"Please Don't Talk To Anyone Else" - 01/10/14
One of the most overused word in television news these days is "exclusive." The Nashville tv news landscape is competitive and has been for decades. Every news person worth his or her salt is eager to tell stories no one else knows about. That's what it's all about, telling your viewers things they don't know but would be interested to hear. Being first is the holy grail in journalism. The root word of "news" is "new." It's not as important as being right, but it's important.
In recent years, I've noticed something happening in Nashville news more and more. Reporters at some television stations ask for interviews and then ask people like you not to speak to any other reporters who may call or stop by requesting comment. I'm told there have even been instances where a reporter offers cash if you'll interview with them and tell everyone else no comment.
To me, that's wrong. Journalism is a profession. As a reporter, I'm searching for the truth and as many sides to the argument as I can identify. I have never asked an interview subject not to speak with any of my colleagues. After we talk, I synthesize the message they've shared with me, ask if I have an accurate understanding of thier position and then I thank them for speaking to me. Not once have I ever said on the way out, please don't speak to anyone else. Not once have I ever offered money in exchange for an interview. I've had people ask. I've had attorneys offer interviews with a client if I agree to steer clear of certain questions. I always simply said thanks, but I can't agree to those terms. It's intellectually dishonest. It violates what I consider a sacred trust with my viewer. I'm not for sale. I'm your advocate. I'm here to ask the questions you'd ask.
I'm hearing so many examples of this kind of "reporting," I'm beginning to wonder if some news managers are encouraging or instructing their people to engage in this kind of newsgathering. If that's happening, shame on both of you. Shame on the news manager for violating what I consider a code of ethics. And shame on any news reporter who bows to pressure to behave in this manner.
I don't say it's exclusive unless I know for sure this is a story you won't see anywhere else. I have asked interview subjects to let me know if they interview with anyone else so I won't say "exclusive." That's fair. I respect my competitors. I've always believed if I do everything I can think of to collect information, pictures, interviews I'll end of no worse than even with you at the end of the day. I've made a career of putting my witts and work ethic against my competitors.
I consider this an honorable profession. Anyone who engages in the practices I just described needs to check themselves, remember what business they're in and the position of trust they occupy. I've been at this a long time. My viewers come first. It's not about me. It's about you. Telling you the truth to the best of my ability is what I promise. It's all I'm selling. And no matter how journalism changes, the truth and professional integrity never goes out of style.