Monday, June 29, 2009

Instant Loss of Credibility???

Really? Instant?

Just by mispronouncing the name of a town, by saying BOO-dah instead of BYOU-duh for Buda, can one experience “instant loss of credibility”. Well, no. Probably not. Not for a one thing, unless that one then is a very big thing. The simple mispronunciation of a word won’t forever damn you in the eyes of the viewers, listeners, friends or strangers.

One of my longtime friends from TV news read the phrase “instant loss of credibility”, the subheadline in my last post, and saw it as a sentence to journalism purgatory, if not hell. Oh sure, a producer might correct you, a friend might kid you, but one muff of a word won’t ruin your career or standing in the community.

Obviously, what will cause an “instant loss of credibility” is a publicized brush with the law. Readers of “TV Spy” have seen lots of it in print lately elsewhere. “Anchor Arrested for DUI”, “City Reporter Seen Socializing with Mayor”, and so forth. You’ve seen it, and you’ve formed an opinion on the spot. People in the public eye must be circumspect. I remember when I was covering crime in the ‘80s for KVUE (ABC), I was single. Like most single people, I’d go to parties. The second or instant that I saw a line on a mirror, I was out the door. I had ugly visions of a police sweep, and I would be caught up in it. Yeah, that would have been an “instant loss of credibility” and, possibly, career.

Credibility is not instant either. It is earned. People get to know you as a journalist or as a person. After knowing someone for a while, comes trust. That trust turns into something larger—call it credibility.

The inverse, therefore, is true. Little things, seemingly tiny things, can chip away at that credibility. One miss pronounced or muffed word won’t kill you, but if it continues, it begins to grind and confidence erodes. It’s the drop on the stone. Poor grammar is probably worse. If you say a word (street name or place) wrong, they may murmur, “This person ain’t from around here,” but they won’t hold it against you. Using poor grammar time and again will wear away credibility. It questions your education and knowledge. The listener will ask, “If this person cannot make subject and verb agree, can this person connect the dots on a complex story? Can I trust this person? Can I trust this person? Can I trust this source—person-to-person or through any communications medium?

Errors in fact are the worst. It won’t take many misstatements to ruin a relationship. Errors in fact can be interpreted as sloppy work, lying, or even bias. Now, we’re talking about near “instant loss of credibility”.

Beyond a personal level, at the institutional level, most of the above is true. People may stop watching a station because of everything from recurring errors in fact, a perceived bias, or constant production snafus, which seem to come with the territory in automated, robotic TV. When the system melts down and starts taking the wrong video, taking the wrong camera, moving the robotic camera like a zombie, and on and on, people may watch while it’s happening because it’s a train wreck. Over the long term, however, the audience may sample a different source. The Austin market is notoriously fickle. It doesn’t take much for them to rise as one and reach for the remote.

None of us sets out to achieve “instant loss of credibility” as individuals. We have our persona created over the years. When that persona is damaged, we hurt. It is the same professionally. Some who suffer career setbacks soldier on, determined to get back what they had. Sometimes they do. Other times, it takes a move to another market—starting over.

As individuals, we are often generous and forgiving. The audience acting individually in email is not nearly as forgiving. I’ve answered viewer email. What the audience perceives as truth sometimes is not fair, but it’s what the audience thinks. Retrieving that goodwill takes time and commitment by management and the professional staff. Fortunately, the audience at the moment may not forgive, but five years from now, it may have forgotten.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Lisa Glass said...

Well said, Jim. Death by a thousand papercuts is still death.

Anonymous said...

Hello! My name is Leigh Patterson and I'm the Life & Arts editor at The Daily Texan, the student newspaper at UT. I'm currently working on a story about Austin bloggers that started as a soft feature about what bloggers around town are doing but has evolved into something more. Since reading your blog, the recent AP story on proposed FTC blogger regulations, and seeing new publications like the Austin Post beginning, I'm beginning to focus the story in a new direction and was really interested in gaining your insight. You have such a unique perspective on the subject that few other Austinites have, and I would love the opportunity to talk to you about it and about the story if possible.

Also, I'm sorry for using your blog as a space to voice all these thoughts -- I couldn't find an email address! Thanks so much!

Leigh Patterson

Anonymous said...


Just from a person "in the biz" and having worked with Jim for several years, I think I speak for many when I say that Jim would be a great interview and is well-read, educated, and thorough in his thoughts. He has a great blog here, but it's merely the topside of the iceberg of knowledge the makes him who he is.