Journalism as a discipline of verification
Journalists often describe the essence of their work as finding and presenting “the facts” and also “the truth about the facts.”
They also describe using certain methods – a way of working – which Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel describe in The Elements of Journalism as a scientific-like approach to getting the facts and also the right facts.
Called the Discipline of Verification, its intellectual foundation rests on three core concepts – transparency, humility, and originality.
Transparency means show your work so readers can decide for themselves why they should believe it.
- Don’t allow your audience to be deceived by acts of omission — tell them as much as you can about the story they are reading.
- Tell the audience what you know and what you don’t know. Never imply that you have more knowledge than you actually do.
- Tell the audience who your sources are, how they are in a position to know something, and what their potential biases might be.
Transparency signals the journalist’s respect for the audience. It allows the audience to judge the validity of the information, the process by which it was secured and the motives and biases of the journalist providing it.
Transparency signals the journalist’s respect for the audience.”
This makes transparency the best protection against errors and deception by sources. If the best information a journalist has comes from a potentially biased source, naming the source will reveal to the audience the possible bias – and may inhibit the source from attempting to deceive you as well.
The journalist’s job is to provide information in such a way that people can assess it and then make up their own minds what to think.
This is the same principle that governs the scientific method. By giving the audience the background on how you arrived at a certain conclusion, you allow them to replicate the process for themselves.
Humility means keep an open mind.
Journalists need to keep an open mind — not only about what they hear but also about their own ability to understand what it means. Exercise humility. Don’t assume. Avoid arrogance about your knowledge.
“Assumption,” as a veteran bureau chief once put it, “is the mother of all screw-ups.”
Journalists need to recognize their own fallibility and the limitations of their knowledge. They should be conscious of false omniscience and avoid just “writing around it.” They should acknowledge to themselves what they are unsure of, or only think they understand – and then check it out. This makes their judgment more precise and their reporting more incisive.
Jack Fuller, the author, novelist, editor, and newspaper executive, has suggested that journalists need to show “modesty in their judgment” about what they know and how they know it.
Gregory Favre, a longtime editor in Sacramento and Chicago, says his rule is simple. DO NOT PRINT ONE IOTA BEYOND WHAT YOU KNOW.
First, you have to be honest about what you know, versus what you assume you know, or think you know. A key way to avoid misrepresenting events is a disciplined honesty about the limits of one’s knowledge and the power of one’s perception.
Originality means do your own work.
Information can be viewed as a hierarchy. At the top is the work you have done yourself, reporting you can directly vouch for.
Journalists say the times they most often got something wrong was when they took something from somebody or someplace else and failed to check it themselves.
This guide, like many of the others in API’s Journalism Essentials section, is largely based on the research and teachings of the Committee of Concerned Journalists — a consortium of reporters, editors, producers, publishers, owners and academics that for 10 years facilitated a discussion among thousands of journalists about what they did, how they did it, and why it was important. The author, Walter Dean, was CCJ training director and API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel formerly co-chaired the committee.