I hear the excuses from journos all the time:
“No one needs a lecture. We get how to put good TV on the air.”
“It is the system’s fault.”
“Social media is corrupting how news is done.”
“The J-School did not emphasize enough.”
There are all kinds of reasons given for why the facts are wrong.
It would be easy to list all kinds of ways to double check graphics. How to fact check scripts. How to conduct interviews to lessen the chances of missing key facts. A great list for articles to come. But right now, it is time to take a breath from the frenetic pace of TV news and stop and think. What really is the point of putting news on the air every day/night? Is it to feed a corporate machine? Is it to make yourself money? Is it to help the community?
To see the devil in the details, we have to begin with the question of why we even do TV news. The reason: If you do not feel that you are called to help others by sharing key information that can alter lives, you simply won’t understand why getting it right matters. TV news is so full of competition, so full of the need to be first, so cutthroat, that we can forget the point. We serve the community. If we don’t explain what is happening, where are people getting their information? Snarky comments, like “well the newspaper and the internet” show you are not a serious journalist. This is a calling.
Getting the facts right matters because that is the reason you have a job. You are paid to get the facts right. Whether you are a high priced anchor, an assignment editor, a writer or even a video editor. You are paid to get it right. You are responsible for a certain set of facts. You are the keeper of details.
The devil of it all is, the more we get the details wrong, the more we destroy our calling. Credibility is not a given. It is earned each day. It is tested with each story that airs. And when you lose credibility you never get it completely back. It is the most precious thing a journalist has. It defines your worth, even more than your paycheck.
The TV news industry has cheapened itself. Not necessarily by hiring younger journalists. There are plenty of newbies who are saving veteran journalists skins each day. The TV news industry cheapened itself by throwing it’s money into glitz instead of it’s core. You can dress a lady up, make her look good with the right makeup and clothes, but if she’s a nasty person, the ugly will show through. Our ugly, nasty secret is coming out more and more. We are so concerned about volume, that we put quantity over quality. Then a “Snow Storm” becomes a “Snot Storm” on a fullscreen graphic. A “Singer” is declared dead instead of an “Astronaut.” We condemn a man for a shooting rampage, when he was actually far away from the scene. We misspell the president’s name on chyron.
So it’s time to pay attention to the devil in the details. Double check. You owe it to the viewer who counts on you. And fellow journalists, you need to have each other’s backs. (see “Meet my conscience”). Every mistake prevented, extends everyone’s contracts. TV news needs you to get it right, so everyone can continue to have a vocation.