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EL 200: Best Practices Reflection...

Robert J. Haiman's short handbook Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists covers all the angles (no pun intended) that anyone in the journalism field needs to know about. The central theme of the book is fairness in the media and how to identify when newspapers and other news organizations are being unfair. I specifically focused on the chapter entitled Newspapers are unfair when: They have ignorant or incompetent reporters.

People in community and civic leadership positions claimed that when they were interviewed the reporters did not know enough about the subjects that they were trying to report on. In defense of the journalist I will say that we are not necessarily supposed to be experts on all subjects or even a variety of subjects, but we are expected to have the research skills in order to become knowledgeable rather quickly about a topic in order to write an accurate and effective article on it. I suppose this is the saga of a beat reporter. They are constantly going with the flow of their stories and don't concentrate on one for long.

Though I can see why the public would be mad at an oversimplification of their stories. I someone was writing a story for the sports section and had no basic knowledge about the sport they were covering it could end in disaster. Unfortunately this has been the case a few times at our very own Setonian when regular reporters that were used to writing news and arts and entertainment ventured into the sports section. The amount of fixing that needs to be done to these kinds of articles makes assigning them to unfamiliar writers almost pointless and doubles the work of the editorial staff. It is remarkable to me that the editors of these professional papers allowed such trite and simplified versions of the articles to go to print.

"They may not have extensive education in the field they are covering, but a broad liberal education, coupled with sound journalistic skills, compensates for that," (Haiman 24).

This quote above made me particularly thankful for my own personal exposure to a variety of classes at Seton Hill University because of the liberal arts core. The one below is a reporter's worst nightmare as far as feedback from an interview subject is concerned.

"I don't expect him to be a doctor, but couldn't they give us somebody who'd had at least one course in human biology?" (Haiman 23).

I feel confident that in a similar situation I could rely upon the classes that I had taken in college that were not necessarily concentrated around my profession as a journalist. I guess the way I see it is that I don’t have to be an expert in anything other then interviewing because I can then go and ask the experts all the things I need to know in order to write an article. When I was working at E-Magnify I was asked to write articles about things which I had no clue about like e-mail marketing, networking and business blogs.

It is kind of the same thing when you think about chemistry majors at SHU wondering why they have to take and American Literature class. They never know what kind of technical report writing they will have to do so classes like that one and Thinking and Writing give them a taste of critical writing and researching. I can relate to this because I was once asking myself why I was forced to take Environmental Science, but then I wrote an article on Earth Day and it paid off.

Even though I was not completely an expert on these topics I knew how to research and how to interview in order to get the answers that I needed. The problem is not that the reporters are lacking knowledge of a given subject; it is that they don’t know how to properly find the information to write about it. Sometimes a specialist in a certain field may not be able to convey the information that a reporter could because they in fact can't simplify it.

Haiman suggests that editors look to see if candidates have taken a concentration or second major in a subject that would help them establish a specialty, but I feel as though this could work against the writer as well (24). No one wants to be pigeon holed into writing the same type of story over and over again. I kind of felt that way when I was writing only sports stories and that eventually made me branch out into other sections.

This chapter goes on to talk extensively about the hiring process that an editor should go through when looking for a good candidate for a writing position. It was interesting that some publishers and newspapers require that their journalists obtain additional training in their specialized beat/field.

"Publishers and corporate news executives must recognize that additional training (and re-training) to polish journalistic skills, and education to acquire additional knowledge, are not luxuries or budget frills, but essential investments in building reader trust," (Haiman 25).

Haiman suggests that the best way to make sure the reporter is competent is to have him/her go back and explain what they have done. I agree that the fairness of the newspaper as well as its integrity would be compromised if a reporter was wrong about their story and the information that it contained. The idea of reading copy back to sources is one that I am a proponent of at all times in order to fact check. I always made sure to send a copy of the Entrepreneurs Corner articles that I wrote to the women I was writing about and a few times they would e-mail and call me with a correction. Though that is the beauty of posting articles to a database online; I can easily correct any mistakes with the click of a mouse.

This quote stuck out to me because of the variation that I noticed in the speeches that I was analyzing when Mitt Romney dropped out of the presidential race. It kind of goes against the basic practice of fact checking in journalism. This chapter heavily emphasized the concept of verify or duct up until this point.

"Statements made in public forums, speeches or public utterances by politicians or business leaders, etc., should not be read back or revised," (Haiman 27).

Assignment Link

Comments (5)


You make a good point, Leslie. Our liberal arts education at SHU will pay off time and time again throughout our careers (in fact, for me, it already has).

I didn't get to talk much about it in class, but we are very lucky to have been exposed to so many other subjects while in college that weren't English related. I am glad it has worked out for you as well man.

Thanks for that addendum, Leslie -- I remember making a mental note that I should pitch the value of your liberal arts curriculum, but now you've done it for me.

Daniella Choynowski:

Research is definately key. You wouldn't know what to ask otherwise. The interviewee cannot be expected to provide all the details. you should read at least a press release or view a video/youtube/news report about the person. Context is important. Draw your own conclusions from research and then ask away. Samuel Beckett doesn't want to be asked about the plot of Waiting for Godot, and J.K. Rowling does not want to give a summary.

I have no knowledge of sports or sports writing, so I would be a disaster as a sports writer. I always state I will take anything besides sports.

The core makes us well-rounded so that we can function as you did at E-Magify. Basic versing in various subjects provides us with the knowledge of where to go to if we need to write an article on Judaism or science. There is a point (except for connections; that's just awful).

Dani, research is definitely key. I always make sure that I do some amount of research before writing an article in order to make sure that I don't go in there wasting my time and the time of the person being interviewed by asking them something I could have easily found out on my own.

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