If “he said, she said” journalism is irretrievably lame, what’s better?

Sep.
23
Further along in my dialogue with NPR over its embrace of “he said, she said” reporting: two new items to report. Another engagement with NPR’s ombudsman. And Voice of San Diego’s reporters handbook, which disallows he said, she said.

For the background, see: We Have No Idea Who’s Right: Criticizing “he said, she said” journalism at NPR. This post is a continuation of that one.

First item: the NPR ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, asked me to contribute to an experiment that is unfolding at his latest post: The Media, Civil Liberties and Security in Post-9/11 America. The experiment is: “Instead of doing the normal ombudsman thing of getting an internal response and pronouncing judgment, I am throwing open the discussion to everyone. I will moderate the discussion, weigh in periodically and republish some of the insightful comments.”

Well, alright! We’re down for that.

At issue is this NPR report on counter-terrorism procedures at the Mall of America in Minnesota, which has its own police force. Working with the Center for Investigative Reporting, NPR discovered some extreme tactics that appeared to have ensnared completely innocent people, like the guy making a videotape of the wonders of the Mall of America for family members who are from another country. The impression given was of massive overkill, and a kind of institutional paranoia.

More than any story in NPR’s prodigious coverage related to the 9/11 anniversary, the mall series divided listeners, who responded by the score. The two-part series, titled “Under Suspicion,” was either hailed for exposing violations of civil liberties or condemned for undermining the nation’s counter-terrorism efforts.

The question the ombudsman wanted to raise was this:

How far should NPR go in giving its own context and conclusions on what the consequences of its investigation might mean for our civil liberties versus our protection against terrorist attacks?… After 20 minutes, I was left with the strong impression that the mall force was poorly trained, over-zealous and probably not needed. But you may have come away with other impressions. At no point, did the journalists provide a bottom-line assessment of what their investigation meant.

But should they? Here’s the question again:

One reason we love NPR so much is that, as in “Under Suspicion,” it uses a technique called “storytelling” to explain or evoke complicated subjects through the stories and voices of real people. An alternative is to put us all to sleep with the droning analysis of a reporter. But does that mean that at no point should the story try to make bottom-line sense of it all for listeners? Is this taking “we report, you decide” to false limits? I am not suggesting that the reporters give opinion, but should they turn the corner on their own investigation and themselves analyze what it means?

I think it’s important that our big national news organizations have ombudsman, a human portal for complaints and questions. I think it’s shameful that CNN and Fox News–both highly profitable companies–do not. So if the NPR ombudsman asks me to contribute to an experiment he’s running (the email I got read, “I’d like to invite you to weigh in…”) that is a request I take pretty seriously.

Here is what I sent back to him. It has been posted at the NPR site:

I read Edward Schumacher-Matos’s post carefully. I listened to the NPR report. And I think I understand the question you are asking. So here is my reply.

Mister ombudsman, I have a wish for NPR. The wish is that it will someday permit its reporters in comparable situations to level with their listeners by saying: “Having investigated this and talked to a lot of people, having done the reporting and thought about it a lot, I would like to share with you some of the conclusions I have come to. I do not present them as facts. For they are not facts. Nor do they represent the position of NPR. As you know, NPR doesn’t take positions. Rather, these are my own takeaways, an NPR reporter’s “key lessons learned,” the conclusions I feel most strongly about, because they came through so powerfully in my reporting. Here, then, is what I think I know about this story, after thoroughly investigating it. You are welcome–indeed, you are encouraged–to argue with me. And I could be wrong. But fair warning: I have reasons for saying what I am about to say….”

Frankly, NPR is not at this point yet. Realistically, it cannot do what I ask. But someday it may see the benefit in my suggestion. I know this is hard to hear, and I mean no offense to the hard working people there when I say it, but NPR is right now too weak to permit its reporters this kind of interpretive freedom. It is too afraid of criticism. It has been spooked by the bias police. It sees not coming to conclusions as… well, as some kind of virtue, but this is a mistake. Not coming to a conclusion is a virtue only when you have not done the reporting to support those conclusions. When you have done the reporting, withholding your conclusions is a kind of bias in itself.

In a way, what it says to the listeners is: you can’t handle the truth. And that is not the way to build trust or earn respect.

Second item: I’ve been trying to tell NPR that a lot of people are onto “he said, she said” journalism; they understand how lame it is. Among them is Andrew Donohue, the editor of Voice of San Diego, which is one of the best born-on-the-web news sites to have emerged in the last few years. In reply to my exchange with NPR he agreed to send me Voice of San Diego’s “new reporter orientation” guidelines. They’re not an ethics code, exactly– more of an “expectations code.” As you’ll see, the guidelines explicitly warn new reporters away from the “he said, she said” approach.

I think the entire document is intelligent and forward-thinking. It corrects for many of the defects in mainstream journalism, and tries to inspire Voice of San Diego reporters to do better. NPR could learn a lot from it. (For example: “We are guided by an ability to be transparent and independent, to clearly assess what’s going on in our community and have the courage to plainly state the truth.”) This is the first time it has been published. (VOSD just won a General Excellence Award from the Online News Association.)

Voice of San Diego: New Reporter Guidelines.

We only do something if we can do it better than anyone or if no one else is doing it.

* We must add value. We must be unique.

Three things to remember for each story:

* Context
* Authority
* Not just what is happening, but what it means

There is no such thing as objectivity.

* There is such thing as fairness.
* But everyone sees everything through their own filter. Acknowledge that, let it liberate you. Let it regulate you.
* We are not guided by political identification, by ideology or dogma. But every decision we make, from what to cover to how to cover it, is made through our own subjective judgments.
* We are guided by an ability to be transparent and independent, to clearly assess what’s going on in our community and have the courage to plainly state the truth.

Our bent: Reform. Things can always be better.

* We don’t have a dogmatic or ideological bent. But we do believe San Diego can and will do better.
* We can have better infrastructure, a healthier environment, a better education system, a responsive, efficient and transparent government, a better understanding of our neighborhoods’ challenges, a thriving economy and an ever-improving quality of life. If anything, this is our bias.

Be the expert.

* Write with authority. You earn the right to write with authority by reporting and working hard.
* No “he said, she said.”
* The day we write a headline that says: “Proposal has pros, cons” is the day we start dying.
* There is no such thing as 50/50 balance. There is a truth and we work our damndest to get there.
* Sometimes two viewpoints don’t deserve 50/50 treatment.
* Most of the time there aren’t two sides to something, anyways. There are 17. Who’s not being represented? If they’re not speaking up, how can you represent them?
* We don’t just “put things out there.” We’re not “only asking the question.”
* We don’t ask questions with our stories. We answer them.
* We don’t write question headlines, unless they’re so damn good that we can’t resist:
* We don’t do this: “Did City Official Take Bribe?”
* Or, to cite a recent example: “Did Wikileaks Hack Servers?”
* We’d maybe do this: “How Did a City Official Ended Up With Millions in Donations?”
* We’re not someone’s goddamn transcription service.
* They can relay their own news. In a world where leaders are able to communicate directly with their constituents very easily, we have to a.) make sense of what they say and b) find out the things they don’t want to say. It’s the only way to effectively use our limited resources.

Tell the truth.

* This means not being mealy mouthed and not being bias-bullied.
* Stand up to bias bullies. Tell them why you did something. Let them challenge you on it.
* If someone calls you biased, don’t be scared. Don’t dismiss it either. Reflect on it and answer with conviction.
* Don’t go quote-hunting for something you know to be true and can say yourself. Don’t hide your opinion in the last quote of a story.
* Take a stand when you know something to be true or wrong.

Care about your beat more than anyone else.

* It is your way to make San Diego a better place to live.

Focus on big problems

* David Simon, the creator of The Wire, has a quote that can be paraphrased this way: Journalism is good at solving small problems or taking small bites of a big problem. It’s not good at solving big problems.
* It’s easy as a journalist to take a stand against a six-figure salary. It’s easy to take a stand against an expensive meal on an expense report.
* Why do we take stands on those things and why are we afraid to take stands on bigger issues?

If you can’t find a good answer any of these three questions, drop the story:

* Why did I choose this story?
* Why will people care? (Not why should they care, but why will they care.)
* Why will people remember this story?

Avoid ‘churnalism’

* It’s not your job to have everything on your beat. It’s your job to have the best things.
* Don’t worry about getting scooped. Worry about not consistently making an impact.
* Love the title of this Columbia Journalism Review story: “The Hamster Wheel: Why running as fast as we can is getting us nowhere.”
* A quote: “The Hamster Wheel isn’t speed; it’s motion for motion’s sake. The Hamster Wheel is volume without thought. It is news panic, a lack of discipline, an inability to say no.”
* Another: “You say, ‘Why not have it?’ I say, ‘Because it isn’t free.’ The most underused words in the news business today: let’s pass on that.”
* We are a small group with limited resource. Everything we do must [pay off for the users.]
* We can learn a lot from sports journalism. (That’s for a different day.) But here’s one great quote to always keep in mind from sportsjournalism.org: “Nobody cares who’s first with the commodity news, but being first with what the news means still has value – in fact, it has more value than it ever has, given today’s torrent of information. Readers will gravitate to such stories, share them and remember them.”

Avoid the news voice whenever possible.

* Sometimes it’s necessary.
* But you should never write a story [the way] you think journalists are supposed to write it. Write like you would if you were trying to get your friends interested in an email. Lighten up. Be creative. Have fun. Be conversational.

Bring us in the implications, not the event.

* So it’s not “Booze Ban Voted Through Council Committee.”
* It’s “Booze Ban Has One Final Hurdle Left.”

Don’t be boring. People don’t spend their free time on boring things.

* That’s it.

Don’t tell me stories about “critics” or “some”

* I don’t have a clue who “critics” or “some” are. But they managed to be the most quoted people on the planet.
* I need to know who they are for that viewpoint to carry any validity.
* And I need to know what, if any, financial stake they have in the issue. Honestly. (Just a sample of headlines in the news in a five-minute search this fall: “Some say Escondido police union’s flier crosses the line…” “Some say new constitution would solve state’s woes…” “Critics say Washing Oily Birds Is Wasteful…” “Observers Say Time Right for Santander IPO…”
* I’ve read stories that use blanket “critics” in different spots to describe people on the opposite ends of the arguments. It was so confusing.

Have fun! Be creative! Push the envelope!

* You don’t do this for the money. So let’s have some fun.
* Try something that’s never been tried before. Or try something that someone else did somewhere else. Don’t do a story just to do it. Or because it’s an interesting exercise.
* Think about what will impact people or policy makers. What will they want to read or what will force them to make a change?
* Be a student of today’s great journalistic innovations.
* Be a leader of today’s great journalistic innovations.

(Jay again…) Awesome, isn’t it?

After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links…

I did a radio interview about “he said, she said” at NPR with Amanda Marcotte.

There’s a Metafilter thread about this post. It’s pretty good.

Former Vice President for News and Information at NPR, Bruce Drake, says in the comments:

Apropos of the “wish” you had for NPR in the second paragraph of your response to the ombudsman.

I have very mixed feelings about it, although with the reservations somewhat outweighing what I see are the plusses.

The main plus is that it would be pretty interesting radio (and, probably, the same goes for print).

My reservations are that this could be very confusing for news consumers, and especially so in the format of radio.

This is not to underestimate the intelligence or curiosity of listeners (“Hey, I’d like to know what that reporter REALLY thought”), but I could see where it could come across as sounding like editorializing and fuzzing the line around the perception of the reporter’s role to people who are not as immersed in or as careful listeners as someone like you.

There’s more. Read the rest.

A former ombudsman for NPR, Jeffrey Dvorkin, says in the comments:

The public’s view of the “he said/she said” dilemma is more about the increasing frustration over the limits of balance. Journalists often feel constrained by “ethical standards” and “guidelines” imposed from above, while management worries that lobbyists and advocates will condemn any attempt at contextualization as examples of liberal bias. A better approach is for news organizations to spend more time (and money) on doing as complete a job of reporting as possible. This includes allowing and encouraging reasonable and fair conclusions. What the public wants (and needs) is journalism that feels confident enough in its own abilities to serve the audience as citizens first and as consumers of media, second. To do anything less is to capitulate to self-censorship. Which is just what the political critics of journalism want.

The NPR ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, replies to me:

Jay,

In many ways, your wish is my wish. Stories that are long form, extensively researched and comprehensively sourced should come with conclusions – a clear progression of lessons (as you call them) rooted in the hard work of reporting. But what do we tell our audience when an investigation doesn’t reach a strong or sweeping conclusion? Few do.

You say that NPR has been scared away from conclusions. I have only been on the job three months, but haven’t found cowardism. I could be mistaken, but what I have found so far is a belief in using compelling and fair storytelling that over the course of a report conveys the facts and competing interpretations through the voices of people interviewed, and only limited voiceover. This allows listeners to draw their own conclusions, though I agree that sometimes listeners are left confused over how to weigh the competing points of view and who to believe. We need a reporter we trust to guide us with his or her own context and analysis, too.

The Mall of America story I cite, however, is a perfect example of an investigative that gives us what seems to be an important insight into abuses of civil liberty in the name of counter-terrorism, but still is only a limited insight.

No major conclusions can be drawn. My point was that it was this summation that should have been given. This said, the very investigation and lengthy report reflects that NPR was not shy from tackling a politically sensitive subject. I hope it never is.

Thanks!

Washington Post chat with writer and humorist Gene Weingarten:

ON THE OTHER HAND
Hi Gene, Just came across this critique of “he said, she said” reporting. It seems to be in line with what you’ve talked about in the past, although your description of it, “On the other hand, Mr. Hitler contends….” is much more colorful.

GENE WEINGARTEN :
Yeah, Rosen’s talking about the same thing. It’s basically a straw man type of writing, involving phony moral equivalencies. It’s cowardly: It lets you avoid finding the truth.

Peter Segal, the host of NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell me, commments on “he said, she said” and the production of innocence at NPR.

So: this is a pretty pointed critique of my friends, but I found it interesting, in that it discusses one of the big underlying questions of contemporary journalism: when do you owe your audience not just the facts, but the truth? And how do you determine what that is?

35 Comments

  1. Stuart Watson says:

    I recall one line verbatim from an ancient article in CJR on the smoke bomb of propoganda surrounding tobacco:

    “No viewer or reader is well served by a barrage of conflicting information, much of which flies in the face of common sense.”

    At the Vanderbilt University Television Archive I found video of network correspondants dutifully trooping over to the Tobacco Institute to get the “other side” to counterbalance the latest scientific study damning smoking.

    Yet as a rhetorical distraction to hijack the conversation on everything from abortion to global warming, you gotta say it still works.

    For journalists to throw up their hands at this blatant tactic is malpractice.

    • Diane Stallings (@dksbook) says:

      Andrew Donohue’s article is good, I’m sure. I am just a news consumer, though, so all the professional talk is a bit confusing to me. I don’t think the issue is either “he said-she said” or in Blogspeak, “false equivalency”. From a consumer’s point of view, what is needed is a differentiation between facts and assertions.

  2. gnarlytrombone says:

    Schumacher-Matos: “The two-part series, titled ‘Under Suspicion,’ was either hailed for exposing violations of civil liberties or condemned for undermining the nation’s counter-terrorism efforts.”

    Is this really in the “opinions on the shape of the Earth differ” category? I’m not sure he’s fully grasping the he-said, she-said problem.

  3. Evelyn says:

    Two quick comments…First, Jay is so to urge reporters who learned a lot to tell us what they think. BUT the length and complexity of his sample “mea culpa,” which the poor reporter would need to say before getting to utter a word of opinion, suggests a different approach to giving informed opinion.

    Why not construct a feature with its own title, music, images, whatever, specifically for the opinions of the reporter. This could run directly after a news report, or a number of them could be stacked up and run at a given time each day or week. Alternatively, at the end of the report the host can direct the listener to this feature on the website, where the reporter can let it rip.

    The advantages in segregating reporter opinion like this are many, but especially to spare us listeners from the tiresome recital of “this is just my opinion” disclaimers.

    • Evelyn says:

      Oh sorry, the second comment.

      My impression of the Mall of America story was that it was contradictory, at one point implying criticism of the mall cops for being overly cautious, and at another, implying criticism for missing a real would-be terrorist. If I was the editor, I would have spiked the criticism and made the story about what a difficult job it is to know who and who isn’t a terrorist. No wonder that, as aired, everybody could find something to be upset about.

  4. This strikes me as very similar to the public journalism manifestos of the small-town papers who experimented with the form in the 90s. I suppose the difference with born-on-the-web is that both the news production process and the product itself are far more adaptive to such a re-envisioning of journalism. I would be curious to hear more about how the Voice of San Diego’s newsroom and staffing practices differ as a result.

  5. This is great. I’ve just added this to some suggested inspiration for students at City University when they come to look at content strategies in their 3rd session.
    Another, much shorter one, is this, suggested by another tutor, science blogger Ed Yong http://www.savethenews.org/blog/10/09/10/no-more-bleeding-ledes-please

  6. rapier says:

    “We only do something if we can do it better than anyone or if no one else is doing it.”

    This first is the best.

    All big media only does the stories everyone else does and they do them exactly the same way as everyone else does. There is a powerful self referential quality to the ‘news’ which is part of he said she said I believe. They don’t want to beat the other guy on a story, be better at it, find something new to upstage the competition. Oh, did I say competition. Silly me.

  7. Bruce Drake says:

    Jay

    Apropos of the “wish” you had for NPR in the second paragraph of your response to the ombudsman.

    I have very mixed feelings about it, although with the reservations somewhat outweighing what I see are the plusses.

    The main plus is that it would be pretty interesting radio (and, probably, the same goes for print).

    My reservations are that this could be very confusing for news consumers, and especially so in the format of radio.

    This is not to underestimate the intelligence or curiosity of listeners (“Hey, I’d like to know what that reporter REALLY thought”), but I could see where it could come across as sounding like editorializing and fuzzing the line around the perception of the reporter’s role to people who are not as immersed in or as careful listeners as someone like you.

    During the evolution of NPR, it was difficult enough — and took to long for managers to realize the need to do this — to come to the understanding of how listeners “use” radio. Producers and editors knew they were putting a show on that started at the top of the hour and had a beginning a middle and an end — but that’s not the way most people “use” radio. They come into the show 10 minutes in, 20 minutes in, or what have you, and on a day when major news is breaking out all over the place, they may be confused to be plunged into a soft feature on sitar music in India.

    As time went on, NPR got better at using its hosts to do “re-checks” and just explicitly tell listeners at regular intervals what was going on in the show.

    I realize this sounds like a mechanical cavil that shouldn’t trump a novel idea that has merit, but I go through this to try (not very well) to illustrate one aspect of my point about confusion.

    I suppose my own feeling, in the end, is to address what you are trying to get at by going back to the things, in your first post, that you said a reporter should be expected to do in the original story, which is the one that is going to have the most impact.

    And to do the kinds of things described in the San Diego document which was great, and I hadn’t seen before.

  8. Rekha Murthy says:

    I’ve been following your ‘he said, she said’ posts and I really appreciate how deeply you’re working through the details and nuances of what this means, as only then can it be put into practice. You are helping me develop my own conceptual vocabulary to share this with the journalists and news organizations I know. Thank you.

    Those Voice of San Diego guidelines are marvelous. I wonder if they have plans to do occasional internal reviews of their work against their own guidelines. I would never expect them to hit 100%, but just the exercise can keep the ideal in sight.

    Somewhat as an aside, the line about pros and cons reminded me of this placard from the Field Museum:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rekha6/2381349202/

    And this Amazon review about a Smithsonian exhibit:
    http://amzn.to/r6RT4i

    When you’re done with journalism, time to take on museums?

  9. The public’s view of the “he said/she said” dilemma is more about the increasing frustration over the limits of balance. Journalists often feel constrained by “ethical standards” and “guidelines” imposed from above, while management worries that lobbyists and advocates will condemn any attempt at contextualization as examples of liberal bias. A better approach is for news organizations to spend more time (and money) on doing as complete a job of reporting as possible. This includes allowing and encouraging reasonable and fair conclusions. What the public wants (and needs) is journalism that feels confident enough in its own abilities to serve the audience as citizens first and as consumers of media, second. To do anything less is to capitulate to self-censorship. Which is just what the political critics of journalism want.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      “A better approach is for news organizations to spend more time (and money) on doing as complete a job of reporting as possible.”

      I agree with this. Thanks, Jeffrey.

      Jeffrey Dvorkin is a former ombudsman for NPR.

  10. [...] of San Diego, an online non-profit news source, has an interesting set of reporter guidelines, included in a post by Jay Rosen. Here are a [...]

  11. Freddie says:

    “There is no such thing as objectivity.

    * There is such thing as fairness.
    * But everyone sees everything through their own filter. Acknowledge that, let it liberate you. Let it regulate you.
    * We are not guided by political identification, by ideology or dogma. But every decision we make, from what to cover to how to cover it, is made through our own subjective judgments.”

    But in practice, this is nonsensical, of course. People can’t achieve objectivity, it’s true. Acknowledging that but pretending that you are not guided by political identification, ideology or dogma is just self-aggrandizement. It’s all political, ideological, or dogmatic. There is no alternative.

    I hate traditional, faux-neutral journalism, but the alternative you constantly espouse is just as fantastical. You’re asking people to abandon objectivity but to adopt fairness, but there’s no greater purchase on fairness here in real life than there is on objectivity. And as happens in most intellectual insurgencies, your rejection of the admittedly bogus system of traditional journalism means you are blind to the problems that system was created to address. I admire you for tearing down an unworkable mythology but I’m afraid you’re simply building a new one. As long as it is up to human beings to police their own discourse in arriving at the truth, there will be distortion, and the showy dismissal of traditional notions of journalistic objectivity is likely to prove just as unhelpful as what’s being rejected.

    It will, however, be popular.

    • kurosakih says:

      You overstate the case a bit, I think. Certainly we all see through our own eyes, and unavoidably so. But it is possible to at least attempt to evaluate arguments and positions one reflexively dislikes or believes to be wrong with a good approximation of fairness. Yes, some bias will creep in; if I’m evaluating the claims of someone who doesn’t think climate change is real, or that human activity has an impact on it if it is real, I’m going to need to work very hard indeed to make sure I’m giving his argument and claims a genuine hearing. Nevertheless, as long as I’m aware of that and determined to do it, it’s not impossible. It may require that I pretend to myself that it’s all a big thought experiment — what would this information look like in a world where this person’s conclusions were true? or where I believed they were? — but needing to put in extra effort to do something doesn’t make it impossible to do it.

      And if you write clearly enough, and with enough self-awareness, a reader will know enough about the biases or understandings of the world that you bring to your work that she should be able to evaluate your own evaluations in their proper context.

      Yes, all this is difficult, and demands something of journalists and of readers. But it also makes for better, more interesting reading and writing; it’s not just a public service and good citizenship, it’s overwhelmingly more fun.

    • gnarlytrombone says:

      “You’re asking people to abandon objectivity but to adopt fairness”

      I think a more accurate paraphrase of Jay’s diagnosis and prescription would be “drop phony equivalence posing as objectivity and strive for thoroughness and veracity.”

    • Jay Rosen says:

      I admire the Voice of San Diego, but VOSD does not equal Jay Rosen’s arguments. They would say that and I would say that.

      My own argument is not “objectivity no, fairness, yes” but rather…. “here’s where I’m coming from” is more likely to be trusted than the View from Nowhere.

      Thanks.

  12. Marc Zazeela says:

    Jay,

    I believe that news reporting should be completely objective. State the facts as they are known and let the reader draw his own conclusions. I would rather form my own opinions as opposed to being told what my opinion should be.

    The news used to be reported much more accurately. Today’s reporting is rife with political, social, and economic agendas.

    Please leave the opinions for the Op Ed pages.

    Marc

    • Jay Rosen says:

      “I would rather form my own opinions as opposed to being told what my opinion should be.”

      This is not how I view the alternatives. And I think this is a very bad way of framing those alternatives.

      As I have said, I think “here’s where I’m coming from” is more likely to be trusted than the View from Nowhere.

  13. Here’s an extreme, recent, example of the “question mark headline” technique cited in the Voice of San Diego reporter guidelines, courtesy of People magazine.

    http://bit.ly/p7HAOH

    Um, yes, Gone Too Far, no question mark.

  14. Michael C says:

    The comments are more enlightened than Prof. Rosen’s column.

    Particularly, comments by Jeffrey Dvorkin and Freddie.

    For what it’s worth, my own lame thought: The problem with he-said-she-said journalism is that it treats the story as if it ought to be headlined, “Opinions differ as to [story]“.

    Rarely is that the real story. But editors and writers force that frame onto the story in their desperate attempts to be “fair” and thereby head off charges of bias. As a result, our newspapers have become reporters of opinions rather than facts and events.

  15. Jay Rosen says:

    It’s a good day when Metafilter, one of the most successful commenting communities online, links to your post….

    http://www.metafilter.com/107809/No-He-said-she-said

  16. Chris Hanson says:

    NPR’s story on the mall cops was not an example of “he said/ she said” journalism. By investigating and reporting the story, NPR was exposing and raising serious questions about a private police force that most NPR listeners would conclude had crossed the line. Mall security got to have its say, but in a defensive context. Where NPR fell short was in failing more thoroughly to investigate whether that mall security op was unusual or one of many examples. We were left with the impression that it might well be an isolated case, but I find that hard to believe.

  17. Ted Coltman says:

    One of the worst aspects of “he said, she said” journalism is that NEITHER what “he said” nor what “she said” may be actually so. If a journalist has made NO effort to test the validity of ANY proposition put forward by ANY person, but has merely transcribed the statements of several persons, what is a reader/listener/viewer to think? In a first-day story on an event or controversy, a reporter may not be able to test the assertions he or she is reporting, but surely after weeks of legislative deliberation and well-recorded public debate, any decent reporter could have gathered some evidence that would test the truth of at least some of those assertions.

  18. Jazzaloha says:

    I think “he said, she said” journalism is a big problem, but I’m wondering Jay’s cure–”here’s where I’m coming from”–is necessary. Wouldn’t more thorough reporting in the form of testing and providing context for the claims solve the problem? To me, the biggest problem I have with “he said, she said” journalism is the lack of information I would need to decide who’s right for myself.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      I’ve said three things; they’re related but distinct. You’re mixing them up a little.

      I’ve said “here’s where I’m coming from” is easier to trust than the View from Nowhere.

      http://pressthink.org/2010/11/the-view-from-nowhere-questions-and-answers/

      I’ve said he said, she said journalism is when it’s possible to put clashing truth claims to a factual test but the report declines to do so. And I’ve urged what you just urged: testing and providing context for the claims.

      http://pressthink.org/2011/09/we-have-no-idea-whos-right-criticizing-he-said-she-said-journalism-at-npr/#p2

      And I’ve said that when NPR has done the reporting its correspondent ought to be able to say: these are some of the conclusions I draw.

      http://pressthink.org/2011/09/if-he-said-she-said-journalism-is-irretrievably-lame-whats-better/#p7

      • Jazzaloha says:

        Jay,

        Here’s where I’m a little confused. On one hand, you do speak about more thorough reporting. (I agree 100% with your comments about this.) On the other hand, you mention a View From Somewhere or a reporter sharing his/her conclusions. My sense is that if you do the former, the latter isn’t necessary.

        I think this is important because I can understand the reluctance of news agencies adopting a View From Somewhere and allowing reporters to share the conclusions they’ve made. It is editorializing–or very close to it–and that can be problematic. (Having said that, I’d prefer this approach to a View From Nowhere, anyday!)
        So when NPR (or any news agency) asks, “What’s the better approach?” My response is better reporting–i.e., testing claims, using outside experts, providing crucial contextual information, etc. This is what I want from the press! (And I’m not getting it!)

  19. [...] If “he said, she said” journalism is irretrievably lame, what’s better? » Pressthink [...]

  20. someBrad says:

    Journalists already give their informed opinions, but only in certain contexts. The classic example is campaign reporters chatting in the bar after an event in Whateversville. That one’s easy to understand — they’re “off the clock.” But the more complicated situation is when the journalist is being interviewed, as on Fresh Air. All the time I hear reporters tell Terry Gross what they think about important matters within their beats. Some are more comfortable doing this than others, but even the most reluctant ones still let their hair down compared to what you would find in one of their reports. One approach the reluctant ones take that I’m particularly fond of is the “my reporting has shown…” formulation.

    In fact, why can’t we just get rid of quote-hunting as a ridiculously cumbersome and confusing way of a reporter inserting his/her opinion into a story and instead encourage them to put the “my reporting has shown…” conclusions they’re willing to share with Terry Gross into their actual reports?

  21. [...] small items are only the beginning. Rosen published the entire, rather lengthy, list of guidelines on his blog PressThink if you’re [...]

  22. [...] Jay Rosen published their New Reporter Guidelines for the first time last week, it was clear that it wasn’t just [...]