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Taylor & Francis
Broadcast News Writing, Reporting, and Producing / Edition 6

Broadcast News Writing, Reporting, and Producing / Edition 6

by Frank Barnas


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 2900240823712
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 03/15/2013
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Frank Barnas is a Professor of Mass Media who has taught in journalism programs in Georgia, Nevada, Texas, and Lithuania. His journalism background includes television reporting, radio commentary, and working on documentaries in locations ranging from Russia to Antarctica. He has been recognized by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the Broadcast Education Association, the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation, the Society for Collegiate Journalists, and the Fulbright Commission.

Read an Excerpt

Broadcast News

Writing, Reporting, and Producing
By Ted White Frank Barnas

Focal Press

Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-08-095397-7

Chapter One

Ethical Considerations


Introduction 3 Accuracy 3 Libel 4 Defenses 5 False Light 5 Boundaries 6 Hidden Cameras and Microphones 7 Ambush Interviews 7 Gratuities 8 Conflict of Interest 8 Reenactments and Staging 9 "Unnatural" Sound 10 Video Deception 10 Improper Editing 11 Jump Cuts 11 Inflating the News 13 Will the Real Reporter Please Stand Up? 13 Cameras in the Courtroom 14 The Fairness Doctrine 15 Invasion of Privacy 17


Ambush Interview Conflict of Interest Fair Comment False Light File Footage Gratuities Jump Cut Libel Privilege Reenactment Reverse Question Reversal Truth


This chapter focuses on the important and complex issue of ethics, one of the cornerstones of good journalism. The pillars of journalism (accuracy, fairness, and objectivity) are among the major ethical considerations for those who work in the news industry. Additionally, there are ongoing debates over bias, objectivity, favoritism, and a number of other ethical issues.

A grounding in ethics is essential to those in news, as journalists are confronted with choices about stories, interviews, sound bytes, rundowns, shot angles, editing, and a host of other potential hazards on a daily basis. This chapter does not provide individual case studies. The daily newscast is rife with ethical challenges; thus there is never a shortage of exemplars. Instead, this chapter details the ethical dilemmas that appear frequently among broadcast journalists. We begin with the basic need to get the story right.


Accuracy means writing and reporting in a manner that is as objective and fair as possible, despite any personal feeling, belief, or attitude on the subject. Taking responsibility means the following: (1) looking at all the issues, not just the easy or popular ones; (2) examining controversies and producing special reports throughout the year, not just during the sweeps rating periods; (continued) (3) covering important stories that don't always offer good pictures; (4) writing and reporting with care, understanding, and compassion; and (5) dealing with people in a professional and civil manner.

As detailed in further chapters, many news directors require reporters to double-source and even triple-source stories before they air. This means every piece of information must be confirmed by at least two or three independent sources.

Some inaccuracy will always creep into newswriting and reporting because people write and report news. People make mistakes. If errors occur, the reaction is to correct the mistakes immediately.

Accuracy is an ethical journalistic concern, but when information in a story is inaccurate because of bias or carelessness, it can also become a legal issue-libel.


Although it should not be the motivating factor for insisting on accuracy, there is always the threat of libel facing those journalists who through carelessness, ignorance, or malice make inaccurate statements in their reports that reflect on the character or reputation of an individual or group. Libel laws differ from state to state, but essentially writers or reporters can be sued for libel if anything they write or report (1) exposes an individual or group to public scorn, hatred, ridicule, or contempt; (2) causes harm to someone in their occupation or profession; or (3) causes someone to be shunned or avoided.

Reporters must also remember that it is not necessary to have actually used a person's name to be sued for libel. If the audience knows to whom a reporter is referring, even without the name, the reporter could be sued for libel if the comments harm the person's reputation.

Although libel traditionally refers to printed material and slander to spoken words, the distinction between the two terms has little meaning for broadcast reporters. Recognizing that broadcast material is usually scripted, many state laws regard any defamatory statements on radio and television as subject to libel laws. Remember also that using the word alleged before a potentially libelous word does not make it any less libelous.


Courts usually recognize only three defenses against libel: truth, privilege, and fair comment.

The truth is the best defense, but in some states the courts have ruled that truth is only a defense if the comments were not malicious.

Privilege covers areas such as legislative and judicial hearings and debates and documents that are in the public domain. If a reporter quotes a potentially libelous comment made by a senator during a debate, the reporter could not be sued for libel.

Fair comment also is used as a defense against libel. Public officials, performers, sports figures, and others who attract public attention must expect to be criticized and scrutinized more than most people. If a sports commentator, for example, says that college football coach Joe Brown is a "lousy coach and the team would be better off if this inept, incompetent jerk moved on to a high-school coaching job, which he might just possibly be able to handle," he might get a punch on the nose if he ran into the coach, but he would not end up in court for libel.

There are limits, however, to what reporters can say even about public figures—the facts must be true. If the sports commentator had included the comment that "Brown's real problem is that he is smoking too many joints at night," then Brown would have a libel case unless the sports commentator could prove that Coach Brown actually spends his nights smoking marijuana.


A complaint similar to libel, called false light, involves the improper juxtaposition of video and audio that creates a false impression of someone. This invasion-of-privacy issue has actually caused more suits against TV news organizations than libel has, and it is more difficult to defend.

Professor Karen Frankola described a case involving a reporter's story about genital herpes. The reporter was having difficulty figuring out how to cover the story, so she relied on some walking-down-the-street file video. Frankola said that in the package used on the 6 o'clock news, none of the passersby was identifiable. The story was edited differently for the 11 o'clock news, though, and the audience saw a close-up of a young woman while the anchor was saying, "For the 21 million Americans who have herpes, it's not a cure." The woman in the close-up won damages from the TV station.

Frankola said that false light "may get past a journalist more easily because it's not as obvious that false information is being given." She noted that the reporter in the herpes story did not say "the woman has herpes," which would have been a red flag to the editor. But, Frankola said, "the combination of words and pictures implied that the woman had the disease."

The Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press issued a report showing that 47 percent of subpoenas issued to TV stations deal with such invasion-of-privacy actions. The group's executive director, Jane Kirtley, believes the number of suits is growing because "people are developing a much greater sense of privacy, a desire to be let alone."


How far should reporters go to get a story? If reporters have a strong suspicion that someone in government is a crook, don't they have the right to do whatever it takes to report the story to the public? Some journalists say they do. Other news people believe that if they bend the rules too much, they become suspect and may be viewed no differently from the people they are investigating. Each reporter must decide the ethical merits involved in certain investigative practices.

Some of the controversial information-gathering techniques employed by investigative reporters include impersonation, misrepresentation, and infiltration. Should journalists use such techniques to get a story? Consider the following scenarios:

* Is it right for a reporter to pretend to be a nurse so that she can get inside a nursing home to investigate charges that residents are being mistreated?

* Is it proper for a journalist to tell a college football coach that he wants to do a story about training when he's really checking on reports of drug abuse and gambling?

* Is it permissible for a reporter to pose as a pregnant woman thinking about having an abortion in order to find out what kind of material a right-to-life organization is providing at its information center?

* Is it ethical for journalists to take jobs in a supermarket and then spy on the operations to try to show improper food handling?

All of these incidents actually occurred, and they represent only a few examples of the controversial methods used on a routine basis. Are they ethical?


Reporters sometimes use hidden cameras and microphones when they're doing an investigative story in an effort to record incriminating material. They also use wireless microphones to eavesdrop on conversations. Such devices are used routinely by teams working for 60 Minutes, 20/20, and other investigative TV news programs.

There seem to be no laws against using a hidden camera to videotape something that is going on in public. Reporters must know state and federal laws, however, if they plan to use hidden microphones. Federal law forbids their use unless one person involved in the conversation knows of the recording. If a reporter places a hidden microphone in a hotel room to record a conversation between two or more people, that would be a violation of federal law. If a reporter is carrying a hidden microphone, there is no federal violation, but some states do forbid the practice. It's also a violation of some state laws to use so-called wires—microphones that transmit a conversation to another location.

CNN's Jim Polk admits that he has used hidden cameras from the back of a truck with one-way glass, but he says it is really "espionage, spying—a dirty little technique." But, he says, "We have used it on the mob." Polk says that as long as the video that's shot with a hidden camera is of people doing illegal things in public view, he has no problem using the technique. He says, however, that using hidden microphones is "playing with fire. It's a dangerous technique that is easily mishandled, and it should be used with caution and only under certain circumstances."


One interview technique used by broadcast journalists is the ambush interview, where the reporter surprises the interviewee on camera. As the name implies, reporters who are unable to schedule an interview with an individual often stake out the person's home or office until they can ambush the person as he or she enters or exits the building. The reporter and cameraperson force themselves on the individual, trying to shoot video and ask questions as the person tries to escape. Is this reporting technique appropriate?

ABC News correspondent Barry Serafin says an ambush interview is justified only when there's "a genuine public accountability involved. Sometimes you cannot allow a person in public office to refuse to talk to you; you really have to get to the person and make him accountable."

John Spain, the former general manager of WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge who has received a number of awards for investigative reporting, says he does not like the ambush interview unless, as Serafin notes, it involves the public interest. "If we have made every effort to interview an individual and have been denied access," said Spain, "we would do an ambush. If you raise your hand and take an oath," he added, "you have an obligation to answer to the public."


Reporters are often tempted with gratuities, or gifts. It is impossible for reporters to maintain their credibility if they accept any kind of gift from people or organizations they cover. Many offers come from public-relations people. Some gifts may come at Christmas, whereas others may arrive at the door of a reporter or producer after the broadcast of a story about a product or service. The gifts should be returned.

Some news directors pass out such gifts to nonnews staff, but doing so sends the wrong message to the donor. If the gifts are not returned, the senders have no way of knowing that they were not appreciated and might assume that they can expect some favor the next time they're promoting something.

One news director says that when Christmas gifts arrive, he gives them to the people in the mailroom but does not say who sent them. He says he also calls the donor and lets him or her know that he can't accept gifts and has passed them along to the mailroom staff. "That's easier than packing the stuff up and sending it back," he says. "It also lets the PR people know that I can't be bought, and it makes the people in the mailroom a little bit happier."


Sometimes the issue of what is an acceptable practice is not so clearly defined. Is it wrong for a theater or film reviewer to receive free tickets from the show's producers? Some newspapers pay for their reviewers' tickets, but most reviewers do accept free tickets, and there is no reason to believe that this practice influences what they write about a film or play.

Some news organizations fear a conflict of interest. For example, hotel owners sometimes offer news people a free plane ride and accommodations to promote a new hotel. Is it possible for the reporter to maintain objectivity when the host has provided him or her with a thousand dollars or more for travel and entertainment? Some journalists claim it would take more than that to corrupt them. Some of them may even write negative stories about the trip, but the temptation to be favorable toward the host is great. To avoid such potential conflicts of interest, many news directors forbid such trips.


Considerable debate has been generated over the use of reenactments of events to tell a news story. Most news directors frown on the technique, but some see nothing wrong with them as long as they are clearly designated as such with a supertitle plainly stating "This is a reenactment."

The most important ethical consideration in the use of reenactments is that they should not confuse the audience about what they are looking at. Viewers should be able to determine quickly which scenes are actual and which are reenactments. Some news directors believe reenactments have no place in news. As one news director puts it, "Let the tabloid newspeople do the reenactment."

Another serious ethical concern is staging, the faking of video or sound or any other aspect of a story. Staging can and should be a cause for dismissal. Ironically, some reporters see little harm in staging if the staging is accurate. "What's wrong," one reporter asks, "if you round up protesters at an abortion clinic who may be out to lunch and get them shouting again? That's what they would be doing after lunch, anyway."

It is not the same, and reporters who think that way pose a serious threat to their news organizations. Many other kinds of staging go on all too often. All of them are unethical. Here are a few examples:

* A reporter misses a news conference, so he asks the newsmaker to repeat a few of the remarks he made and pretends the sound bytes actually came from the news conference.

* A news crew goes to a park to film some children playing on swings and seesaws, but there are none there. A cameraperson is sent to find some children.

* A reporter doing a story about drugs on campus needs some video to support the story so he asks a student he knows to "set up" a group smoking marijuana in a dorm room.

* A documentary unit doing a story on crime asks police officers in a patrol car to make a few passes by the camera with the sirens blasting. Harmless deceptions? Perhaps. But where does staging end?


Excerpted from Broadcast News by Ted White Frank Barnas Copyright © 2010 by Elsevier Inc. . Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Broadcast News Writing Mechanics
Broadcast News Writing Style
More Style Rules
Writing Broadcast Copy
Color: The Key to Good Writing
Writing for the Radio Newscast
Writing for the Television Newscast
Delivering the News
Finding the News
Broadcast News Reporting
Reporting Assignments
Reporting Live
Putting the Television Story Together
The Interview
Computer-Assisted Reporting
Developing Sources
Specialty Reporting
Ethics and the Law
More Ethical Issues
Tabloid Journalism
Using the Hardware
The Job Search in a Changing Industry

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