News manager's email welcomed

February 12, 2013 01:30

By Lynn Walsh, RTDNA Blogger

“...Please let me know as I am open to a discussion.”

They may only be 11 words, but they resonated with me last week.

Those words were part of an email sent from our News Director to the entire news staff about audio from a 911 call. (Our station decided against airing the audio from the call because of its contents.)

While the decision of whether to air a 911 call, a video or a picture are important news decisions that should be carefully thought out, I appreciated those last 11 words of the e-mail more.

Working in a newsroom seems to never be dull or boring. There is always something that needs to be done and it seems that you never have as much time as you would like to make a decision.

That is why conversations and discussions are so important. And while we are in a daily crunch to get news on the air, it is discussions about these issues, I believe, that can make your station shine or fall behind.

As journalists we have an enormous responsibility to be accurate. People expect to learn the truth from our reporting. But they also expect us to be good stewards of the truth. They do not expect us to harm others with what we publish and put on our air. Without encouraging discussions about sensitive issues and involving the entire newsroom in the conversation, we can risk making the mistake of harming someone or having our viewers lose trust in our news product.

In a perfect world discussions would happen every single day about most of the elements of the newscast. Unfortunately that is not always an option. So, when there are a few extra minutes or when the topic seems to raise itself to needing it, I hope more news managers welcome discussions and more journalists ask for the discussions.

Anyone can begin the conversation

I think it is important for non-managers in a newsroom to voice concerns about the possible issues that may need to be discussed, especially when out in the field. When you are the person in the field, then you are the person talking directly to the people involved. You are the person seeing first hand what the scene is like, who the players are. It is important to raise the concerns and be honest about what you are seeing, hearing and learning. If you feel uncomfortable about using a sound bite, a picture or video, say something. It is better to bring up the concerns then wait until it is too late.

Include multiple people

When the conversations are happening, be sure to include multiple people in the discussion. We all have different experiences that shape who we are, not just as journalists, but as people. Use that to your advantage and include people that have had different experiences. This way you have a better chance of seeing the issue from all angles.

Don’t stop after a decision has been made

Just because you decided against airing something or you decided to air something, it doesn’t mean that the conversation has to stop, especially if the decision was made quickly. Use it as a teaching moment, talk about it afterward and discuss if it was the best option. Some decisions may even trigger an opportunity for a training or refresher course about a topic. (The email from my News Director also contained a link to a Poynter article by Al Tompkins that discusses questions to consider before airing 911 calls.

How often does your newsroom discuss these kind of issues in your newsroom? Let me know on Twitter: @LWalsh, email me:, or make a comment below.

Lynn Walsh in the Investigative Producer at WPTV, NewsChannel 5 in West Palm Beach, Florida. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Follow her on Twitter and on Tumblr.