You Better Have an Explanation

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From Robert  J. Haiman’s Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists:

“’Connectedness’ has become one of the buzzwords of the national effort to restore credibility.  One way to connect with a public that says it feels distanced from it newspapers is to explain to the public what the newspaper does and why” (41). 

Giving an explanation to the public about why newspapers do what they do seems both practical and useful.  First off, as Haiman highlights, many people do not understand journalistic practices.  They may too quickly condemn something the newspaper does without understanding why.  It will help the public better understand and through the understanding feel more connected to and more trusting of the news media.  On another level, it will also force journalists to carefully evaluate their actions.  If they are required to explain why they do or do not do something, they will be more likely to carefully consider what they print.  Therefore, not only would journalists be forced to consider their decisions more closely, but the public would understand as well.  It reminds me of in creative writing or as Dr. Jerz was explaining about using “said” in class, you have to have a good reason and explanation for what you do.  It’s not arbitrary; there is reasoning behind your choices.  My only concern was how you would go about doing this in a newspaper, but Haiman addresses this by given an example of what The Arizona Republic does.  They have a separate daily column in their paper with explanations.  I definitely think this is a practice which would benefit journalists and readers alike.

Read more on Haiman.

5 Comments

Derek Tickle said:

I think it would be great if the local newspaper presented their reading audience with an explanation of why they do what they do. You're right when you say that people judge the paper too quickly! I believe that many readers question certain articles in the paper because of how basic or intellectual they are. Overall, I believe that journalists should be careful when publishing articles because an audience could get offened or could simply question why the article is even in the paper. Good job, Greta!

Derek Tickle said:

You made me think about the "whys" of the paper in a reader's mind, Gretta! We always are Explaining the Answer

Josie Rush said:

Greta, great points here. Much of the time, the public will condemn a journalistic practice, not really understanding the motivation behind it. Aja touches upon this is an earlier blog "But where's the time?" when she says that some of the public's suggestions are good, but there simply isn't time to follow through with them. For example, while a paper should be accurate, there isn't time to fact-check and copy-edit a piece a dozen times. Part of a good newspaper is timeliness, and, unfortunately, that means some things slip through the cracks. If the public knew more about the craft of journalism, they may be more understanding about certain practices.

Kaitlin Monier said:

I agree with your point, Greta. I was thinking the same thing as I was reading the section "Newspapers are unfair when: They concentrate on bad news." What the public doesn't know is that generally the bad news is the more newsworthy news. If they knew this, they might be more receptive to the bad news. Also, I hadn't thought about the effect it would have on journalists. It is interesting to consider the benefits on the journalist's side.

Greta Carroll said:

Exactly, I think a lot of the public's condemnation of journalists results from a lack of knowledge and experience. I know for one that before I took this class I was much harsher on news writers myself. I didn't realize how hard the job was or what considerations and limitations went into writing an article. If newspapers took time to explain why they do what they do to the public, they might be more understanding.

And Kaitlin, since you mention the issue of bad news being more newsworthy, you might want to check out both Derek's blog and a blog I wrote in response to Derek's since both of them address this issue. The links are below:
http://blogs.setonhill.edu/DerekTickle/2009/11/use_some_positive_judgement.html
http://blogs.setonhill.edu/GretaCarroll/2009/11/reevaluating_the_negative_news.html

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