I’ve been chewing on this one for a few weeks, or it has been chewing on me. I wondered how I should approach this. Should I call or email a news director and simply tell what I saw? Should I let it slide? Or, should I post it here and let the chips fall. Obviously, I decided to post it here. Will there be chips?
I don’t know if it is a facet of “doing more with less” [Please see an earlier post.], or the lack of sources and resources during the holidays, or worse—laziness, but I’m seeing a disturbing trend: One-source “packaged” news stories on the air.
In the television news industry, a “package” is a story with a reporter’s voice track , often with a “stand up” or “bridge” inside when the reporter appears on camera. The standup or bridge will accomplish one or more of several things. It gives the reporter presence at a scene; it allows the reporter to explain something for which there is no video; or as a bridge it can create transition. But a package—any story for that matter—should be balanced and fair. Right? A story using only one source is thin on content at best.
The only packages that might work with one source would be “spot” news (especially live shots), profiles, or features. Certainly, when reporters roll up on a raging fire just before a newscast, one quick interview covering the basics of the breaking news may be all that is available before going live. Even features and profiles are often better with more than one source. Most other stories always need balance. Even saying, “We attempted to reach Mr. Blah-Blah-Blah, but were unsuccessful” can help.
What set me off were two stories that I saw recently on the same station, minutes apart. They were one-source stories. They were one-sided. They left questions in my mind. A reporter never wants to leave questions about their stories in the minds of the viewers. A viewer, in fact, may lock onto that story and miss the rest of the newscast if they are musing over the one-source story and not paying attention.
One of the stories that kindled my consternation contained opinions from Jim Harrington, Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. You can be sure that almost any story using Mr. Harrington as a source probably has some controversy attached to it. Yet, the story was the gospel according to Mr. Harrington; no other sides were presented. The reporter even seemed to buy into Mr. Harrington’s point of view, judging from her delivery. I was disturbed. The other one-source, one-sided story was much lighter, but it screamed for balance. The reporter could have said something in the tag at the very least. Nope.
Responsibility here doesn’t rest only with the reporter. With the exception of live, breaking news, all scripts should be cleared by the show producer. More often than not, an executive producer and/or the news director will also read the story before it is edited and aired. For print, editors do the same things before approving a story for publication. There is plenty of blame to go around.
Let me emphasize: Yes, I’m focusing on these two stories because they aired almost back-to-back on the same station. It, however, seems to be a trend, and other newsrooms also seem satisfied with such so-called journalism. That’s what alarms me. It should alarm all viewers/users/consumers of local news too. Red flags should go up. Whistles and sirens should sound. None of us should be satisfied with one-source stories and let the media skate. We deserve better, and we should demand it. This is not rocket science. This is basic journalism with a “Big J.”
Media is constantly castigated for being biased in its reporting. I’d be curious if anyone has complained about one-source stories. It may not be bias, but it certainly leaves that impression. We all know that facts may not matter, impressions do matter, especially if those impressions re-enforce a reader/listener/viewer/user/consumer’s pre-existing notion of the truth.
Readers/listeners/viewers/consumers/users have agency. I encourage, I urge all to use it. One way stations learn of an audience’s feelings is when enough audience members pick up the remote and change channels or cancel subscriptions. However, without research, a medium may be at a loss to know why their ratings are down. As a believer in traditional, local news media, I don’t advocate this kind of feedback.
All media now claim to want feedback, and they make it possible through their web sites. If a medium gets enough credible negative (or positive) reaction to specific stories, there is a real potential for positive change and growth. Sometimes, it only takes only one thought-provoking, detailed email.
© Jim McNabb