Over the past few weeks, I’ve seriously cut back in my consumption of the very product I used to make. It’s because I have a snoot full of substandard reporting and downright bias.
I won’t lump all reporters in one basket. But, for consideration today, I’d like you to stir broadcast news into one soup.. one entity.. that I could call to the table in my imaginary office, and put it “on notice”.
I haven’t called accounting to cut a severance check and draw up a non-compete paper for you to sign. But I have the contract folder on my desktop, and I’ve reviewed the terms. Let’s say I am facing some hard decisions on whether I’ll have to let you go
(I know reader’s attention spans are short. You want a two minute read on blogs like mine, But this time, the meeting will take a few more minutes.-df)
During my career in broadcast news, I had my share of ‘meetings’ with my bosses. Many times it was over a mistake I made operating the control board. It seems my talent in that department is a notch or two lower than a chimpanzee. But I can’t remember a time when management had to meet with me because of a complaint that I was biased. Covering stories, and showing different viewpoints is hard, and it’s also hard to explain alternate viewpoints in a limited amount of time. But you have to find a way, or your reporting misses the mark. Let me explain by some examples-
During media broadcasts of police videos, reporters say a person was holding “what appears to be a knife” , or “what appears to be a gun”. Why don’t you write it to explain the video showed what appeared to be something..a knife, a gun, or a gesture, and then tell whether or not an object was found near where a person fell. You might have to press departments to say what was found, but I believe in most cases, that part of the video would be easily clarified. And, I know you have incredible slow motion capability, but you need to emphasize that things in slo-mo can reveal things that cannot be seen in real-time.
There is a difference in reporting a public meeting or demonstration, and cheerleading for things to happen. Too many times, I see you standing with a background of an empty street..telling what will happen next. Your voice is the opposite of the video…nothing is going on right now, or a demonstration with ten or fifteen people is given the same amount of coverage as much larger gatherings.
I understand the dynamics of reporting on demonstrations and public unrest. I’ve covered everything from anti-war protests during the Vietnam era, Operation Rescue, Rodney King unrest, and a whole list of other events…even people chaining themselves to construction equipment. You’re under pressure. But that is part of the job. You can’t use the demands on you to determine the standards of fairness.
What what you say, and how you say it is as important as what you show. You might not mean to sound biased, but it might appear you are because of inflammatory or hot button words you use in your report. Be careful, and think about what you are saying or showing. I understand the many pressures on you…time considerations, working with a producer who’s talking into your ear on your IFB and changing plans on the fly, and unexpected events. But the paramount consideration should be the connection between your brain, and what comes out of your mouth. Learn the ways you can sound biased by either omission, or commission.
It might be a good idea for your department to pre plan haver an inside-outside strategy to cover particular events. One viewpoint can be extremely myopic. One reporter inside the event, telling what is happening from that perspective, while another reporter might be outside the boundaries, telling what is happening there is one way to do it. For instance, there could be rioting in a particular neighborhood…serious, violent stuff, and only blocks away..nothing could be happening, Point out the scope, size, number, amount, effect of something.
Your personal opinions can be belied by eye rolling, inflection of your voice, and body language. If you want to appear un-biased… you need to work on those things.
And we’re running late in our meeting so I’ll only give one more piece of advice. Decide what you are. If you are a reporter…report and be fair to all involved. Otherwise, get a gig as a commentator. It would be an easier job, because you don’t have to even give an appearance of fairness.
Let’s both think about fairness in our work. We all have biases. Otherwise, we would all be robots, driving the same cars, and same colored clothes, thinking the same way all the time. All I’m asking is for you to leave either your personal bias, or corporate bias next to the umbrella holder and coat rack.
Think about it, and let’s meet again in..say a few days. I’ve already dismissed some of your colleagues today. I believe you are trying to decide what you are both internally and on-the-air.
I need to know what you decide…soon.