Do Homework

Accuracy is the key in news reporting and haste can be damaging, this was the theme of the February 14 discussion on ethics. Lesson one: accuracy and objectivity are the two priorities in news reporting, while keeping a distance from the story’s subject is the best way to remain unbiased.

In order to remain objective, we verify facts, double check facts and remain transparent on the methods and motives we use to report these facts.

As an example of how not to conduct an interview if one claims to be a legitimate reporter, we studied the timely interview by Meredith Viera with Mimi Alford. In a stop-and-go study we can decipher every word, every shake of the head and every gaze from Viera, as one that immediately labels Alford as a victim.

In college (and as mentioned in a previous blog) we studied the tactics of David Frost in his interview with President Nixon and how he managed to get the information he was after. He did so by researching every nook and cranny of the story. It was admirable to listen to Frost as he asked intelligent and thoughtful questions to the president in order to further investigate the Watergate scandal for the American people to see. This time, in the present-day interview with Alford, I had no admiration for the interviewer, since Viera did not interview Alford at all. In the hour that our class-time permitted for viewing, I don’t recall a single question coming from Viera.

Correction; there was one question, but it was answered by the voice-over instead of Alford, a sure sign that this piece of infotainment was aired specifically for human interest with little-to-no news worthiness.

Little by little we found that the voice-over provided more information than Alford did herself, most of which came from the book that Alford wrote about her affair with John F. Kennedy. Between voice-over clips, Viera repeated statements made by Alford as she gave the play by play of events, to which Alford was found repeating herself with little detail added. And rather than ask new original questions, Viera read from the book.

Viera did not do her journalism homework for this interview (even admitting to not remembering Alford’s public statement when she originally identified herself to the media). This interview could have been an investigation to find out whether Alford was telling the truth or making up a grand story for fame. Or perhaps further fact checking could have uncovered more Kennedy affairs. Instead Viera stared, almost sadly, at Alford as if to announce to the audience, “yep, Mimi Alford is a victim.”

This interview could have uncovered detail beyond what is offered in the book. By fact checking and finding outside sources, an interviewer could have uncovered a whole other side to the story.

A journalist should know all – be a smart-ass if need be – in order to prove that he or she is beyond prepared for whatever direction the interview may take. There is a reason legitimate journalists seem like they know a lot, it’s because they do their homework. 

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