A reporter always has to worry about presumption.
Presumption tags along on every story. It lurks in every story budget meeting. Despite our best attempts to avoid them, our presumptions inevitably find their way into our news pages and broadcasts.
I suppose you could call it bias. But bias has become a negative buzzword, an accusation constantly hurled at journalists. Presumption doesn’t sound much better, but at least it seems a little more human.
After all, it is human. We often claim to be objective, but journalism is a very subjective process. The best we can do is identify our own presumptions and work to avoid them.
On Page 10, Patrick A. McGuire recalls how he learned the dangers of presumption. He looks back on his own journalism career and shares some lessons he’s learned from his own mistakes, and he also illustrates how the newsroom culture often reinforces those presumptions.
In many cases, newsroom culture can be where those presumptions begin. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about diversifying newsrooms, and a lot of news organizations have taken important steps in recruiting diverse talent. But those steps are of little value if new hires are forced to assimilate into the existing newsroom culture. A strong newsroom takes advantage of its diversity by encouraging employees to bring unique perspectives to work, but too often those voices are squelched by an insistence on conformity.
More newsrooms are recognizing the importance of changing that culture – not just by bringing in new hires, but by giving reporters time to seek out and cultivate diverse sources. This process is about more than just developing contacts. It’s about getting reporters out of newsrooms and into undercovered communities. The result is often more complete coverage that includes a wider variety of perspectives.
In this month’s cover story, which starts on Page 16, read how several papers are changing their reporting tactics to diversify their coverage. The changes are not easy – or cheap. Newsrooms often view time as money, and it takes time to cultivate relationships in communities that usually are missing from news pages. But many papers are finding that the improvements in coverage are worth the investment; eliminating the presumptions that plague our work is one of the best ways to improve the final product.
Jeff Mohl is the editor of Quill.