New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, on truth-telling and “he said, she said” in journalism
While you can count on every HuffPost headline starting with WATCH or PHOTOS and every NY Post screamer being a pun your grandfather would have found hilarious, the Times has its own headline ruts that seem to have gotten deeper over the years. Here are the four most common kinds…
1) The Equivocators: These headlines present a hypothesis, but then get squirrely about going out on a limb and cover their bases. The two most common manifestations are “Something can be good, but also bad” and “Something is new, but also old.” Whatever form they take, these titles always remind me of the “Simpsons” Halloween episode in which an evil alien presidential candidate proclaims “Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others.”
- “Wise for Some Restaurants, Coupons Are a Drain at Others”
- “Diving Into the Past, but Definitely Still in the Present”
- “Job Hunting Is, and Isn’t, What It Used to Be”
2) The Maureen Dowd: These are easy to write. Simply mush together a bunch of slangy, pop-culture references into a semi-sensical pseudo-sentence that vaguely reminds you of a commercial jingle or movie title from the latter half of the 20th century.
- “Have You Driven a Smartphone Lately?”
- “Lord of the Internet Rings”
- “Governor Brown Redux: The Iceman Melteth”
- “Driving Miss Saudi”
3) The Kind that Smugly Give You No Information Whatsoever: These are the oddest of the bunch: The ones that make searching for and finding the story virtually impossible. I know the Times would never deign to have an SEO strategy, but some people read things on the Internet—say via Twitter or RSS—neither of which offer enough context to explain these cryptic titles (which often seem like they were written by a drunk Garison Keillor). Proper nouns, while not allowed in Scrabble, are admissible in headlines.
- “In a Life Filled With Firsts, One More”
- “At Their Feet, Crafted by Hand”
- “First an Outcast, Then an Inspiration”
4) The “Here’s a Question We’re Not Going to Answer”: These usually show up in the health section—an area where people go to look for answers but find few. While less sinister than the question marks used in chyrons to imply slanderous falsehoods, these are simply a tool to let the author write about a subject with no real answer. They are annoying, especially because you want the first word of the article to be “yes” or “no” but it’s always “maybe” or “I don’t know.”
- “Does Loneliness Reduce the Benefits of Exercise?”
- “Did Bankers Pay Add to this Mess?”
- “What’s the Single Best Exercise?”
NYT deputy graphics editor Matthew Ericson on data journalism.
His team’s strategy in visualizing some of the data that flows through the paper’s stories are: provide context, describe processes, reveal patterns, and explain the geography. [ via journalism.co.uk ]
“Bearing witness is often a far more effective way of saving lives than helping in more direct ways,” says The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof on the age-old question on whether journalists should drop their cameras and iPhones to help people in need.
Although each situation is unique and there are moments when journalists have to go beyond the call of duty to help someone directly, I still adhere to ethical rule that journalists should not get personally involved with their subjects.
I had a debate on Twitter not too long ago with someone not from the journalism industry (an entertainment TV show director!) who insisted that journalists should go beyond mere reportage, comparing us to - in his own words - Spiderman who has great responsibility to go along with his great powers.
My reply? Journalists are not superheroes.
Our immediate responsibility is to the news organizations that employ us. Our responsibility to our audience is to relay information to them accurately, clearly, quickly, and as objectively as possible.
Some of you may agree while some may not — arguing that media’s unique access to the hallways of power, people, places, and an audience willing to listen — allows it to be a supra-entity that knows no boundaries.
I say it again - we are not superheroes.
In the Philippine sociopolitical and economic setting, I understand why ordinary people seek journalists’ help amid the perceived failure of some government agencies to meet their needs.
I agree too with the idea that journalists need advocacies to give meaning to their chosen profession.
However, may I point out that most journalists do not have professional training in social work, criminology, or even emergency rescue.
We have mass communication and journalism as our foundation. That is our strength.
A journalist playing the role of a crimebusting cop may send an innocent man to jail. A journalist thinking of himself or herself as a savior of the poor, at best, may only promote mendicancy and dependence on charity.
A journalist as an emergency rescuer who drops his notes to try to save the life of someone in an accident? He or she may do more harm than good if he tries to move the injured man.
We are the storytellers, not the actors and actresses in the story.