It’s true – you never forget your first city editor.
Jim Sneddon, who is now city controller in York, Pa., provided a certain brash, young reporter with valuable guidance at the start of his career in 1984. I thought of Jim the other day at lunch when asked about newsroom leaders who have influenced me over the years.
What I recall prominently about Jim – aside from his wet sandwiches and late-night cigars – was his delight in being approached by reporters who had done some pre-reporting before pitching a story idea. With a gleam in his eye, Jim would engage the reporters in animated conversations about their proposed stories, dissecting the “news peg” pitched.
I was again reminded of Jim after reading a Poynter column penned by Tom Huang, Sunday and enterprise editor at The Dallas Morning News and an adjunct faculty member at Poynter. Huang breaks down the “six questions journalists should be able to answer” before pitching a story. It’s excellent reading for both reporters and editors.
“When you are a person of influence, people look to you for cues and clues. We all know people who make the workplace better and brighter just by showing up. They combine realism and pragmatism with hope and a relentlessly positive outlook. And we want to be a part of that person’s team.” – Jill Geisler
In a world full of leadership experts, my money is on Jill Geisler, who heads the leadership and management programs at The Poynter Institute. Geisler pens a regular column for Poynter, and her book, “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know,” is a must read.
Check out her words of wisdom delivered in a recent commencement address.
Funny coincidence: The other night I sent my partner in crime a text with the word “Clamato” – you know, the drink mix. Or so I thought. What she received was the auto-corrected work “calamari” – which made absolutely no sense in context. Her response was appropriate.
The next day, I came upon this amusing piece in The New York Times, headlined “Auto Crrect Ths!” As James Gleick writes, “In the past, we were responsible for our own typographical errors. Now Autocorrect has taken charge. This is no small matter. It is a step in our evolution — the grafting of silicon into our formerly carbon-based species, in the name of collective intelligence. Or unintelligence as the case may be.”
Gleick goes on to explain how algorithms are to blame. Take a few minutes to read the piece – you will definitely relate.
Two “truisms” I learned as a young reporter: never submit your story to the subjects of the story to “review” in advance of publication, and never agree to quote approval.
I always considered it a trust issue: I believed the people interviewed for stories were giving me factual information as they knew it, and they had to trust I would get the story right. Yes, I reviewed quotes with sources for accuracy, but never to clean up to meet their demands.
So it was with some disappointment – but not a great deal of surprise, frankly – to follow the revelations about the disturbing trend of “quote approval” embraced by news organizations. Essentially, in exchange for access to high-level officials in politics and government, journalists allow quotes to be previewed modified before publication. The practice is rampant in coverage of the Obama and Romney presidential campaigns.
As detailed in Jeremy Peters’ July 15 article for The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Reuters and the Times are among the media outlets that have agreed to the increasingly common practice. As one Times editor put it: “We don’t like the practice. We encourage our reporters to push back. Unfortunately, this practice is becoming increasingly common, and maybe we have to push back harder.”
Yes, as political coverage war horse Dan Rather wrote in a scathing opinion piece, the mighty Times and other powerful media outlets have to push back harder. It’s essential that all reporters and news organizations push back when confronted with this mandate.
Public trust in the media continues to erode; being controlled by politicians and their minions will do nothing to improve that status.
Poynter last week hosted a live chat titled, “What’s the deal with quote approval?” Follow the replay here.