Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Holding people accountable

A couple of things from this past week demonstrate an increasing commitment by journalists to making sure audiences get the truth from news reports -- not just unchallenged speculation and spin.

On Friday, Matthew Felling blogged for CBS News' PublicEye about "Pop Up Politics," in which he proposed covering debates with VH-1-style "pop-up" boxes that emerge onscreen as candidates ramble through their talking points. The pop-ups would provide background and biographical information on the candidates, explain their positions on issues and, ideally, point up contradictions between their present and past statements in real time.

Felling seemed to be half joking in his post, but this is a terrific idea. Not only would it help bring televised debates into the 21st century, it would be engaging, informative and help keep the candidates honest. Major style points to the first network (does it have to be Comedy Central?) that tries it.

Then yesterday Romenesko posted a lengthy internal memo from AP writer Ron Fournier about writing with authority. The memo is posted under Miscellaneous Items -- I'm not sure if this is a permanent link or if a search would be required.

This memo is a great litany of tools reporters can use to make sure they are acting as journalists and not just stenographers of official statements, including:

-- Following up on process stories by checking in six months or a year later to see how proposals and promises fared in reality

-- Actively and unapologetically exposing intentional lies and misstatements by officials

-- Working sources to get more insight into what's really happening behind the scenes

-- Writing what reporters know to be true based on verifiable observations rather than relying solely on the official word. Fournier uses coverage of Hurricane Katrina as an example.

If AP adopts these ideas as standard practice, the ubiquitous news organization could help revolutionize the way officials are covered, to the disadvantage of the disingenuous and in great service to the public.


  1. Anonymous9:52 AM

    Thanks for the shout out on my piece, Perry. Drop a line anytime at CBS ...

    -Matthew Felling