Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

It’s News, it’s Live and it’s Legal.

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black and white

Tonight, I heard Jeff Norcross of Oregon Public Broadcasting apologize to the listening audience for comments made on the Thursday night edition of OPBs “Think Out Loud” program.  The comments came from Fred Stewart, a real estate broker, Northeast Portland resident and former President of the King Neighborhood Association.  Mr. Stewart made dubiously ethical comments regarding the resistance of the Portland African American Leadership Forum to the development of a Trader Joes at the corner of Alberta and NE Martin Luther King.   Mr. Norcross said Mr. Stewart’s comments didn’t reflect OPB and he apologized on behalf of OPB for any injury Mr. Stewart’s comments may have caused.

Setting aside the fact that the issue is incendiary enough on it’s own, and the fact that live radio is by nature unpredictable, I’m not sure if the way OPB responded to Mr. Stewart’s comments were entirely ethical either.  At several points during the program, Mr. Stewart emphasized his wish that “white” Portland media would stop listening to PAALF as the representative of “black” Portland because, according to him, it was not.  And on OPB’s website, the link to this program contains a note that it has been edited.  I can’t tell if the editing was for time or for content.

But at the end of the interview, when asked how can groups work together on development, Mr. Stewart said that “if all of those guys [on the PAALF board] had a heart attack tonight, Portland would be doing very very much better”.  And you can hear the engineer trying to kill his microphone, except there were two live microphones, so you still heard him.  Hear it here at 29:32.  As crude as those comments might have been to some listeners, they did not violate any FCC rules of profanity and were fully within Mr. Stewart’s free speech rights.  If OPB has standards where they reserve the specific right to remove what they consider objectionable speech, they should probably post that on their website or have it as a disclaimer at the beginning of any live program.  This safeguard already exists for profanity.  “Kill switches” with 5 to 45 second delays let hosts stop expletives from ever reaching the antenna.  But, that’s for profanity.

What OPB does say on its website is there shall be no “undue influence”, meaning intentionally coercive behavior undertaken by any source – including but not limited to governmental agencies, private corporations, funders, audience members, news or content sources, powerful individuals, or special interest groups – that seeks to influence or interfere with the accurate, impartial, professional creation of content for news coverage or programming.  As a caveat, OPB also says “This policy is not intended to diminish or prevent internal editing or quality control practices designed to ensure the maintenance of professional journalistic and/or program production standards”.  To me, that says nobody can mess with the message, except us, that is.

But in the next paragraph, under “Editorial Policy”, OPB says:

(b) Programming should be of a high professional quality and, in its totality, represent a well-balanced diversity of views, and

(c) Programming should be credible, accurate, fair, valuable, stimulating and relevant to OPB’s audience.

To me, these say we will be honest in what we broadcast to you.  And to me, their freedom to filter the message comes in direct conflict with the integrity that promises that they won’t.

I listened to the entire program, as I’m sure did many Oregon listeners.  But I couldn’t decide if the sanitizing was an effort to protect the delicate ears of adults or protect Mr. Stewart from himself or to help OPB adhere to what seem like confusing standards.  But no fixing seemed necessary to me.  I thought journalism was an endeavor where reporters presented the facts as best as they knew them and let their audience decide if the message and messenger are credible.  Mr. Stewart’s comments, OPB concluded, were too crude to let the community decide what is or isn’t an honest, legitimate if uncomfortable message.  In the future, I expect that OPB will leave it to the community to decide by letting it hear the legal comments from invited guests air in their entirety.

For OPB to turn down a microphone, in the same manner that Republican Congressman Darryl Issa tried to cut the microphone of Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of the House Oversight Committee just two days ago is, well, eerie.

Not a parallel I expected.

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One Response

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  1. Black folk like Mr. Fred Stewart are trying to hold on for dear life. It’ O V E R.


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