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NIEDERPRUEM: Accuracy, not speed, leads to trust in media

January 28, 2017

NiederpruemDear 2017 journalists,

At the start of 2017, it would appear from my inbox and social media indicators that you might be under siege. As media now dig into media, pointing fingers at relevant and reputable reporting, I sympathize. Welcome to the world of crisis communications and defending both your personal and professional brands.

Much like CNN’s ugly moments this month with the incoming POTUS, you might find yourself in a defensive position—not just with a single annoying and articulate reader or viewer—but with scores of new denizens. The old-school newsroom automated response of “Dear reader/viewer/listener—you might be right” will no longer hold or placate.

So heading into the strong headwinds of 2017—realizing you might rather be on the banks of a 5-foot snow drift reporting in subzero temps than at a Washington presser—here are some items that could save your face and preserve your grace.

Rather than be first, be accurate. That can mean waiting a day, a week or a month to check motives and verify information with sources. Only in the rarest of cases that rely on matters of life or death should anonymous sources be quoted. Even public records should be confirmed and verified in the age of digital tinkering and manipulation.

Stop interviewing one another as sources and experts. Just. Please. Stop. No more anchor turning to a reporter at the scene of “breaking” news to describe what he or she saw. No more letting your ego get the better of you when the national network calls and wants to feature your investigative series on its show—with you front and center. Your verified fact-finding should speak for itself. You don’t need to promote it like a junket for the Oscars.

Tweet and Facebook graciously while providing links if possible and disclaimers if necessary. Do not: Tweet at national organizations and other news media outlets to get them to pay attention to your work. Do not: Opine unless you’re a columnist, op-ed writer or other sanctioned voice of advocacy. Do not: Quote advocates out of context, and make sure to check their sources of funding just as you would for corporations.

Never forget to ask—why? It’s the most important “w” question.

Get out of your office—more. Or never go into the office. The story isn’t there. It’s never there.

Hug one another and hold one another close. You are your own best friends in an ever-cynical world where media are no longer respected for the daily work they do. Your own circles are your best support. So stop disparaging one another. If bad reporting comes to light or you suspect unethical behavior in your own world, you know the route to take—and it isn’t with public snark.

Most of all, know that people value your work, your time, your efforts—even if you sometimes falter. A free press is a best press. When it falters, the consequences follow. I will not always agree with you. And so be it. We will not always be on the same side of interpreting what we both saw, read or experienced. And that’s OK. Just never forget to keep eyes and ears open wide. And stay strong.•

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Niederpruem is the CEO of an Indianapolis communications firm. She is a former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists and was an editor/reporter for newspapers for more than 20 years.

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