Karma kicks back

By Josephine Stratman

One day last August, I was reporting on a shooting in an auto shop in Hunts Point, in the Bronx. A tow truck driver had been fatally shot in a gunfight after an angry teen customer, unhappy that his car wasn’t fixed and he had to pay a deductible, instigated a gunfight. The teen was charged with manslaughter.

I went to the scene the day after the shooting, hoping to track down witnesses and find more information about the victim’s family and the victim himself.

The article we already had online detailed the gunfight, along with some more context: The victim had just been charged with a fatal hit and run.

I expected to just catch some workers who might give me a vague quote about the victim or confirm a picture — basic information another reporter had already obtained. To my surprise, the first person I found at the auto shop was the victim’s brother.

I introduced myself and expressed my condolences. But as soon as the brother heard what outlet I was with, he completely shut me down.

The brother said another reporter from my outlet who had been there the day before messed up coverage of the shooting, misquoting one auto shop worker and making the victim “out to be something he’s not.”

“That’s not who he was… they made it look like karma,” he told me. “His kids are gonna have to see that for the rest of their lives.” He felt his brother had been misrepresented and inaccurately portrayed by my outlet’s reporting.

He was angry. I talked him down and apologized on behalf of the outlet if there had been any inaccuracies. I asked him to explain the supposed misquote, telling him the only way to get a different side of his brother’s story out there would be for him to share it.

The brother stayed adamant, telling me he couldn’t trust us — couldn’t trust me — after the last article.

As journalists, we have to be aware that our interactions with people are impactful beyond just us. Often, when we report on local or community issues, our sources have never spoken to a reporter. Our everyday is sometimes their once-in-a-lifetime.

And that means our responsibility to the truth applies not just our articles but to our interactions.

In the situation in the Bronx, I’m not sure if there’s a clear right or wrong. Did the other reporter misquote the auto shop worker? I can’t know for sure. It’s possible; mistakes happen.

It’s also possible that the brother was simply hurting from the loss of his brother and lashing out at me as a representative member of the media, who didn’t portray his brother in the most flattering light.

Regardless, the point stands: Mistakes matter. It’s perhaps the most basic rule of journalism. Inaccurate reporting harms reputations, outlets’ credibility and can even put public safety at risk. A 24-hour news cycle and constant competitive pressure can increase the likelihood of mistakes.

Fifty-five percent of Americans say careless reporting is a major factor behind significant mistakes in news stories, according to Poynter. Forty-four percent say they stem from a desire to mislead the public. They also point to ill-intentioned reasons, like the fast pace of breaking news.

Factual errors reinforce the public’s distrust of the media. They heighten the sense that journalism isn’t for public service but personal gain. Over and over, I’ve heard the same sentiment: Reporters don’t care about us, they just want page views and a front-page story.

That day in August, I circled the block and grabbed lunch to give the victim’s brother some time to cool off. After, I went back to the auto shop to try one more time, to ask the brother point blank what was supposedly inaccurate in our story. But he had left.

Mistakes matter not just because they’re factually incorrect, but because they erode the public trust, making it less likely they’ll stick around when we try to correct them.

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Good news vs. bad news

We must lift up the good, along with the bad

By Nika Schoonover

Most of what I read is politics. Since I decided to be a journalist, that has always been my direction and, with that, it takes up the largest percentage of my daily news diet. But reading about politics isn’t necessarily fun for me. When I read political news, I’m studying. Memorizing key updates, mentally linking them back to other stories I have read on the matter and the larger context and studying the ways in which journalists write about the issues. But what I enjoy reading, to feel happy and inspired by others’ stories, falls more into the genre of “good news.”

About two-thirds of Americans feel worn out by the news. There is a lack of consensus, however, on news’ most negative traits. According to the Pew Research Center, 22% of Americans say the most negative thing the media does is report biased news, 18% say journalists make poor choices in what or how to report the news, 16% say the worst thing for news to do is lie, mislead or sensationalize, and 14% highlight too many reports on negative stories.

I love journalism and I love reading. I love stories that bring me into a new reality, one that I wouldn’t have acquainted myself with otherwise. There is an artistry to reporting impactful stories and many journalists out there have perfected this ability. One such story I’ve recently enjoyed is The Spine Collector, a piece done in Vulture by Reeves Wiedeman. This story peers into the publishing industry, detailing an investigation by Wiedeman into discovering the infamous manuscript stealer who shocked the industry in his insatiable need to steal manuscripts without a trace. As someone who’s always been drawn to the book industry, I thoroughly enjoyed this read about one culprit’s obsession with disrupting this industry and the writer’s own obsession into discovering just who this person is. Unlike a lot of journalism, Wiedeman is inserted into this story and is even targeted by the spine collector in the pursuit of uncovering this story.

I’ve also come to love efforts to center positive news amidst the plethora of negative and sometimes overwhelming news of the day. Block Club Chicago launched “It’s All Good: A Block Club Podcast,” hosted by Jon Hansen, in April 2021. The podcast seeks to highlight good news in the city of Chicago, inviting listeners to share their own good news stories with the Block Club team. I sincerely admire this effort.

While it is incredibly important to report on the essential news of the day, good or bad, journalists should make a concerted effort to provide their viewers with news that seek to lift positive community members. As I suspect is also true for many in the journalism field, I wanted to become a journalist to provide important information and news, but to also be an impactful storyteller. Storytelling is a uniquely human endeavor and it helps to unite our cumulative experience. Even for a genre of journalism, such as politics, in which the duty to inform is essential, storytelling in the political journalism field should be just as highly regarded.

A Hard Truth

A Hard Truth about the Truth in Journalism

By Hayley DeSilva

As a young journalist on the precipice of graduation and getting out into the field, I am nervous.

While I’ve been told several times that I’m not alone in that camp, it’s not just the expected jitters that come with being a rookie that I’m wholly concerned about.

I’m afraid of the way the perception of news is going. More specifically, that we’re finding ourselves in a world where sometimes even facts are controversial.

I had a professor who sat our class down one day and told us a story of a reporter who did a story on the presence and dangers of global warming. A fact, no less, that has been continuously shared from scientists or other reputable sources time and time again.

He continued that this reporter found themselves in hot water, that their reputation and credibility was being questioned by those who refuse the existence of global warming.

It makes me wonder about, and at times even doubt, the value society places on journalism.

Seeing how reporters and publications are constantly under attack for being biased and opinionated makes me feel like it’s not enough to just seek and report the truth anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of journalists who make mistakes–and plenty of people on news stations who are being presented as journalists when they’re really just someone on a soapbox while they’re on air (I’m looking at you, Tucker Carlson.)

Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel like there’s this kind of mystifying gray area in the world of information. The way I’ve been taught, facts are facts. If you have the proof, where’s the sense in denying that?

Yet, there are people who value the words of politicians and mouthpieces who affirm their preexisting biases and ways of thinking more than a reporter with stacks of FOIA’s, hours of interviews, and data that makes your head spin.

It’s no longer the days of Walter Cronkite, who refused to give his opinion on air until the Vietnam War, which he had been covering and evaluating. In an editorial report following his investigation, he stated that he thought the war was unwinnable. Then, President Lyndon B. Johnson was widely rumored to have said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”

While some can still argue Cronkite giving his opinion was unethical, the fact remains that people believed him because he had never offered up his analysis of any story previously. Not to mention, they understood he had witnessed firsthand the reality of the war, which was the opposite of what Johnson was telling the public at the time.

Nowadays, certain presidents and people in power have upped their game. They’ve made us the enemy, us the one’s not to trust—most recently seen during Donald Trump’s presidency, which was effective in turning people against the media. He’d refuse questions from the press, has sued publications for libel, and attempted to strip correspondent’s White House press badges.

Maybe it’s not the majority of people, but it’s one too many who’ve fallen prey to that political tactic. It’s scary to think that so many people refuse to find out for themselves, to let someone else do the thinking for them and just follow without question.

We’ve seen the damaging effects that can have in our world. Imagine if Cronkite hadn’t reported about what was really going on in Vietnam. Or, if the Pentagon Papers, a once sealed study on the history and development of the Vietnam War, were never released–if those brave journalists at the Washington Post or the New York Times hadn’t published them despite facing federal criminal charges for doing so.

News, factual news, is a necessity for the American people–who have a right to know what the government is up to. But if those people refuse to listen, what then?

I know all I can do is what I’ve been taught. When I first set out to pursue journalism, all my college essays revolved around the height of the ‘fake news’ crisis and how I wanted to be a reporter who worked against that.

Four years later, I still do, and that value for the truth and a right to information has been a core principle in all of my classes.

I wish people who doubted the validity of the news could see that. To sit in those classrooms and see we are taught that the truth is paramount–that you never report what you cannot prove.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that seeing it all would just be another fact they’d refuse to believe.

The Power of Person-First Language

By Maureen Dunne

Aaron Tucker was taking the bus to a job interview in a neighboring Connecticut city one Wednesday when he saw a serious car accident. He sprang into action — jumping off the bus and rushing to the overturned car just as it started smoking. He and two other bystanders pulled the driver from his overturned car, where paramedics were able to take him to the hospital.

After his selfless act, ABC News ran this headline: “Ex-convict misses job interview to save motorist.”

It reduced Tucker, a 32-year-old father of two who had gone out of his way to help a stranger, to one aspect of his past irrelevant to his actions. The way the newsroom described one aspect of his identity tainted the way in which readers perceived him, and his act.

Person-first language can seem counterintuitive in journalism. In a field where clarity and succinctness is prioritized, adding an extra preposition to a sentence seems unwieldy. As a student journalist and editor in student newsrooms, I’m guilty of not having been conscious of the power of putting people first — especially with a deadline looming. But, person-first wording can dramatically alter the way in which the subjects of our reporting are seen and treated by our readers.

Admittedly, “ex-convict” is a bit more eye-catching than just “man,” but at what cost? How would readers have perceived Tucker differently had the headline described him as “father?” Would the tension between the word ex-convict and his selfless act be absolved if the article described him as being “formerly incarcerated,” instead of calling him an “ex-con?”

Disability rights advocates have long emphasized the impact of person-first language when writing about people who are disabled. Word choice can mean the difference between dehumanization and empowerment.

Describing someone who uses mobility aids as “wheelchair-bound,” a phrase I’ve read so many times, suggests a wheelchair is a hindrance to, instead of enabling a person’s autonomy and movement. The phrase positions being able to move about unassisted as the default, when countless people are unable to do so.

The assumptions contained in that phrase alone can alienate readers who use mobility aids.

The Associated Press Stylebook recommends ditching identify-first language, like “disabled person,” for person-first language, like “person with a disability.” In cases where the right terminology isn’t immediately obvious, it recommends going with the descriptors members of the community themselves prefer.

The Marshall Project, a nonprofit publication dedicated to covering the U.S.’ criminal justice system, released a style guide to covering incarceration with a series of reflections on language penned by people currently in prison. One such reflection details how the word “inmate” is dehumanizing for people who are incarcerated. The writer sees it as stripping an incarcerated person of their individuality and worse, humanity.

I would not have known the gravity of using that phrase to describe someone who is incarcerated. Reading about its impact directly from someone who has felt its weight made me more conscious of how a seemingly innocent or common term may inflict harm onto those whom I use the word to describe.

At the end of the day, the communities we cover are people: People with disabilities, people who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated, people who are unhoused. Good reporting should be inclusive and accessible to all. Something as simple as being intentional about our wording — and putting the person first — is inclusive for our readers and empathetic to our sources.

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Just and fair reporting requires empathy

By Grace Ulch

I’ve seen more people get into fights over easily googleable facts the last two years than I can ever remember. How could it be that people living in the same communities, running in the same circles can have such drastically different takes on something that is either in writing or on video?

Their go-to news source has a lot to do with it.

Opinion-driven news sources like Fox or MSNBC have taken the legitimacy out of the statement, “I saw it on the news.” So, how can we as reporters ensure facts are disseminated in an accurate, unbiased way? The way most readers want their news?

“A totally balanced and fair observer is actually a relatively recent development in American journalism,” said PBS NewsHour correspondent John Yang. “As recent as the 50s newspapers had a point of view. I mean, the Chicago Tribune for goodness’ sake, Colonel McCormick certainly expressed his views through the news columns of the Chicago Tribune.”

As a person, having values that determine how you see major events like abortion rights debates and the Black Lives Matter movement is inescapable. As a reporter, you are constantly making decisions about what aspects of those events you cover, what’s in your lead, who you will quote and what you choose to leave out.

“A totally neutral report on an event would be a transcript,” said Yang. “Edward R. Murrow said something, that that to some stories, there is no other side. I mean, what is the other side of say Black Lives Matter? What is the other side of violence by police against civilians, is inordinately against people of color?”

After a long career in print, Yang made the switch to broadcast which is where I have my sights set. But, throughout our conversation as we talked about the duty to be fair in the midst of divisive issues, my own sensitivity came to mind.

Overall, I’m a decently even keeled person, but I’m notorious for having heart strings that are easily tugged at.

Early this week, a security guard for WGN TV was shot and killed filling up her gas tank. Seeing her two daughters’ anguish after the loss of one of the biggest parts of them, my eyes welled up with tears at my desk.

I unexpectedly lost my dad on Jan. 1, 2022. It’s something that will be difficult to talk about for the rest of my life and I began to worry that if I am covering a story of someone who has to endure that kind of pain, I might start to crack.

Yang then told me the story of an anchor he worked with, Peter Jennings, at ABC who was notorious for getting emotional. During the broadcast coverage of the wreckage of 9/11, he wore his heart on his sleeve.

“You hear the emotion in his voice. And he says, I just hung up with my daughter. And he said, those of you out there if you’ve got kids, give them a call.”

People are at the heart of every news story, and to cover them accurately you have to work to understand them, whether you agree with them or not. A key to fair, just and respectful reporting is empathy.

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Partisan Divisions and a Lack of Media Trust: Covering Politics in an Era of Political Polarization

by Theodora Koulouvaris

March 8, 2022

Mark Murray has always been a “political junkie.” Murray grew up discussing politics at the dinner table and watching documentaries about the American presidency.

Now, Murray serves as NBC’s senior political editor. But Murray’s career in journalism began before then. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin and completing several internships, Murray started his first job at the National Journal with a desire to report on American politics.

By his third week on the job, one of the biggest political stories to rock the Clinton White House broke: the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. This led to the impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton.

These weren’t the only national and political events to impact a young Mark Murray; so did the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2000 presidential election.

“It was just kind of jarring being a young journalist and seeing an impeachment and sex scandal, a contested election in the Bush vs. Gore 2000 presidential race, and then what ended up happening on 9/11,” Murray said. “And that was all in my early to mid 20s.”

Since then, journalism evolved. Murray described the industry as having slower news cycles and fewer news outlets in the 1990s, a time before the age of social media. Now, Murray said major news stories are reported just hours after they break, and the public has more options of where to get their news.

“Today, there are just so many more kinds of outlets that exist and more people getting their news from other ways than through the mainstream media or legacy [media],” Murray said.

Politics followed suit. According to a June 2014 study from the Pew Research Center, American politics have become more polarized since the 1990s as Democrats and Republicans are more divided ideologically than ever before with more Democrats having consistently liberal views and Republicans consistently conservative ones. At the time, 94% of Democrats were to the left of the median Republican while 92% of Republicans were to the right of the median Democrat.

“While Washington D.C. was polarized in the late 1990s, there was more collegiality among Democrats and Republicans, a lot more trust in news organizations, with almost everyone being consumers of legacy and mainstream media versus more partisan news outlets,” Murray said.

This more partisan and polarized public creates problems for journalists working to communicate accurate information to the public. In a Pew Research study from August 2021, 78% of Democrats and Democratic leaners claim they have “a lot” or “some” trust in the information that news organizations report. Only 35% of Republicans and those that identify as Republican leaners feel the same way, down from about 70% in 2016.

“Someone like me at NBC News starts off with only 60% of the American public, even considering our reporting and our news judgment,” Murray said. “We could end up reporting that the sky is blue, and 40% of the country ends up saying that ‘Well, you can’t end up trusting news organizations like mine.’”

In this era of political polarization, Murray explained that Americans are staying closer to their side of the political aisle with a willingness to discount information that doesn’t conform with their beliefs.

“So much about politics becomes tribalism, where you want your side to end up doing well or look good,” Murray said. “And when you end up having information to the contrary, people want to dismiss that right out of hand.”

This issue can emerge in the way some news outlets cover politics. During our conversation, I asked Murray about the tendency of networks like Fox News to take positions in their reporting that demonstrate a bias towards former President Donald Trump. Murray said that when there are events that paint Trump in a negative light, Fox tends to avoid covering it. As a result, their audience never hears that information.

“I do think that there is the idea that if there is particular news that makes your side look bad, that you don’t end up mentioning that and then you just end up talking to a bubbled audience, that really can’t be swayed by any kind of news events,” Murray said.

It might seem difficult for journalists to overcome these obstacles, but Murray said the mainstream media continues to play a key role in bringing the public news from both sides of the political spectrum talking to Democrats and Republicans.

“While that’s not often the most perfect way to arrive at the truth, the fact that we are having conversations and sourcing with just not one side or one political party, to me is incredibly important to be able to do,” Murray said.

Local Reporting is More Than a Stepping Stone

By Megan Avery

A meeting adjourns in Washington D.C. The representatives of this country pour into a sea of journalists. Cameras flash. Questions are hurtled through the air. The contents of the meeting will be on the air and web in minutes. This is the hustle of national reporting that Meha Ahmad left.

Ahmad worked as a D.C. correspondent for years. Now, she works as the executive producer for WEBZ’s Reset. Ahmad’s career move is different than most. Journalists usually start in smaller, local markets before advancing to bigger areas of the country.

“You can work for a national outlet and the story that you’re covering is Ukraine,” Ahmad says. “And that does not tell, you know, a Chicago resident who’s driving to pick up their kids why and how it impacts them.”

Local journalism has seen an uptick in importance in recent years. The digital sphere of the internet allows people who could never see local news to receive it for free. The Medill Local News Initiative wrote an article about the rise in local journalism in Chicago. Organizations like Block Club Chicago, WBEZ, and the Better Government Association are focusing more on the local aspects.

Without these organizations, stories like the misconduct of Park District employees might have gone unnoticed.

“And that’s the role that local media plays,” says Ahmad, “It is explaining to the news consumer and helping them understand where they fit in this big story.”

Chicago is a city full of news. Big stories emerge almost every day about corruption and changes. For the average citizen, it’s a lot to digest. The journalists of this city break down the news into pieces the audience can understand.

Chicago’s elected officials have eyes on them everywhere. Local reporting shines in smaller towns. Ahmad says, “It’s usually local politics that see the most corruption because that’s where a lot of times it kind of goes under the radar.” Smaller markets bank on the busy and understaffed news teams to leave that sleeping bear alone.

As journalists, our dedication is to seek and tell the truth. That responsibility skews when we also have to fit the news in the culture of a location. National news tends to focus on getting a story out first. There is a mad dash after every big event.

Local reporting doesn’t need to be the first. Many stories highlighted on Reset have already been reported on. Ahmad and her team are more concerned about why.

Ahmad stresses that both types—local and national—are critical. “I actually encourage everybody to do both, at some point.” The journalistic skills needed and experience for each category are different. Yet it is crucial that someone is covering the latest Presidential Address while someone else is covering a local town hall.

“But if you’re looking to help people make sense of their day to day lives in the place they live,” Ahmad says, “I feel like local news, you can’t do better than that.”

We’re all after the same goal, just in different places.

 

 

‘We are kind of irrelevant’: Sports journalism remains at crossroads in terms of real and reliable reporting

By: Lawrence Kreymer

There aren’t many people in the journalism world who have seen the field adapt and change over the course of the last three or four decades. Rick Telander is one of them.

Telander has been a sports journalist for nearly five decades, starting off at Sports Illustrated and then taking a job as the sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1995.

He has seen the evolution of journalism throughout those years — in particular, sports journalism.

The field is not nearly the same as it was when Telander started. For instance, access to athletes and coaches has diminished due to the growth of social media.

“Athletes more and more realize that they don’t want to deal with actual sports journalists, they don’t have to,” Telander said. “In fact, most of the sports beat writers that I know, they mostly follow the athletes’ Twitter feeds or their Instagram accounts. They actually wait for the athlete to make pronouncements.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has also had a major impact on sports journalists’ ability to do one-on-one interviews with athletes and coaches. Locker room access after a game — a staple in the field for years — has basically vanished in the past two years.

“In fact, I went to a Bears game last fall — I hadn’t been to one in a long time — and it was useless,” Telander said. “You sit in the pressbox, watch the game [on a] little monitor  with no sound that is over 100 yards away — it’s so far away. You don’t know what’s going on, and you [can’t] go into the locker room.”

The lack of in-person interaction with the teams beat writers are covering has lessened the importance of journalists attending and covering games, according to Telander.

“We are kind of irrelevant,” he said. “If our access means nothing, which it seems to mean very little, maybe we have better writing skills — I don’t know if those are appreciated — or maybe we have analysis, but that only goes so far, too,”

Sports journalism has been evolving for years with the growth of social media. It’s no longer that journalists have most of the control in spreading information out to the public about what happened in a game or meeting.

Teams have more power than ever to release the information they feel is the most pertinent to their audience — and that includes cutting off access to journalists when they deem their reporting too negative.

“It was two years ago, [former Chicago Sun-Times reporter] Madeline Kenny, the [Chicago] Sky boycotted her because they did not like what she wrote,” Telander said.

The increase of social media platforms has also allowed more people to get involved covering sports — but that has not necessarily resulted in more honest and truthful reporting.

The last few months have seen some egregious and false reporting circulate online, even with some of those stories coming out from established reporters in their respective sports.

“If you are first, even if it’s wrong, you will get the clicks — and you are awarded for that,” Telander said. “This is the era of disinformation. … So, if you don’t come first and you don’t say something shocking in some form, then you are going to wither and die, and that’s the thing we have not been able to control as far as fact and truth.”

Even if someone’s reporting ends up being false, the clicks and attention that story generates can greatly benefit a company. It’s very rare that a journalist ends up being held accountable due to their reporting, especially if they work for a bigger organization that might prioritize clicks over truthful stories.

“When I used to write for Sports Illustrated, you have the story in and it went through three layers of checking and the legal department,” Telander said. “When you got called by the fact checkers all the time, we don’t even have those anymore.”

Sports journalism is at a crossroads of figuring out what’s more important: doing real and reliable reporting that goes beyond the final box score or continuing to prioritize reporting on trades and acquisitions that may or may not end up being true.

Leaders of these organizations have the power to decide the future of the field. It would behoove these leaders to focus more on getting the reporting right over getting it first.

 

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Judy Woodruff: A Journalist Guided by Accuracy, Integrity, and Empathy

By Claire Malon

 During her tenure as managing editor and anchor for PBS NewsHour, Judy Woodruff has built a legacy for being one of the most trusted sources of news in the nation.

With this reputation, it may surprise some to discover that Woodruff doesn’t believe in the concept of objectivity that so many journalists live and breathe by.

“I don’t believe there’s any such thing as objectivity,” said Woodruff. “I’m not a machine, I’m not a computer, I’m a human being.”

From their time in j-school to their first reporting jobs and throughout the rest of their careers, journalists are taught to be unbiased, objective conduits of the news.

Yet journalists, like everyone else, are people with different identities, backgrounds and lived experiences — and these things impact who we are and how we report the news.

But to Woodruff, this isn’t something we should try to hide or be ashamed of, nor does it mean we can’t fulfill our journalistic obligation to the public.

“I think what I can do is try to be as fair as possible as I report the news [and] make sure that I’ve listened to all sides and given what I think is the appropriate weight to the arguments that people are making.”

Rather than being beholden to objectivity, Woodruff defines her career as one guided by accuracy, integrity, and empathy.

“I’ve always been about reporting only what you know, and only what you can confirm. That’s the kind of reporting I was taught,” said Woodruff. “Being fixated on the facts.”

Last year, Woodruff was awarded the first ever Peabody Award for Journalistic Integrity. As a reporter with over five decades of experience, Woodruff has always sought for her work to be integrous.

“I think it’s about honesty, it’s about being transparent in our work, it’s about putting the news and facts ahead of everything else.”

 But for Woodruff, who has been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and people with disabilities, the best reporting requires empathy.

“I think there’s a way to reflect the facts, and to be true to your role as a journalist, but still to show some empathy for the people involved,” said Woodruff. “So that’s been my philosophy of reporting, is tell all sides of the story, but be humane about it and be human.”

Woodruff underlined the importance of this kind of journalism — one defined by accuracy, integrity, and empathy.

“To me, freedom of the press, the ability to report, the ability to report with accuracy and with integrity is foundational to our democracy. You can’t have a democracy without a free press.”\

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Judy Woodruff: A Journalist Guided by Accuracy, Integrity, and Empathy

By Claire Malon

 During her tenure as managing editor and anchor for PBS NewsHour, Judy Woodruff has built a legacy for being one of the most trusted sources of news in the nation.

With this reputation, it may surprise some to discover that Woodruff doesn’t believe in the concept of objectivity that so many journalists live and breathe by.

“I don’t believe there’s any such thing as objectivity,” said Woodruff. “I’m not a machine, I’m not a computer, I’m a human being.”

From their time in j-school to their first reporting jobs and throughout the rest of their careers, journalists are taught to be unbiased, objective conduits of the news.

Yet journalists, like everyone else, are people with different identities, backgrounds and lived experiences — and these things impact who we are and how we report the news.

But to Woodruff, this isn’t something we should try to hide or be ashamed of, nor does it mean we can’t fulfill our journalistic obligation to the public.

“I think what I can do is try to be as fair as possible as I report the news [and] make sure that I’ve listened to all sides and given what I think is the appropriate weight to the arguments that people are making.”

Rather than being beholden to objectivity, Woodruff defines her career as one guided by accuracy, integrity, and empathy.

“I’ve always been about reporting only what you know, and only what you can confirm. That’s the kind of reporting I was taught,” said Woodruff. “Being fixated on the facts.”

Last year, Woodruff was awarded the first ever Peabody Award for Journalistic Integrity. As a reporter with over five decades of experience, Woodruff has always sought for her work to be integrous.

“I think it’s about honesty, it’s about being transparent in our work, it’s about putting the news and facts ahead of everything else.”

 But for Woodruff, who has been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and people with disabilities, the best reporting requires empathy.

“I think there’s a way to reflect the facts, and to be true to your role as a journalist, but still to show some empathy for the people involved,” said Woodruff. “So that’s been my philosophy of reporting, is tell all sides of the story, but be humane about it and be human.”

Woodruff underlined the importance of this kind of journalism — one defined by accuracy, integrity, and empathy.

“To me, freedom of the press, the ability to report, the ability to report with accuracy and with integrity is foundational to our democracy. You can’t have a democracy without a free press.”

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