Monday, June 11, 2007

The Modern Reporter

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A recent post in which I detailed the components one might gather to outfit a Reporter's Gear Bag got me thinking. For all of the modernization in media and the changes impacting Broadcast Journalism, specifically radio news, the need for reporters and what they do is still there. In the Capital Region, radio news reporting on commercial stations has been affected by staff cuts. Many times I've gone to cover a story to find NO other radio station mic flags. Just me and mine. And now, in recent months, it's not unusual to find just one or two of the local TV stations covering and event, sometimes "cameraman only." What I am seeing is people who produce independent radio programs showing up at press events, gear in tow. These individuals are helping fill the need for real solid news reporting.

Last month Jeff Jarvis wrote a piece that appears in the Guardian [subscription required]pertaining to bloggers and reporters. When I read it, it hit home. A couple of years ago when I was hosting the Capital Region People radio program, I did a segment on bloggers and blogging. Of the five bloggers invited to participate, it came down to just two in the end: Isabella Chen (Miss Izzy aka Sarong Party Girl) and Ambra Nykola. The male bloggers, two of whom were very prominent in the 2004-5 blogosphere, gave me all kinds of grief. One decided after the taping that he needed his attorney to review the tape. WTF? The other demanded a transcript, saying if he didn't like something he said he wanted to re-record that portion of the interview "properly." The third guy was just a total dweeb, so it was blogger girls only!

Jeff Jarvis: "Bloggers love a kerfuffle and our latest involves nothing less than the state of the art of the journalistic interview. The fuss began when Fred Vogelstein - a Wired magazine journalist, reporting a story about a powerful blogger - asked two fellow bloggers for phone interviews. But they each set conditions. Jason Calacanis, a blogging entrepreneur, insisted on doing the interview via email so he could publish a full record of it online. Dave Winer, an internet pioneer, said he'd answer questions in public, on his blog, if he had anything to say. Both explained that they do this in part because in the past they have been misquoted. Wired's own bloggers piled in, sniping at Calacanis and Winer, launching more bloggers. And the kerfuffle was on.
Then I joined in on my blog, because what I saw here was a fundamental challenge to a journalist's control of the interview."

Now this is where things get interesting:

"Who says reporters should set the conditions when they are the ones seeking information and when the interviewee no longer needs the press to reach the public?

If the reporter stands firm on his conditions, doesn't he risk missing information? This then raises the question: what is the purpose of the interview, information or gotcha moments? Vogelstein, like most journalists, insists that tone is part of the answer. For profiles, that may be true, but for all interviews?"

In MY world (world of sound bytes), the purpose of the interview, be it by phone or in person, is to gather information by probing, i.e., asking questions. After I get what I'm looking for, I'll ask a question or two about another newsworthy topic (which can sometimes be used in another story) and I'll usually close with "...is there anything else you feel you need to say that I haven't asked you?" That closing statement gives the interviewee the opportunity to have the last word, and when the phone is hung up or the mic shut off, he or she is satisfied. In radio, 99.9% of the time you really NEED the sound, the voice. In the print world, email IMHO is just as credible as any other style interview.

Jarvis argues in favor of alternative interviewing techniques: "The asynchronous email interview allows the subject to actually think through an answer - and, again, if information is the goal, what's the harm in that? If the reporter has time to edit the words to be more accurate and articulate, why shouldn't the source? Putting the exchange in writing also puts it on the record so no one can claim misquotation. Of course, quotes may still be taken out of context, but the solution to that is the link: why shouldn't any quote in a story link to its place in the fuller interview? There's the context.

This even suggests a change in the structure of the article itself. For example, rather than writing the bare background paragraph that has long been part of the form, we can now link to a fuller background online: click here if you need to catch up. If we also link to fuller quotes and research, then the article becomes a sort of table of contents to knowledge. The article should still be sufficient in itself, but why shouldn't it also be a gateway to more?

And now consider the idea that a story never ends and never begins. When a reporter has an idea for a story that should be reported, the discussion can begin online: what do we know, what do we want to know, what and whom do we ask? Then, as interviews and reporting get under way, in public, the public can add its knowledge and questions.

Then the reporter writes the article. And make no mistake: there always will be value in an article. For the vast majority of subjects and stories, I don't want to go digging through original interviews and reporting-in-progress. I want the reporter to do the work of packaging it for me. So the article remains a keystone.

But even so, who says the story should be over - fishwrap - just because the reporter has finished writing it and the press has stopped rolling? Once published online, the story can continue to grow as readers add their facts, perspectives, corrections and remixes of the information. So the article is a process. It is collaborative. It is three-dimensional, linking to background and depth. It's alive! Of course, phone and in-person interviews have a role. But how interviews occur can no longer be limited to a reporter's rules."

Next question: SHOULD REPORTERS BLOG? Why not? News reporting is an occupation, not a lifestyle. I mean, it's not like you're a priest or anything. That is, unless you're blogging at a sporting event:

Louisville Courier-Journal: Courier-Journal reporter ejected from U of L game. A Courier-Journal sports reporter had his media credential revoked and was ordered to leave the press box during the NCAA baseball super-regional yesterday because of what the NCAA alleged was a violation of its policies prohibiting live Internet updates from its championship events. Gene McArtor, a representative of the NCAA baseball committee, approached C-J staffer Brian Bennett at the University of Louisville’s Jim Patterson Stadium in the bottom of the fifth inning in the U of L-Oklahoma State game. McArtor told him that blogging from an NCAA championship event “is against NCAA policies. We’re revoking the credential and need to ask you to leave the stadium.”

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