The topic of reporter involvement came up at a recent broadcast debate I attended and it’s been playing on my mind ever since.
Initially I was thinking about the role blogs could play in allowing a reporter to be more reflective of their work and the opportunity for greater transparency about any involvement in a story this would lead to.
The debate as far as broadcast journalists go seems to centre around what is on-screen i.e. is the reporter part of the story, bringing their own experience of the issue to light in that very public way that filming allows.
An example given was of a reporter covering a story about lack of bin collections. She was one of those in the street where the collections hadn’t taken place so her experience was just as valid as anyone else living there.
The rule of thumb applied that being part of the story was acceptable, providing it wasn’t gratuitous.
“Invest yourself in the story, yes – but not in a gratuitous way.”
Jonathan Maitland, Media Guardian, May 12th.
But I started thinking more about what the reporter is doing off screen. Perhaps the involvement, or otherwise, should be made clearer to the viewer/reader/user when it isn’t quite so obvious.
American news organisations seem to feel the need to be more upfront on this issue. I found this, frankly bizarre, example where a reporter had carried part of someone’s scalp to the local coroner during an interview with the dead man’s relative.
The reporter then agonises over whether his journalistic integrity has been affected by this act in this blog post and says: “In my gut, I suppose I knew I was crossing some journalism ethics line, but I couldn’t think of anything better…”
His editor finally rules:
“I believe a different reporter should have taken over the reporting once the first reporter became part of the action. I believe a fair and objective observer is needed to tell a news story the right way, and anyone who is a character in the story should not be presented as objective.”
This type of ruling is completely at odds with the regular sight at the moment of television journalists covering the China earthquakes telling us viewers that they couldn’t stand-by, that they feel so moved they have helped search the rubble for survivors.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone could remain so uninvolved that they wouldn’t lift a rock off a crushed child – but should this then become the story? Is the plight of so many victims and the enormity of the disaster not more newsworthy than the TV man’s actions? Does this type of activity move us further into the realms of reporter as celebrity?
I don’t have the answers. This is one of the those blog posts I hope could generate some debate but I do wonder what the next progression in this could be.
Would the so-called embedded war journalist be expected to participate in a battle for instance?
Robert Fisk has something to say on this topic. In the preface to The Great War for Civilisation he says “…we journalists try – or should try – to be the first impartial witnesses to history.”