Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Decisions, decisions


Graeme's posting of the on-air assault reminded me that journalism is unpredictable, which for many is part of the profession's appeal. Though fighting off passers-by is, thankfully, uncommon, it's the kind of incident working journalists can't foresee, which makes the job so exhilarating. I would hope your personal standards of professionalism would guide your response and reaction in this case.
You may have heard it said that in the news business no two days, no two stories, are the same. Every assignment -- whether spot or enterprise -- requires the reporter to make hundreds of decisions while gathering news and crafting the story. Some decisions are routine: What's the angle? Who do I need to talk to? How do I gain this source's trust? How assertive should I be with a subject who is clearly trying to hide something? But others are not so simple: How do I respond if faced with hostility? Should I intervene if a passer-by were to assault another citizen? Where's the line between covering a story and becomng part of it?
No journalism instructor or editor can make these calls for you; it's on you when you're in the field. As my first city editor told me years ago, you must develop the presence of mind to stay focused, keep your wits about you and act responsibly in the public's interest. That's the unique challenge of being a working journalist, and there's no profession like it.


Professor Wiggins


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