Friday, April 19, 2013

If your source isn't credible, shut the hell up

The movie "All the President's Men" should be required viewing for anyone in the news business. (Or, what a concept, read the book.) It shows how information needs to be backed up; if not by someone who will go on the record, but by sources who are rock solid. Even then, sources might have their own agenda.

This week we've gotten a re-run of the Newtown shooting story in Boston. During the past few days the misinformation has gotten out of hand. At first thirteen people died. Apparently ten miraculously rose from the dead since Monday. Police made an arrest, then they didn't. It got so bad that the FBI, it what was seemingly an unprecedented move, actually called out the media for irresponsible reporting in this statement:

"Contrary to widespread reporting, no arrest has been made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack. Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting."

Once again, the race to be first rather than right left the business with an omelet on its face. But this time it got so bad that the feds actually had to call reporters to the principal's office.

Like any reporter, I've used unnamed sources in stories. But I only relied on those that were rock solid. Often sources might have an agenda, might want to send you down the wrong path, or simply don't like you and want to make you look stupid.

In the case of this story, many reporters are relying on sources they met ten minutes ago.

The key phrase in the FBI statement is the one regarding "unintended consequences." Here's what that means: If you released a story that said the bombers had been arrested, some guy felt safe and went outside, and was killed by the suspects who were still at large, that would be the result of your incompetent reporting.

I realize many of you are under pressure to get the facts out on social media before they hit the air, but please be careful. When using a source... consider the source.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mailbag: Don't tell, unless they ask

Should we market our MMJ experience to get into big markets? Is it worth it to MMJ in big markets? Will we ever just be reporters again, haha? 

First, consider the top request of nearly every one of my clients: "I don't want to shoot my own video anymore." (And yes, there are still plenty of quality shops out there that have photogs.)

As for your question, let's put it this way... you don't always need to be an open book. If you mention to a News Director that you can produce, guess what? At some point in the future, you'll get stuck producing a newscast. That said, you're a reporter first, and a photog second. If you tell a ND you're a great shooter, then he'll have no reason to ever assign you a photog.

Should you be asked if you can shoot, be honest. But if you want to be a reporter and avoid shooting your own stuff, don't put MMJ on your resume. Your job description is "reporter" and that's it. You don't put the fact that you write your own packages on your resume, why let people know you shoot them as well? When a ND first looks at a tape, he has no idea who shot the video.

There are big markets using one man bands, and it can be a foot in the door. But if you absolutely don't want a job that forces you to shoot, don't take one. Remember, the quality of your work will improve if you work with a real photog.

As for part two of your question, significant research is underway to find out how to send reporters out as holograms and cameras out as hovering drones in order to eliminate news cars. The latter would entail attaching lipstick cameras to trained hummingbirds. If that doesn't work, you'll see reporters like the ones in Star Trek Generations, in which Captain Kirk was interviewed by reporters wearing cameras strapped to their heads. Beam me the hell out of that beancounter reality.