What new year's resolutions have you made for 2013? How many of them will survive longer than January?
We all like to start a fresh, new year with goals but it's human nature to let those goals fall quickly by the wayside. A plan to exercise more often is easy to forget on a Saturday morning when it feels good to sleep in. A goal to stop smoking seems like a great idea until your find yourself in a stressful situation and revert to the habit of lighting up. And for journalists, a desire to take even a little bit of time to talk through the details, accuracy and implications of a story can crumble under deadline pressure, both real and perceived.
There are countless examples, large and small, of media organizations not thinking through what can happen when a story goes to print, on air or online and regretting it later. Some can be small, like the misspelling of a name in an on-screen graphic, a mis-matched newspaper headline or a transposed telephone number. Others can be big and highly visible, like a doctored photo slipping into a newscast, a quote taken out of context, or a rush to present information too quickly, like 2012's Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, which turned out to be completely the opposite of what was first reported.
And not all judgment calls are made under deadline pressure. Meaningful discussions about whether to cover a story and what it is supposed to accomplish are routinely bypassed as we try to get through the assignment meeting, fueled by our morning coffee. Our habit is to assign stories and get people out the door, rather than taking a few moments to talk through what the stories could be. We put our energy into "how" to cover the day's news, rather than "why."
This year, can we resolve to spend a bit of time each day, talking about the journalism we practice? Setting aside just ten minutes a day to talk about one of the day's important stories can make a difference in how the story comes together and what we present to the audience. One day, it could be a one-on-one discussion with a reporter working on a particular story. Another day, it could be a small-group discussion with reporters about adding a layer of depth to a routine piece. Or if no story today makes for compelling debate, how about trading opinions on a journalistic issue that's making news elsewhere in the country? It's a great way to help build the institutional journalistic judgment of a newsroom.
This year, let's resolve to spend a little time on the "why" of what we do. Take a deep breath and take a few minutes to think it through. Discuss a challenging story in the newsroom or on the phone with an RTDNA colleague. Your audience will benefit from the thought you put into your coverage and will appreciate the effort.
Let the discussion begin!