I was recently reading a story written by a fellow journalist.
OK, fine. I do that a lot. It’s not really a big deal.
But what is a big deal is what I discovered when reading this story.
What I discovered is that this journalist did not speak to anyone in writing the story. Not. One. Person.
Instead, this journalist quoted a pamphlet.
You read that right. This so-called reporter quoted a pamphlet. That was the sole source. A piece of paper with words on it. That was the primary source of information used to write this story.
Well, this journalist also cited a website. Somehow that doesn’t make things any better.
Now, the story isn’t precisely significant. All it talks about are the plans for a community celebration. As in what sort of festivities will rock the community in a few weeks. It’s not like this journalist was attempting to track down electoral malfeasance.
Which, in all honesty, makes what this “journalist” did even more galling. It’s a simple phone call to one of the contacts listed at the end of the story to ask what is going on. And if that contact doesn’t have the information sought, s/he would likely know who would. It’s a simple call that should take no more than 10 minutes.
But no. This “journalist” has quoted a pamphlet and a website.
There are no words to describe how poorly that reflects on reporters as a whole. None. I don’t know how to explain why what this “journalist” did is unacceptable.
Sometimes I wonder.
OK. I do have some things to say.
In virtually all stories (and the one in question is by no stretch of the imagination an exception) at least one human source must be quoted. Two or more is ideal. To write something and have the sole source of information be a letter/pamphlet/website/etc. is such a shoddy example of reporting it barely can be classified as reporting.
It’s more like research for an academic paper. And even then, using a pamphlet and a website is a sure-fire way to be laughed out of any academic institution.
I would like to refer to a story I am currently writing.
Right now, I am working on a story that has its basis in a letter one resident has sent to the mayor. It turns out I have to quote the letter. I would prefer not to have to do that, but the letter’s writer did not want to comment until he received a reply from the mayor. I can understand his logic, and while I don’t agree, I can’t force him to speak to me. Well, I did get him to answer one question I had, but then he clammed up.
I have also spoken to the mayor about the letter, as well as the town manager.
What this all means is that I have to quote the letter, with the added comment that the writer did not want to speak. By making that statement in the story, I have covered my bases. I’m not happy about it, but like I said earlier, I can’t make people speak to me.
Then again, the letter is so short I’d barely be able to get more than 150 words using it alone.
But the point I’m making is there is absolutely no reason not to have human voices in a story.
My example is a somewhat controversial issue. It requires human comments.
The piece written by that so-called “journalist” is previewing a community event. There is no reason why anyone involved with the festivities would NOT want to speak to the press.
Tu sais quoi? I’m just talking in circles now. You get what I’m getting at. A story is not a story without a human voice in it. Quoting written words without attempting to get that human voice is unacceptable.
How does this “journalist” have a job?