One of my biggest pet peeves about the general conversation regarding news and news coverage is when people talk about “the media.” The media does this. It doesn’t do that.
The problem with discussing the media in most popular contexts is that the term is far too broad when it is applied. It includes everything from CNN and “Face the Nation” to the Chestnut Hill Local and many different iterations in between. It can also include social media, movies and books – vastly different forms of communication from the news sources we read, hear and watch on a daily basis.
That said, I want to talk somewhat broadly about news media. One misunderstood aspect of the news media, in my opinion, is that of how nearly every TV, radio, print or online publication does its job. And that misunderstanding centers around permanence and periodicals.
Any good journalism practice is going to be dedicated to gathering facts, checking those facts, organizing them into stories that reporters and editors believe is accurate and then publishing them. At any given time, those stories should represent the most up-to-date and accurate version of events the journalists could gather.
Inevitably, however, those reported stories will be incomplete. They may even be inaccurate. This is not necessarily the work of bias or sloppiness. It is the expected outcome of any human endeavor. We do the best we can, but we will often fall short of the mark.
This might sound like I’m winding up to excuse news media outlets from mistakes. I’m not. Too often mistakes are made that were arguably avoidable. The thing with all news media, though, is that there are plenty of systems in place to correct mistakes, clarify inaccuracies or to simply update stories as they progress. And here is where we often fall short of understanding news media. Stories in the news shouldn’t be seen as closed works. They’re timely and temporary by design.
Good publications, radio shows and TV news programs, from the average community weekly newspaper to CBS’ venerable “60 Minutes,” have mechanisms to address shortcomings. We run corrections. We run follow-up stories. Sometimes, we’re forced to run retractions. The point is, the news is never over. The book is never really “written.” It’s always in the process.
To that end, I want to remind our readers that one of the most important things you can do is to let us know when we get something wrong or when you feel an individual story is incomplete. Often, we don’t hear about perceived problems with our reporting until long after the fact, and often indirectly. We won’t take it personally. We’ll always listen. We might not agree, but we’ll always correct the record when we should.
Our staff writers have contact phone numbers and emails at the end of every story they write. More importantly, any error or shortcoming in the paper can be referred to me. I’m reachable at email@example.com or 215-248-8802.
If you ever think we’ve fallen short, let us know.