Home > accuracy, ethics > Can an accurate story be unfair?

Can an accurate story be unfair?

We’ve talked about how even minor errors – misspellings and grammar mistakes   – can damage a news outlet’s credibility. But editors often have to make calls involving fairness too. And clearly, based on the surveys of media credibility, editors don’t always succeed in their attempts to be fair. Read Alicia Shepard, the NPR ombudsman’s column, about identifying the  lab technician in the Yale University slaying before he was charged and while he was “a person of interest.” Then read the New York Times story about the Richard Jewell case.

What do you think? These are not easy calls to make. The Yale case makes that pretty clear. What do you think editors should consider when making “fairness” calls about stories. Beyond making a decision about publishing or not publishing, are there other fairness factors an editor should look for when editing even routine stories? What are they? Have you seen stories published that you think were unfair? Tell me about them and why you thought they were unfair? Answer these questions in the comments  section for your class before the start of class on Tuesday, Sept. 29. Remember self-editing is important before you post.

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  1. Rachael Ruybalid
    September 27, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    I think it is okay for papers to publish the name of a “person of interest” if the police have already identified him or her.In that case, the information is already out there and available to the public so the paper would do no damage to the person of interest by publishing the name. When editors are deciding whether or not to run a story, I think they should take into account whether the information has already been released by a higher authority like the police or the FBI.
    When it comes to a decision like this, I think an editor should always be cautious. I would rather not get the praise for digging up classified information than potentially ruining an innocent person’s life. It makes me sick to read about how the security guard was hounded by the media and how he now finds it close to impossible to live a normal life.
    I can’t think of any circumstances where I’ve found an article to be unfair. Since this class started, I’ve begun looking for mistakes in papers both in grammar or punctuation, and in judgment. Before this class I had never looked for those mistakes. When it comes to a routine article, checking the details and facts in the article is the best way to be fair. No one wants to get their name confused with that of a felon or someone who’s been arrested.

  2. Courtney Pitts
    September 28, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    We’re living in a world where news is accessible 24 hours a day, so I think newspapers are under constant pressure to piece information together and release it immediately. While the pressure is unavoidable, running unfair stories is not.
    I think a person of interest should be named, but only if the possible suspect is formally confirmed by authorities. Anonymous sources shouldn’t be used by news outlets. Actually, in my opinion, they should never be use. If a source, especially a police officer, wants to tip off papers anonymously then the source is obviously unsure about their story and doesn’t want to be blamed for inaccuracies.
    Editors must be smart about the information that falls into their hands. It doesn’t hurt to do some digging after an anonymous source gives a tip, so when the details are concrete the research is already done. Also, when reading stories, editors should question whether both sides are represented and if accusations are credible.
    An example that comes to my mind is the opinion sections of newspapers. Letters to the editor can often be unfair. Oftentimes, letters that come to the Daily Nebraskan make accusations against the university or professors. Editors sometimes make calls to the writers to question the validity of the claims, and other times letters aren’t run.
    Overall, I would say maintaining fairness at a news outlet maintains credibility.

  3. Alain Nguyen
    September 29, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Free news and the move of advertising to the web have really hurt the business of print news media. With Gmail, Twitter, Facebook and Google News, you have 24 hours up to date of what’s going on around the world. This really puts newspaper in constant pressure to compete to get the news out there. With that said though, does that mean newspaper should do whatever necessary means to get their stories out there and forgo being fair and accurate in their reporting. I don’t think so.
    As an editor, you have to be extremely careful about the information that comes to you constantly and one must decide the validity of the information. One must also decide what’s worth reporting and what’s not. It also wouldn’t hurt to dig more and check out your sources and facts so that you get an accurate portrayal of what’s really going on or you could end up being sue for libel. So really, being accurate and portraying a fair and balance story of what’s going on is for your own protection rather than the person or subject matter for which you are reporting on about because if you aren’t, then you could end up being in court.

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