Search Results for: Some news outlets put unidentified folks on the air
Nurith Aizenman’s piece today on Morning Edition is highly recommended listening.
Travon Addison, “an athletic 25-year-old with short cropped hair, a wispy beard and tattoos all over his arms,” takes her through the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore. I won’t spoil it by giving away what listeners learned from Addison. You should definitely keep listening to the end. Addison is a compelling character. Nurith and her editors tell his story well.
There are two other things worth noting:
– We use Addison’s full name. That isn’t a minor detail. It helps the piece enormously. In stories in which key characters are not fully identified, we have to explain why. That takes time and can lead listeners to wonder what else that person might be hiding.
Nurith didn’t do what reporters at some news outlets do too often. She didn’t start with the presumption that Addison would want to use just his first name or perhaps even remain anonymous (because he had been arrested earlier in the week). She assumed he would be fully ID’d.
That is NPR’s standard. As we have discussed before, “we name names and do our due diligence.” What’s more, “whether to go with ‘first-name-only’ needs to be discussed and explained.”
Nurith says another person she met in Baltimore — a white woman who was marching with protesters — initially wanted only her first name to be used in any story. The woman said she didn’t want to call attention to herself. Here’s how Nurith convinced the woman to give her full name: by pointing out that doing otherwise could have just called more attention to her and raised questions about why she wanted to cloak her identity.
– We seize the moment. As she headed to Baltimore, Nurith ran through in her mind the sorts of stories she wanted to tell and the voices who could be part of those pieces. Those characters included people who live in Sandtown and could talk about what happened last week and in recent decades.
Nurith heard Addison complaining about how he and others weren’t being heard from and how outsiders don’t know anything about his neighborhood and why there were riots. So she asked him to “show me your Baltimore.”
It was a simple request that produced an excellent story.
(Memmos; May 4, 2015)
Some news outlets put unidentified folks on the air or in their stories saying things like “that tornado sounded like a freight train” or “them politicians are all alike” or “reading Memmott’s notes is worse than going to the dentist.”
NPR doesn’t do that (mostly). If we talk to people for a piece that will be broadcast and/or put on the Web, we get their names, ages, occupations, hometowns, etc. If there’s a strong reason for giving anonymity, we have guidelines to follow and we have discussions before doing so.
The same guidelines should apply when it comes to using comments we see on social media.
A Newscast spot Wednesday about the death of Maya Angelou included quotes from two tweets by individuals we didn’t try to identify.
Now, this wasn’t the worst infraction in the world. They were words of praise. The messages were in line with many others posted on Twitter.
But, there really is no difference between the unnamed person in the street and the unnamed person on Twitter or other social media. We don’t know anything about the tweeters. We don’t know if they really believe what they wrote. We don’t know their ages. We were basically putting information from random, anonymous individuals on the air.
Using tweets or other things we find on social media that way puts us on the old slippery slope:
If we quote an anonymous tweet in a spot, why not use an anonymous voice? If we can do this when they’re words of praise, why not when the tweets are attacks?
It’s worth noting, as well, that in the Angelou spot we probably could have characterized the tone of the Twitter conversations and cited some tweets or comments posted by people whose identities we could report because they have been verified.
Which leads me to three pieces of hopefully helpful information.
– First, check out the Verification Handbook. It’s a relatively new site edited by Craig Silverman of the Poynter Institute. There are tips and links to tools for verifying “user-generated content” such as Tweets and emails, and for verifying images and videos.
– Third, Pam Fessler offers some advice about things she does to check the stories and people she encounters when reporting about poverty:
“It’s something I worry about a lot because I use so many personal stories in my poverty reporting. … So I try to make sure that most of the people I profile have been referred to me by someone else who I trust for one reason or another (caseworkers, etc.).
“I also find it helps to talk to people several times — and for long interviews, in their homes if possible — because I’ve learned on this beat stories change the longer you talk with someone. This gives me a better idea what to believe or not to believe.
“But it’s certainly not foolproof. So I almost always Google the names of people I profile and then create a Google alert for that name while I’m writing and producing the story, just in case there’s some last-minute development (like an arrest).”
(Memmos, May 29, 2014)