Sunday, June 10, 2012

Inadvertently Blended

The Daily Freeman blogs and reports this morning that The Poughkeepsie Journal says it is sorry for "... (a) situation was brought to the attention of the Journal by Daily Freeman officials. Journal editors then conducted an investigation. They found that a reporter’s notes and files were inadvertently blended with the Freeman online story, and proper steps to create an original news story were not taken by the Journal reporter."

It's a well-known practice: mainstream media news departments have "borrowed" from one another on a routine basis for decades - I recall one radio station where I worked many years ago (this was a top station in the market) which had a morning "news anchorman" who adlibbed his stories directly from the morning papers! You can still hear some of "the morning papers" when you listen to any local radio newscast***... the New York City metro area stations are smart enough to say "According to the New York Times" or "The Daily News says" or "The Post reports" ...

***Keep in mind that there are many instances where you will see (or hear) the same words in the same order in reports from different outlets - they are either taken from press releases or using what's known as "wire copy" or "A.P." which is rarely edited a.k.a. "rip and read" because if one strays too far from the text, and that text turns out to be incorrect, it is no longer the fault of the author of the press release or the wire service: it's the reporter (or editor's) fault. Likewise when you find info on a website. It's always best to attribute it to the website or author. "Joe Banks says the Governor lost a fifty dollar bill." That way, if the information turns out to be false, it's on Joe Banks!

When I work on a story inspired / triggered / jumpstarted by a newspaper article, that article can help "fill in the blanks" --- for example, if I need to get in touch with the New York City DEP and they're not getting back to me in time for deadline, I can go back to the article and report "so and so from the DEP told the New York Times blah blah blah..." And, in a real pinch - I've done this before - call the reporter who broke the story - I once interviewed Jim Odato on a Times Union piece he wrote - I don't recall what the story was about but none of the people mentioned in it were available or wanted to comment, so I got Jim on the phone and also added audio from a local political observer to fill in the blanks.

If I were doing a radio version of the Freeman story, and couldn't contact anyone able to vocally verify the facts and figures, I'd toss in the "according to the Daily Freeman..." (digression: I can't tell you how many times in the last six months I've spoken with people who tell me the paper got some numbers wrong or left some out or there's more to the story than was published, or they want to clarify something - or - the one comment they were hoping would make the newspaper wasn't used. Gold mine!)

Blogs and websites are notorious for "scraping" content from other sources without attribution, and I'm thinking that we're getting used to seeing this, which is influencing younger reporters and news editors. No one means to steal from or harm another media entity. Reporters and editors must strive to be original, and stay true to the facts.
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