The president routinely calls hard-working professional journalists the enemy of the people, a media giant like CNN fake news and unnamed sources nonexistent.
When a politician wants to whip up populist frenzy, the press is an easy target. After all the media are liberal Eastern establishment hacks who don't understand ordinary people and will publish leaks based, let national security be damned in exchange for headlines and breaking news.
To find out whether journalists and their media outlet employers have gotten slipshod and are playing fast and loose with the truth, let's take a look at the role of the press in America from the perspective of Charles J. Glasser Jr. who knows his way around journalism and the law.
For over a decade, Charles, was global media counsel to Bloomberg News, responsible for litigation, ethical newsroom issues and pre-publication review, and was responsible for handling the work of more than 2,100 journalists on a 24-hour basis.
Prior to becoming an attorney, he worked as a journalist for 16 years giving him a keen sense for the pressures journalists face with multiple deadlines and a “breaking news” media environment and the care they put in to “getting it right.”
Charles was the guy Bloomberg reporters had to face when they were about to go with a story right on deadline and their editor says, “Great work, but we gotta run it by legal first.” Here are his views on how professional journalists deal with those pressures and the consequences of their actions from his five-part series on Enterprise and Investigative Reporting he wrote for Talking Biz News.
“This Just In and the Rush to Publish"
Charles J. Glasser, Jr. Esq.
Weighing the public interest against when to publish is a particular challenge for enterprise and investigative journalists, so I thought it would be valuable to hear from Amanda Bennett, the executive editor for Bloomberg News’ projects and investigations team who often manages stories that have been months in the making.
As a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal and The (Portland) Oregonian, respectively, Bennett won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 and again in 2001 for National Reporting and for Public Service. Given the long lead time that her team’s stories have and the often controversial nature of investigative reporting, Bennett refuses to let the convenience of a publication schedule affect her judgment of when a story is ready for publication. “You must approach the subject and allow them the chance to poke holes in what you think you learned,” says Bennett.
Emphasizing transparency and fairness, Bennett notes that younger reporters have a tendency to “hold their cards too close to the chest” by waiting too long on making the call for comment, fearing that the subject will either dish a watered-down version to the competition, start pressuring sources to recant, or launch some other pre-emptive attack on the story. “That’s the cost of doing it right,” Bennett says, and expecting honesty from her reporters, adds that reporters first approaching a story subject “should never obfuscate” what the thrust of the story is.
Unlike breaking news, Bennett notes, enterprise and investigative stories may be complicated by negotiations with the company or story subject. Deal-making is sometimes necessary, Bennett says. “Companies will often say ‘If you hold off from publishing, we’ll give you an hour with the CEO’, or they offer to provide access to documents.” In her experience, “making reasonable accommodations to include the subject’s point of view or allowing them to show you where you might be wrong is the ethical thing to do, and we are better off if this happens sooner, rather than later in the process.” At the same time, reporters should never show anyone outside the newsroom a draft of a story as part of a deal, Bennett adds.
Here is my Checklist for Public Interest when the pressure to publish is building
• Ask yourself if your reader will be demonstrably smarter, safer, healthier, wiser, or able to make more informed decisions as a result of your article.
• Show the impact on lives that the facts about which you report will have. Don’t assume that readers see how a story affects them.
• Separate merely interesting or previously unknown tidbits from genuine information that the public ought to know. The former may not enjoy a high degree of legal protection while that latter almost always will.
• Don’t let yourself be accused of sandbagging a subject. If you have been working on a story for three weeks, it’s unfair to call them for comment or denial the night before publication.
• Be honest with the subject about what you are writing, but never ever show them notes or a draft.
• Use great caution in making deals with story subjects, and use “check quotes” or “quote approval” very sparingly. This almost always gives the subject an opportunity to re-write what they said. Confer with your editor or newsroom lawyer before making any such deal: it might be a binding contract.
Dick Pirozzolo, APR www.pirozzolo.com is a member of the Foreign Press Association and The Society of Professional Journalists. His Pirozzolo Company Public Relations builds positive relationships with journalists and the media for his clients.
Charles Classer, is the author of “The International Libel and Privacy Handbook” and consultant on media law and corporate communications issues He can be reached at www.charlesglasser.net or firstname.lastname@example.org For the complete series visit: Talking Biz News.