Newspaper Tells Reporters Not To Engage With Community

from the the-view-from-nowhere dept

We've pointed out over and over again that one of the main things that legacy newspapers get wrong today is this idea that they're in the "news" business, rather than the "community" business. They've always been in the community business, and then they take that community -- which they build up around news -- and sell their attention to advertisers. The problem, which much of the industry is facing, is that they're no longer the only game in town when it comes to the community stuff. But rather than recognize that and improve their community efforts and features, many newspapers seem to be going in the other direction: putting up paywalls and avoiding the community. For example, Mathew Ingram got his hands on the official "social media policy" of the Toronto Star newspaper, in which the paper tells its staff not to engage with readers online, for fear that this might be a sign of "bias."
As well, journalists should refrain from debating issues within the Starís online comments forum to avoid any suggestion that they may be biased in their reporting.
Seriously. This is a classic example of what journalism professor Jay Rosen refers to as "the view from nowhere," in which a media property spends so much effort trying to make sure that no one thinks it actually has an opinion on anything, that it won't even step in to clear up what's factual and what's not. Too many news organizations feel the need to "present both sides of the story," as if because there are two sides, they're equally balanced, and presenting them both as equal is the equivalent of "objective reporting." It's not. It's inherently biasing whatever side is not being truthful or accurate. In such cases, the press, while hiding behind a claim of being "objective," is really biased in that it's giving undue support to factually incorrect or misleading arguments.

Furthermore, pretending that your staff doesn't actually have an opinion makes them seem robotic and less human. I understand why people value "objective reporting," but pretending someone doesn't have an opinion doesn't make the reporting any more objective than having the reporter clearly state what that opinion might be. Beyond letting people calibrate the rest of that reporter's coverage, it actually shows that the reporter is human and makes them more able to connect with fans.

But apparently, that's not what the Toronto Star wants.

Of course, even worse than these bad social media policies is the Toronto Star's response to the leak and Ingram's story about their policies. The paper's spokesperson, Bob Hepburn, told Ingram that the policy was fine because it is "well in line with what mainstream media organizations have always done. We've always placed some limitations on journalists in terms of them expressing their opinions, either in the newspaper or outside of the newspaper."

I've heard people say that, "if someone tells you a deal term must remain because it's 'standard,' it means they don't understand why it's there either." That seems to be the Toronto Star's response here. Yes, we have braindead, shortsighted and self-defeating social media policies that do more harm than good... but it's okay because they're the same braindead, shortsighted and self-defeating social media policies most of our competitors have. Now there's a standard of excellence to strive for: let's make sure we make the same mistakes everyone else makes.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Apr 6th, 2011 @ 3:34pm

    well in line with what mainstream media organizations have always done

    Heh. "have always done". Riiiiight. Because absolutely nothing about the media industry has changed in the past ten years. Nothing at all.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Apr 6th, 2011 @ 3:40pm

    Re:

    (I suppose it's only fair to disclaim that I do a lot of freelance work for one of the Star's main competitors, but not as a reporter, so I'm not sure what our policy on this is. Nevertheless, if it is the same, I will find it just as amusing and silly.)

     

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  3.  
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    Jon Lawrence (profile), Apr 6th, 2011 @ 3:52pm

    Robots

    Maybe it'll be good when we have robots reporting facts in stories instead of people reporting "balanced" arguments?

     

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  4.  
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    SUNWARD (profile), Apr 6th, 2011 @ 5:11pm

    The Star is biased in other ways in terms of social media.

    Not all stories all comments. The comment section is closed very quickly after a story appears. All comments must be approved.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2011 @ 6:02pm

    Re:

    It's all right they don't talk to the people involved in a story either. They don't want to bias their journalism with facts.

     

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  6.  
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    jjmsan (profile), Apr 6th, 2011 @ 6:19pm

    Re: Robots

    Who programs the robots?

     

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  7.  
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    jjmsan (profile), Apr 6th, 2011 @ 6:25pm

    Bias as an excuse.

    There are some things that are just wrong. The idea behind being unbiased seems to mean that somehow you point out advantages to wrong actions or that you present ideas that are patently absurd(Obama is not a natural born citizen)even after they are disproven.

     

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  8.  
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    Atkray (profile), Apr 6th, 2011 @ 6:52pm

    Re: Re: Robots

    I'm pretty sure other robots do.

    I think it's called Skynet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Apr 6th, 2011 @ 7:02pm

    It's probably some sort of class thing...

    Like the 4th Estate shouldn't mix with the locals, like those featured here:

    http://apiln.blogspot.com/

     

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  10.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Apr 6th, 2011 @ 8:08pm

    Re:

    "All comments must be approved."

    I love it when papers do this.

    it disproves the story ... Not approved
    it doesn't follow our agenda ... Not approved
    it contradicts what the article says ... Not approved
    it contradicts what the government says ... Not Approved
    it provides the story is made up and BS ... Totally not approved
    ....
    ....
    ....

    Oh look ... I agree with this story, its cool!!! ... approved for the web site

     

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  11.  
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    Yogi, Apr 6th, 2011 @ 10:03pm

    Grade F

    Mike,

    i'm grading you an F in post-modernism for this observation:

    "Too many news organizations feel the need to "present both sides of the story," as if because there are two sides, they're equally balanced, and presenting them both as equal is the equivalent of "objective reporting." It's not. It's inherently biasing whatever side is not being truthful or accurate."

    "Truth" and "Facts" are concepts that the West invented in order to confound other cultures and destroy them. There is no truth per se and no facts - you would know that if you had even an elementary post-modern education.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Urza9814, Apr 6th, 2011 @ 10:24pm

    Re: Grade F

    ...so does that mean that if I _really_ believe, I can jump off the CN Tower and fly?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Yogi, Apr 6th, 2011 @ 11:40pm

    Re: Re: Grade F

    Of course.

    Although bear in mind that post-modernism works best in the classroom. There is no warranty or guarantee on post-modern philosophy, and any application of this philosophy to real life situations is entirely your own responsibility.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2011 @ 11:46pm

    Re: Re: Grade F

    "...so does that mean that if I _really_ believe, I can jump off the CN Tower and fly?"

    Sure, for a short while. Then you become a post-modern spot on the ground.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    mike allen (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 12:05am

    As i work in media i can tell you they have it wrong. How do they think reporters work if you don't engage with the community you miss a large part of the story, weather that engagement is on line or in the field you have to engage with people. Our reporters are told to specifically engage with the community at all levels.

     

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  16.  
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    Schmoo, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 2:54am

    Re: Grade F

    I prefer Mike's take, grounded as it is in the more useful realm of pragmatism.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Schmoo, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 4:31am

    Re: Re: Re: Grade F

    It makes perfect sense, as long as you just waffle about it instead of making use of it? I see. Are you absolutely certain you're not getting it confused with religion?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Yogi, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 6:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Grade F

    Funny you mention that, because I get the distinct feeling that this philosophy has indeed been elevated to the status of a secular religion - as if we didn't have enough religions already...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 10:15am

    Newspapers and community

    I am not sure how we "get there from here".

    The input was "journalists should refrain from debating issues within the Starís online comment".

    I agree that could be read (though I think it is a stretch) as "don't participate" - I read it as "illuminate, but don't advocate".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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