Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘reporting

Time versus Carefulness

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program-clock

There was an interesting conflict between broadcasting necessity and journalistic necessity this morning on CBS This Morning.  Susanne Craig and David Barstow, both reporters of the NY Times, co-wrote a story which they broke about the taxes of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Apparently, Ms. Craig discovered three pages of Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax return in her NY Times mailbox.  After she and Mr. Barstow verified the authenticity of the pages with the tax professional that actually prepared the return the pages seemed to come from, the reporters released the story.  The reporters were asked if they feared legal consequences for writing the story based on documents Mr. Trump’s campaign said were obtained “illegally”.  They responded that a  tenet of journalism is that if a reporter does nothing to solict the receipt of such documents and they are verified as true, they can report the story as factual and be held harmless.

Ms. Craig spoke succinctly and briefly about how she got the documents, while Mr. Barstow was extremely measured in how he talked about conversations with staff attorneys, odd presentations of numbers on the form itself and getting the preparer to verify his work.

But because he took so much time carefully going through those aspects of the story, Charlie Rose and Gayle King began getting cues from their director that time was running out and that they need to wrap so the show could go to a break.

It was ironic that the journalists at that table, all of which were seeking the truth in the spirit of the First Amendment, were also essentially at odds over the amount of time available to tell that truth.

The chasm between TV news and newspaper reporting has been an open secret for decades.  If you notice, TV people are often reading stories written by newspaper people.  Newspapers reporting has been and remains the backbone of American journalism while TV is the compromise that adds pictures and speeds things up while removing much of the useful nutritional information.

I understand the program clock.  I understand affiliates down the line waiting their turn to insert local news, weather and traffic.  And I understand the need to make sure advertiser’s commercials get aired since ultimately, that’s the fount from which everything flows.

It just made me a little sad that such an important story was abbreviated.  To read the full, fascinating article at your leisure, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/02/us/politics/donald-trump-taxes.html

The Death Toll Continues to Rise

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Chinese Explosion

This is a quickie.

At 7 a.m. PST, the West Coast version of CBS This Morning reported on the explosions at a chemical plant in China.  They said that 50 people had been killed.  At 1 p.m. PST, NPR News reported the death toll at that chemical plant was 50 and climbing.  At 7 p.m. PST, NPR News reported again that the death toll was 50.

The later newscast didn’t say the death toll was climbing and it didn’t give a higher number of deaths.  In fact, as of the later NPR newscast, the death toll seemed to have remained unchanged throughout the day.

But it is the earlier NPR newscast I am writing about.  If a death toll is 50 “and climbing”, how did NPR News know it was climbing?  And if it was climbing, shouldn’t the number have been some greater number other than 50?

It is very likely that there are people in extremely critical condition who probably will not survive.  But as of the later newscast, they apparently hadn’t yet died and their deaths hadn’t been reflected in updated numbers.  So I don’t know why, against available evidence and reporting, NPR News said the number was climbing.

Written by Interviewer

August 14, 2015 at 10:11

Guts

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Maze

There are two ways to write a story.

One is to already know what you want to say and then look for quotes or soundbytes that you can drop into the spaces you’ve carved out ahead of time.  In essence, you know what you want the story to say and where you want it to go and you don’t really care where it could possibly go on its own. Maybe you do it because you’re pressed for time, or you don’t really care, or because you want to look like something you’re not.  Doing a story that way, , you’re kinda sorta censoring.  But for sure, you are a lazy SOB who coasts the low road and God help anyone who swallows your crap thinking you’ve done your due diligence.  God stop them from making an important choice based on the slop you feed them.

The other way is to start out by knowing nothing.  You study the subject, you ask questions from every possible perspective.  You talk to people who know what you don’t know and ask them to ask you questions.  You ask questions against your own biases, against the information you’re given, with the information you’re given and with your own biases.  And once it’s all in one place, on paper, in a hard drive, on a spreadsheet, you start making connections and relationships.  You build matrices, and mind maps and block diagrams.  And when you know as much as you can know in the time that you’ve had, you start to write.  And when you finish writing, you press the button and launch it.

That way of writing a story is harder, slower and full of more dead ends.  But, it’s more sincere because it goes where it is supposed to go.  You may suffer at the hands of its path, not your own but in the end, you and it end up somewhere much much better than you though every you’d be, sometimes to your own greatest surprise.

Written by Interviewer

April 27, 2013 at 10:16

Shout Out to Reporters

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Pen Sword

This isn’t about interviewing, but it is about reporting.

Two things.

First, a reporter may, in his or her career, be a lot of things; spokesperson, marketing expert, advertising consultant, author.  But of them all, being a reporter like being a marine, is forever.   Especially if being a reporter was first, because the reporter never forgets that the truth is what is really important.  To a reporter, the crooked can never be made straight no matter the size of the giant or the paycheck.  If someone is trying to make them see something one way, it will never look right to them.  It will eat at them because their DNA is lit from within with the power of the pen.  Eventually, they’ll start truthtelling because even if the reporter has stopped using his teeth, he never loses them and they resharpen quickly.  Semper Fi.

Secondly, I am sick of hearing people who say that a reporter can never be objective so they shouldn’t try.  Weak people point to human base nature as an excuse to do nothing.  They say that since we can’t be “pure”, any attempt at objectivity is failed and thus, discredited and useless.  So reporters should just report with their biases with no attempt to be balanced.

If we’re going to pretend to be civilized, then we should play it out, and that means swallowing the higher ideals hook too.  Person A gets away with too much shit while trying to crush Person B for theirs.  I’m not for double dealing, but I’m for hypocrisy even less.  So, I guess I do care that some get away with it and others don’t simply because some thieves are thicker than others.

In journalism,  decent reporters load everything they can find out about questionable someones into the reporter’s centrifuge and whirl the hell out of it until everything has separated, and then burn up what’s left in the reporter’s autoclave until all you’re left with is something that is as pure as you can get.  And then you serve it back to the public and wait for what happens.  Because in the end, if anything changes, they’ll be the ones to change it.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than nothing, and well above the curve for effort.  I’ll take it.

Written by Interviewer

April 26, 2013 at 14:34