OT Some Journalists Soften the Story

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Sunday, April 30, 2000

Poll: Four in 10 journalists say they've avoided or softened tone of a story

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Four in 10 journalists say they have purposely avoided newsworthy stories or softened the tone of stories to benefit the interests of their own news organizations, according to a new poll on the media.

The biggest cause for this is market pressure that causes news organizations to avoid stories considered too boring or too complicated, according to the poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, done with the Columbia Journalism Review.

The poll of 206 reporters and 81 news executives, including 150 from local news outlets and 137 from national news organizations, was taken Feb. 8 through March 21 and had an error margin of plus or minus 7 percentage points for the entire sample, larger for subgroups.

About a third said they avoided stories at least sometimes to avoid harming the financial interests of their own news organization or embarrassing an advertiser, though few said it was "commonplace."

"I'm impressed with the third who admitted that it's happened," said Peter Prichard, president of the Freedom Forum and a former editor-in-chief of USA Today newspaper.

While the increase of media mergers has raised concerns about media independence, Richard Oppel, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, said the problem may be more perception than reality.

"You're probably more immunized in big operations than the smaller ones," said Oppel, editor of the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, who offered journalists worried about such conflicts some simple advice:

"Journalists ought to ignore all that stuff," he said, "and chase the story."

-- viewer (justp@ssing.by), May 01, 2000


Of the third who admitted to avoiding or watering down a story not in the best interest of their own news organization, how many were told to do so by an editor, and how many merely elected to do so on their own? This problem may not be caused entirely by media-imposed directive. How much of it can be blamed on the inertia and possibly unsubstantiated fear of the individual journalist?

Like Oppel said, reporters should "chase the story". Some elect to do otherwise, when they could have pursued a course of more integrity. I remember once having doubts about a story, and the editor looked me right in the eye and said, "There are no sacred cows at this paper." This is why courageous editorial leadership, encouraging reporters to chase a story, is important. The editors can set the tone for good journalism.

-- Normally (Oxsys@aol.com), May 01, 2000.

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