Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Comment

Journalistic Defaults

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Default

In the course of reading, watching or listening to stories, you will come across these phrases.  Although they may sometimes sound similar and other times, sound like gibberish, they have specific legal meanings that journalists must be careful to follow.

Regarding Requesting Comment:
Did not respond to a request for comment
Did not make anyone available for comment
Did not get back to us

Declined to respond to requests for comment.
Did not immediately respond to a request for comment*
Did not respond by airtime/deadline*

*They possibly did respond later

Regarding Official Statements from Entities or Officials:
In a prepared statement (Source decided to prepare statement for mass dissemination, or respond specifically to one point/reporter. Either way, they chose to not provide the voice of a spokesperson)
Could not comment because has not received official notice/paperwork/indictment, etc.*
Could not comment because of the ongoing investigation/lawsuit, etc.*
Could not comment because of no comment policy regarding specific individuals, records or situations*
Could not comment because the terms of the settlement are confidential*
Did not comment because they have taken steps to correct the problem and choose to move forward

Did not discuss details.

*An organization may use all of these to shield itself from the need to say anything at every point in the story.

Regarding the Credibility of Source’s Statements:
Ms. X said – directly attributable (highest credibility)
A spokesperson said – reportable but no direct attribution (somewhat credible)
An unnamed source said – reportable but no attribution (lowest credibility)

Regarding What Is and Isn’t Reportable:
On the Record – attributable and reportable
On Background –  main aspects can be reported but no direct quotes
On Deep Background –  information that is not reported but confirmed by other sources to enhance reporter’s understanding of story
Off the Record – not reportable or attributable*

*A reporter may request that, rather than being off the record, a source allows information to be on background or on deep background

Regarding the Assignment of Culpability (see Credibility)
X Source (court papers, etc) accuse Mr. Y of doing or saying Z
Mr. Y allegedly (he is accused by experts, bystanders, arresting officers, etc) did or said Z
We observed Mr. Y (first person observation) doing or saying Z

Written by Interviewer

March 19, 2015 at 02:38

Bread versus Wheat

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Bread v Wheat

Sometimes, reporters want wheat.  For example, they might want to see where something comes from; the raw version – the data – before other people have had the chance to put their interpretation on it.  Other times, reporters want bread, meaning they want to hear the interpretation and compare it against the raw information.  When a reporter asks for bread and gets wheat, it’s useless.  And when a reporter asks for wheat and gets bread, again, it’s useless.

Another bread versus wheat example is when a radio reporter in particular asks a source for information via the medium of audio and they get text.  If they specifically ask for an audio interview and get text, it’s not really helping.  Why?  Because one of the things that makes reporting credible is being able to attribute comments to a source.  Yes, text can be quoted, but it’s a layer removed from the source.  Sources know this, which is why sometimes, some of them refuse to respond with their voice to a question for comment.  Or, during an interview, they will ask a reporter to turn off their recorder but allow written notes.

As a reporter, this has always struck me as a little cheesy, like the source is saying, “OK, you can have proof, but not very good proof”.  If a source promises something and they don’t deliver, and then rationalizes it later, it can be frustrating.  But it certainly tells you something about that source.

Written by Interviewer

September 11, 2014 at 04:17

Joining the Conversation

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bait and switch

Public radio stations have adopted online message and comment boards as forums. They use them strategically, 1) To mine them for particularly relevant comments related to whatever story they want to highlight, 2) To find people who might be good candidates for future stories, and 3) To let people feel like they are being heard by the station. But conversation isn’t always the intention or the outcome and it is questionable as to whether this medium hurts or helps journalism and public engagement.

Often, general interest programs take callers. But callers can be volatile in different ways. They can of course, be abrasive. That’s why almost all stations have kill switches that let hosts or engineers cut off rude callers. They are able to do this because the program you are hearing is being delivered to you anywhere between 7 and 20 seconds behind the actual program at the station. When a caller becomes inappropriate, they are cut off in some cases before you ever hear them.

Another way callers can be volatile is by forcefully continuing to talk as the host is running out of time. Radio programs run on tight schedules, especially if they are part of a network that must let affiliates down the line jump in and out of network programming to meet their own local needs. Missing times can upset affiliates and consequently, their advertisers. So hitting time cues is critical. A caller that won’t stop talking can cause big problems for stations because hosts don’t want to seem rude but sometimes must be abrupt to keep to the clock.

For these and other reasons, many general interest programs have stopped taking as many callers and have moved to comments posted on social networks. This way, they can get the same public engagement by cherry picking the best comments without the fear of being surprised by rudeness or droning. But these programs often receive so many commenters that they don’t even have time to include most of the condensed responses they get on social networks. And since many of them rebroadcast their daytime programs in the evening, those programs have been encouraging people to “join the conversation.”

But this can sometimes sound like “pass the buck” on the obligation to actually give people an opportunity and a voice to engage the subject of the story about a particular issue. What people want is to ask the expert, which is why the program invited them on it in the first place. Instead, what these programs are doing is giving participants who use comment boards the less than ideal substitute of engaging each other. This can have benefits in terms of allowing people to see that listeners of the same program can differ widely about its message. But sometimes, relying on comment boards leads to disastrous results for the commenters and the entity.

Online comments aren’t free from volatility. Some publications with similar online comment boards like the Huffington Post, have ended anonymous comments and now force users to use their real names. They and others make this choice to insure people who post vicious comments are out in the open with the thinking apparently being that sunlight kills germs. Mainstays like Wired Magaazine and Popular Science have ended comment boards altogether. The latter choosing so because research has shown that even a small number of people who post wrong information can skew the perception of the entire group. As a publication dedicated to science and research, suffering the ignorant minority at the expense of the innocent majority was something PS could not stomach.

Some see the solution to better comment boards as being heavier moderation while others are pinning their hopes on software that looks for offensive keywords or polices syntax to remove phrases that have antisocial intentions. But some reporters and journalists say comment boards are true forums for public discussion and the poisons injected by trolls and flamers is the price we pay for free speech in a free country.

Still, when a station or a program invites me to “join the conversation”, it feels cheap. They are trying to convince me that they are listening and that I matter and I’ll be part of a vibrant, thoughtful and intelligent community discussion on the issue of the day. I suspect that what is actually happening, as it has happened all too often, is that I am joining nothing and conversing with no one.