in newsrooms.

I’m fascinated by the concept of “radical transparency“, though not under the guise of eroding privacy norms.

The concept is especially relevant to media organisations and newsrooms; journalists and media executives are not themselves used to being obliged to reveal how the sausage is made.

Still, the (media) world is moving toward more openness around the reporting process, including in the slightly uncomfortable area of corrections and clarifications, and the not unrelated challenging of keeping on top of evolving stories. Online media have been far more willing to embrace transparency than their printed ilk. (Good examples: Business Insider’s use of Chartbeat, FT Alphaville passim.)

Along those lines, a colleague shared what I think are a very good set of rules for dealing with either corrections and clarifications or fast-moving news situations.

  1. Don’t kill posts
  2. Keep the reader updated about contentious things as quickly and honestly as possible
  3. Don’t back yourself into a corner by accepting the first plausible explanation
  4. Rely on facts whenever challenged

I will put my editor hat on here for a moment. These are excellent principles; in practice, the challenge is getting reporters (and indeed, editors at all levels) to be comfortable with what is a radical departure from the voice of God approach.

This is a challenge that can only really be tackled by creating an environment in which reporting is preferred to punditry; in which gaps in knowledge are met with training and mentoring instead of ridicule (because there is no shame in not knowing, only in not then seeking to find out); in which editors will stand up for their reporters when the pressure is on; in which genuine mistakes, errors and misunderstandings are acknowledged and corrected swiftly, openly and guilelessly; in which press release “journalism” is shunned; in which reporters are challenged to go deeper, to ask more questions, to seek more (and better) sources, and crucially, to always question their assumptions; and in which the most junior reporter feels empowered to fact-check or correct the most senior of colleagues.

Such an environment is not easy to achieve, but it’s worth it.

My $0.02, etc.

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