1. Show anyone outside the newsroom the story before it’s published
We’ve got some new faces around the Triad City Beat newsroom these days, adding essential voices and insight to our publication. But before they can do that, they must be indoctrinated in some of my ways: general rules of professionalism, ethics and etiquette that I’ve learned over more than a decade at the helm. This one came up recently: It is okay to call a source and check quotes, if the reporter has time or some question about her notes, or to fact-check some of the elements of the story. But under no circumstances can anyone outside our newsroom — or, occasionally, our legal team — read our work until it is published.
2. Source from social media
“Hey! Anyone know anyone who’s unhappy with their landlord?” “Reaching out to Facebook land! What are your favorite sandwiches?” “Where’s the best place to get sake? For a story.” No no no. Reporters are valuable because they know people, they have connections, they can find things out. A reporter who kicks his legwork out to Facebook is a reporter who made a pitch he can’t back up with actual knowledge. And there are no stories at a desk.
3. Make a sales pitch
Let me tell you something: Our writers are not in the ticket-selling business. It is for this reason that we rarely run previews for events, and when we do it’s only for things we truly believe that people need to know about. And even then, any prose encouraging people to “come on out” or “get your tickets early” will be stricken from the piece, and a short lecture will follow.
4. Run press releases as articles
A press release is supposed to alert media about an event they may wish to cover. It is not — not — journalism. This is an ethical issue; bylaws of just about every professional organization in our industry explicitly warns against it, including the NC Press Association, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and the Society of Professional Journalists. Happens all the time, though. But not in our shop.
5. Use first person
It’s true that there are times, even in journalism, when first-person is not only acceptable but also the best way to approach the story. But it’s lazy, and the honest truth for most journalists is that no one cares what they think about the story they’re covering. We enforce a six-week moratorium on first person for our interns, and even our veterans must defend their use of first person when they want to employ it.
6. Write about your friends
In a market like this, it’s almost impossible for journalists to avoid writing about people they know. Sometimes they’re friends. But I strongly advise against pitching stories about your friend’s band, your friend’s business, your friend’s daughter who does these really cool things with yarn. For one, it’s unethical — we studiously avoid subjects with whom we have personal relationships, and when it’s unavoidable we must make full disclosure. But also, and more importantly, they almost always end up hating the story.