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Tweet19: Practice sensitivity in your reporting


Practicing sensitivity is essential. Examine your approach to covering difficult topics. #25HZLWD

How do we, as today’s information consumers, sift through the rumors, the gossip, the failed memories, the spin and try to capture something as accurately as possible?

How can we overcome our own limits of perception, our biases, our experience and come to an account people will see as reliable?hazelwoodcolor

This essence of journalism is a discipline of verification. Controversy is in the eyes of the beholder. Our job is make sure anything controversial is reported rightly, accurately and coherently.

We must also note any coverage can turn controversial if the reporter has not done his or her job. As Kovach and Rosenstiel in “The Elements of Journalism” quote Walter Lippmann, “just because news is complex and slippery, good reporting requires the exercise of the highest scientific virtues.”

In other words, the authors say, the journalist is not objective, but his method can be.

Objectivity can thus be equated with the approach, the professionalism in information-gathering and storytelling.

For example, Kovach and Rosenstiel list these intellectual principles of a science of reporting:

  • Never add anything that was not there.
  • Never deceive the audience.
  • Be as transparent as possible abut your methods and motives.
  • Rely on your own original reporting.
  • Exercise humility.

In applying these guidelines to reporting of teens, also look at:

The goal, say the authors, for any coverage of sensitive information or not: what does the audience need to know so it can evaluate the information for itself.

• Protocol for covering sensitive issues
• The future of news: Investigative journalism
• Explain controversial coverage to your audience
• Can unconscious biases affect our news?
• How the media frames political issues
• 10 ways to talk to students about sensitive issues in the news
• Confidential news sources policy
• Getting source consent when handling sensitive issues
• Tips for successful investigative reporting
• Six roles, or job duties, of modern journalism


Questions for thought:
• 1 Walter Lippmann once castigated journalists as untrained, accidental witnesses. How do we train them not to be? In a 300-word position paper assignment, suggest ways students would try to develop scholastic journalists who were not.

2 Watchdog reporting implies that the student press should recognize where powerful institutions, like public schools, are working effectively as well as where they are not. What types of reporting would illustrate this statement? Develop a lesson plan to explore this approach with students, stressing its heritage and future with new media. Is it something they are willing to do?

• 3 Choose a topic sensitive to your school or one you know would be at your school. Outline the approach to the reporting, from planning to packaging and publishing. (Could also include multimedia. As you plan sources,  etc., show how you will avoid legal and ethical entanglements by identifying potential trouble points and how you would solve them.

• 4 School officials argue prior review is important because school media represent the image of the school to the community. Analyze this argument and make two sets of recommendations: one supporting prior review, the other arguing against it. Develop criteria and arguments for each position.

5 Explore instances where scholastic media excess damaged public trust, a belief in the First Amendment and/or a school system.  What led to the excess? How best could it have been prevented? What actions, including censorship, would have prevented it?  Would we be better off limiting our freedoms to avoid the excesses?  Why or why not? Sketch out an approach that could have prevented the excess.



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