News Theory Questions 1

Should reporters tell interviewees all the ways the interview may be used?

This is a moral dilemma for many journalists. They are under no obligation to show their interviewees the material they have produced and there are no rules stating that they must inform them of how it will be used. But it is often something that is done in order to build a level of trust. Trust needs to be earned in order to gain valuable information from your interviewee and this can be done by explaining how you may use the interview.

Another issue that must be considered whether you should do what the interviewee wants with the material or what the public needs/wants to know? Sometimes it may be best to be subtle when asking your question so that you can get the information. Journalist Sally Adams stated in her book, Interviewing for Journalists, “If you have an agenda you’d rather they didn’t know about, don’t make it clear from the very start by the thrust of your questions. Most political and business interviewees have considerable experience of the press, more than beginners realise, and subtlety is needed.” (Adams and Hicks 2001) Here she is implying that it is okay not to tell the interviewee how the material will be used but in doing so you must be discreet in how you phrase your questions and present yourself.

An interviewee may feel deceived if a passing comment they made during the interview was then made the focus of the article which had an investigative aim. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should always inform them of how you will use the information but you could address the dilemma by letting them know how the quote will be used then asking if there is anything else they would like to add. This way you can still use the quote and remove any bias.

The question is up to the journalist to decide on. It is up to personal preference to decide how to treat an interviewee. Turning to normative ethics can assist when deciding the right course of action. If you take a utilitarian approach then the action that is morally right is the one that produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number (Mill). If the information retrieved in the interview will benefit the public then it is necessary for them, the greatest number, to be informed of it even if that requires not informing the interviewee of its use.

Codes of practice such as the Independent Press Standards Organisation advise that, “the Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.” As long as the report is accurate and fair then there is no reason why a reporter should tell the interviewee all the ways the interview will be used.

Adams, S. and Hicks, W., 2001. Interviewing for journalists. New York: Routledge.

Mill, J. S., no date. Utilitarianism. Raleigh, NC: Alex Catalogue.

 

How should we handle the biases of sources and avoid skewing the range of viewpoints?

Sources may have conflicts of interests depending on their perspective or closeness to an issue. If only this perspective is reported then you risk having a biased piece of material with a limited range of viewpoints. It is hard to detect bias in sources as stories “intermesh fact and source” (Tuchman, 1979). Facts are created and verified by sources meaning they are always interlinked. Interviewees may also have an agenda with the aim only to disclose certain information and to deliver a particular message through their comments in an interview so it is important to seek truth and report the other side of the argument. Where you look for sources can potentially skew the range of viewpoints too. If you only look online via social media you are restricting yourself to a certain group of people. Social, political and economic considerations must also be made in order to get views from a variety of sources from different backgrounds. For a piece to be balanced and objective you need information or comments from both sides of the story.

One point to consider is whether or not it impacts the reader if a source is biased. Surely they can consider this themselves and choose whether to view is as biased or not? You can make this clear to the consumer by differentiating between fact and opinion and they can then form their own impression of what, if anything, is biased. Professor Herbert Gans highlighted in his book Deciding What’s News, that audiences have subjective perceptions of bias rather than absolute or objective because they judge the same news coverage differently (Gans 1979). They all have differing standards in terms of bias or nonbias.

Gans, H. J. (1979). Multiperspectival news. In Deciding what’s news: A study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time (pp. 304–336). New York, NY: Pantheon.

Tuchman, G., 1979. Making news: A study in the construction of reality. New York: Free Press.

 

What do fairness and balance mean in the journalistic context?

The terms balance and fairness interlink but do not mean entirely the same thing. To be objective as a journalist, your articles/material must be balanced. This means you have to do your best to present all viewpoints and sides of the story. You also have to attempt to always be accurate and true when reporting in order to be fair. In doing so, you are not influencing the reader to believe a certain view, you are encouraging them to take in the content and reach their own conclusion. The role of a journalist is to inform their readers and not to control their views.

Fairness is an ethical matter because it is considered a standard of professional performance by both journalists and critics. It also matters in political terms because people use this information that they expect to be fair and balanced to decide public policy (Fico and Soffin, 1995). Audiences have a level of trust in journalists to deliver factual content in a fair and balanced style.

Interestingly, it seems that some media outlets don’t offer the most fair and balanced coverage because they believe their audiences prefer to have their biases reinforced rather than challenged by a news outlet’s attempt to be impartial (Weber, 2015). It is generally accepted that most journalists try to be as fair and balanced as possible, but this depends on the publication and personal attitude of a journalist. It is very difficult to be completely balanced and fair when reporting. There is often the risk that your own views will end up framing the story in a particular way or that only the most prominent people’s views will be reflected. Considering what language you use can also help ensure you don’t unfairly represent the facts in the story.

Fico, F. and Soffin, S., 1995. Fairness and balance of selected newspaper coverage of controversial national, state, and local issues. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 72 (3), 621–633.

Weber, J., 2015. Teaching fairness in journalism: A challenging task. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 71 (2), 163–174.

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