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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Reporting Has Changed, But Still Isn't Pleasant

Barry Petchesky shares the ugly truth about reporting. As someone who has written for newspapers, I can tell you that reporting is not always a pleasant experience and there are plenty of times when I didn't want to go out approaching people and ask them difficult questions, I understood it came with their territory.

I understand people don't like it when a reporter is rude, and yes, there are ways a reporter can approach a story without acting rude. For some people, though, there is no difference between the reporter who runs up to and starts firing off questions and the reporter who walks up to you, identifies who he/she is and asks if you are willing to talk. And a lot of that comes with how the media presents itself today and the impression people get from how it's presented.

It's important to remember that the way news is delivered is changing. If a major event took place in 1910, newspapers did the legwork. Most of the time it was limited to the newspapers closest to the event. In such situations, the pressure to get out the story as quickly as possible was not as intense because there were fewer people alongside you trying to get the story. If an event was so significant that a newspaper in a major city far removed from the area wanted to cover it, it took time for that paper to send a reporter there, so your supervisors weren't worried about that competition.

The first change came when television came along, and soon after, cable television and the rise of the 24-7 news network. Now it was possible to have reporters on the scene quickly, telling people what was happening. And these reporters would be followed along by a cameraman, able to pull viewers right into events and see action and emotion unfold before them. Combine that with 24-7 news networks needing to fill time as breaking news stories developed, and there became a greater need for local outlets to get the details.

Then came the Internet and social media. Now reporters who live in New York City don't have to worry about traveling across the country to Oregon to get details; they can approach people on Twitter -- especially when people who have firsthand knowledge about events are tweeting remarks about them. So it's no surprise you have those involved in journalistic outfits sending tweets back, asking if it's OK to talk to these people. More importantly, it's not surprising you see reporters do this, because they know everybody in journalism is using social media to keep updated about what's happening and if there's an important event that people want to know more about.

Petchesky is correct that Twitter means people can see the reporting process unfold and learn that it's sometimes unpleasant. Again, it's true you don't want to be rude, but one must remember that rudeness is about how you approach, not that you approached to begin with. And I agree with Petchesky that asking for comments on Twitter is less intrusive because it's easier to ignore a tweet (even if we sometimes find it easy to give into temptation) than an actual person with a microphone followed by a cameraman or somebody with pen and paper knocking on your front door.

More importantly, if you don't like the idea of reporters sending tweets to people who are tweeting how they are witnessing a newsworthy development, then why aren't you asking why people tweet about those developments in the first place? It's not surprising people would do this, because social media users are accustomed to talking about their observations and experiences. But as those who know technology would tell you, when you put something out on social media, it essentially becomes part of the public domain, even when you limit who can see it.

And when it comes to Twitter, most people who send stuff out know the public can see it. I've had people who don't follow me on Twitter interact with tweets I've sent out. That's why I've learned not to tweet something out I don't want to share with the public. If I tweet it, I accept that someone might respond. It comes with the territory.

Back to reporting: It's a job that is sometimes unpleasant and one that many people wouldn't have the stomach to do. In fact, I'll admit that hard news really isn't my thing. I've always done better with features and lighter material. Regardless, I know those who do hard news don't have an easy job, and that most of them are not insensitive pricks. There are a few who truly are rude, but they shouldn't be compared to those who approach people gently and ask if it's OK to talk -- and they certainly shouldn't be compared to those who send requests for interviews to anyone who uses Twitter to talk about a major event they are witnessing.

There are legitimate criticisms to make about the way reporters conduct themselves and how news is presented. But this is what happens when the competition to get story details becomes fierce. If a reporter doesn't bother to ask questions that allow them to humanize events, somebody else will, then somebody else will ask the reporter why he/she didn't do the job the reporter was hired to do.

Most of all, if you witness a major event and talk about what you are seeing on Twitter, or see somebody else tweeting about a major event, stop acting like it's a major ethics violation when a reporter tweets back asking if it's OK to talk about it. Because once it's tweeted out, you've told the world you want to talk about it.

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