Please join us at

Get the posts on my new blog by e-mail. Enter your e-mail address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

New posts on

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Everyone will suffer the fire we've made

Reader-submitted item: A journalist told me it's not his fault if there are mistakes in his stories as long as it's because people didn't call him back.



I'm not even sure where to start with that. I had to pull Tusk out just to calm myself down. I embedded a video in this post so it'll be available if I start to hyperventilate.

Journalism is an HONOURABLE profession. It requires work and dedication and constant vigilance. "They didn't call me back" is not any of those things. This is not something you say out loud. It's something you think inside your head after you get fired.

Here's the problem with that excuse: It devalues your entire news organization. People who know anything at all about the issue will know you've made stupid mistakes, and they'll assume that you are just as sloppy with your other stories, too. Now, that's the very last thing you want. Your credibility is more important than any individual news story. (Remember Mary Mapes?) Depending on the situation, there can be ripple effects across your newsroom or even your news organization. Yep, you've just made all of your co-workers look like morons. They'll thank you the next time they need to call the person who has all of the answers.

If you can't get the information you need, you can't go to air. It's as simple as that. Let's not pretend this isn't the standard. We ALL know it's the standard.

Journalists have an obligation to the public, not to a deadline. I have always hated it when half-researched stories are rushed to air or to print. It makes you look stupid. Really, really stupid. And you only make it worse when you blame someone else for your mistakes. If you can't do a story unless someone calls you back, you can't do the story until he or she calls you back.

When you destroy your own credibility with shoddy research, nobody will want to talk to you. Imagine how hard it'll be to get people to call you back when that happens. And then it's going to be hard to get a new job. And you're definitely going to need a new job.

Seriously, be selfish and hold the story until you can verify it. Isn't your credibility worth that much?


Evil O. said...

This reader submitted item made me laugh. I can only imagine my program director's reaction if I said, "Well, this isn't really my mistake because my contact didn't call me back. You know?"

I'm not really surprised that this was said, though. I've known far too many people in other working environments with the same work ethic.

Anonymous said...

Journalists have an obligation to the public, not to a deadline.

This is not true. We do have an obligation to the deadline. If you we don't meet deadline, you might be out of a job. It's a balance of both. As a journalist you need to meet your deadline AND make sure you do your job right and well. You can't do one or the other, they are connected.

Megan said...

Anon, although you started your comment by stating that you disagree with me, you appear to be saying that journalism must be timely and accurate. That means that we agree. :)

Karen said...

Hitting your deadline with crap doesn't make the story any less crap. It just means you shared a half-assed job with your audience. That is not the goal to aspire to.

Cindy said...

I have told more than one news editor over the years, "That story is not ready, and here is why." And they have always accepted it, so long as I had a legitimate reason. One of my bosses, the dude who ran the CBC in the North at the time, once said, "It's more important to be right than to be first." And I truly believe that -- although being first is important, it is secondary to being right.

Most reporters work on 5 to 10 things at once, so you always have something knocking around for deadline.

I used to work for NOPW, and I always kept a bagger or two tucked away just in case, because that newsroom works on a quota system.

Deadline pressure is real, but part of learning the reporter's trade is to learn to balance it with the absolute necessity of being right.