With declining news staffs, it seems to me that professional journalists are probably overworked and not being as critical in their thinking as they should be.
As a lesson for citizen journalists everywhere, let me cite a few examples that I’ve come across recently.
A man whose home was in foreclosure told a reporter he had made the last 16 mortgage payments in a timely manner. The reporter failed to delve further into the claim. However, I’m sure most people reading the story wondered why his property was in foreclosure if he’d made 16 timely payments.
A second example comes from a report about a horse owner in Elbert County who was facing cruelty charges. The news story failed to include the horse owner’s name or that the name had not yet been released. It also didn’t say where in unincorporated Elbert County the horses were found.
My guess is the professional journalists just used the press release as it was given to them by law enforcement – without looking at it with a critical eye to see whether it made sense or failed to include some important facts.
Additional information was added to the story after the omissions were pointed out by an associate of the National Association of Citizen Journalists.
And finally, my third example comes from the report on a house fire that failed to identify the one person in the home at the time of the fire and whether the person was injured. It did say the woman was “found near a back door and was pulled from the home.”
Again, I don’t know if the official press release failed to identify the woman and say whether she was injured, but it sure seems to me a thinking reporter would ask those questions. If the answers weren’t available, a reporter should include that information in the story as well.
My advice to professional and citizen journalists is to take a step back and think critically. Don’t just take a handout from law enforcement and think it will include all the information you need for a complete story. And if something doesn’t make sense, ask more questions until it does.
Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists (http://www.nacj.us/) and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/).