What Is Responsible Journalism — Dave’s Diary
Here we go again. Another chapter in the never ending saga of Dave vs “the newspaper”.
What’s the problem this time? The Yakima Herald Republic (yhr) published a story where a resident who frequently comes to council accuses me of disrespect and taking every opportunity for verbal abuse her. Now the yhr reporter knows this isn’t true because he sits through all the meetings but that didn’t stop him from publishing the charges. And the paper is defending him. This is unfair and wrong and shouldn’t happen.
Quick analogy to help explain my position.
For a moment imagine a person named DAVE is arrested for committing a crime, say robbery. The yhr generally won’t publish DAVE’s name until he is formally charged. That’s fair policy. Just because DAVE got arrested doesn’t mean DAVE did it or that there is even enough information to charge DAVE with a crime. Why associate his name in a negative way with a crime when he hasn’t even had the evidence reviewed yet? That would be harmful to DAVE’S reputation. It wouldn’t be fair. The responsible thing to do is wait.
So the police and prosecutors review the evidence and if they feel it is sufficient, they will charge DAVE with robbery based on, eyewitness, the stolen items, surveillance video, etc. Once DAVE is charged, the paper will be free to print DAVE’S name because DAVE is now part of an official process and the charges have been vetted. Good policy. Fair Policy. Responsible Policy.
Now, what if someone came to city council, took to the podium and charged Dave with disrespect and verbal abuse at every opportunity. That’s not a crime but it’s not very nice and if true , it could undermine DAVE’s credibility and his ability to do his elected job. Certainly DAVE’S reputation could be hurt and if it later proves untrue, it could hurt the accuser’s reputation too.
SO when this happens, what should the yhr do? Check the accusers evidence? Check DAVE’S defense? Vet the charges? YES! But no…
The reporter sat through the meetings when the alleged misconduct occurred so he is an eye witness…there is also the published meeting minutes to review to refresh the mind and better still, the actual video of the past meetings to review. If the yhr reporter knows DAVE wasn’t disrespectful or abusive by any normal standard of behavior, should he publish the accusation? What is the reporter’s responsibility to protect DAVE & the accuser’s reputations AND to best serve the informational needs and interests of the readers? What if in checking the details it was determined that the allegations aren’t true and so there is no story?
Can the yhr reporter publish the charges saying “oh well, she said them, not I” and have that be reason enough to compromise people’s reputations? Do you let that go unchallenged? Not by me. So here we go again.
Mike Faulk at the yhr failed the readers, the accuser (who has since admitted to speaking in error) and he has failed me. Do I think Faulk meant to? No. But lazy or sloppy journalism can be just as harmful as intentionally inaccurate journalism.
What next? Do I “Shut up and take it”? Do I “toughen up”? – OR – Do I Speak up and demand better treatment at the hands of the yhr? Shouldn’t I point out the error of their ways based on my 25 years as a journalist and ask them to do more on behalf of their readers and the people about whom they write? YUP. Stay tuned.