Week 5: Handling sensitive issues — Part 2

Picking up from my last post, with a diminished press presence in towns and small cities, getting consequential news with some regularity is a problem. It is not that there is a lack of information, especially with the explosion of social media. The problem comes from citizen readers who must now learn to distinguish what is creditable and from what is not in the wash of information.

Lack of creditable information or too much information–either is a problem, and for a couple of reasons that may or may not be obvious:

  1. Without good reporting good people cannot make well-thought out decisions based on solid information.
  2.  Without a press presence that follows best practices, there is no way that people are going to get solid information. They may get what “appears” to be information, but since it is not vetted and subjected to the tradecraft of “a way skeptical knowing” mentions by Kovach and Rostenstiel in both their Elements of Journalism and Blur, the information lacks a certain completeness.
  3. Consequently, a lack of creditable reporting results in troubling decisions that routinely undermine a community. (That deserves more attention. Perhaps, at a later date I will return to it.)
  4. Invariably, there is somewhere in this mix, room for plenty of closed door maneuvering that verges on, if not crosses, both legal and ethical lines.

Which brings me to “A 10-point checklist for well-informed communities,” discovered and posted by Leonard Witt during his participation in a panel discussion at the League of Women Voters National Convention in June 2010.

As a panel member, Witt was charged with reacting to a Knight Commission report, “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy In the Digital Age.

He writes, “In doing my homework I came across this in the report, which makes a great checklist for communities which want to be truly ‘informed communities.'”

To become and stay informed citizens need to develop an attitude that not only builds on “a way skeptical knowing,” but also an attitude that demands excellence. Having the language and the context from which to launch these demands is significant.

A checklist, such as this one, while not perfect, is a good conversation starter.


Returning to “Protocol,” mentioned in earlier posts, as a result of the class’s online chat last week, I need to pull back from what might appear to be unreserved praise. It is apparent that others have reservations about “Protocol,” specifically dealing with whether or not involving administrators in the conversation allows them to disrupt the decision-making of journalism students.

It doesn’t matter if their presence intentionally or unintentionally seeks to undermine the authority of students to make decisions about what to publish and what not to publish, if it ultimately does.

Perhaps, the proper place of “Protocol” should not be to function as stories are being prepared–although much of what it discusses should already be actively considered by student journalists in their policies and procedures–but as an evaluation after publication to determine the affect of stories, how they were handled, concerns of stakeholders as well as best practices?

Just an idea.



1 Comment

  1. I do think there are a lot of details in Protocol that are good in theory but cumbersome in practice– and leave pathways to do more harm than good, even if everyone was well-intentioned. However, I do like your idea of using it as a guideline after publication. Maybe not after every publication but perhaps in a sort of retreat or end-of-year workshop, when everyone can take a breath and use hindsight to do some Monday-morning quarterbacking that might lead to better practices the following year.

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