How true reporting really works

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Just when I thought I had it all figured out.

Normally, I do not plan my column topics in advance.

Sometimes, I simply write about whatever is on my mind that day based on an article I come across on a national news site, or something of that nature.

Very rarely do I decide what I’m going to say days in advance… it’s usually a fairly last-minute decision.

However, this past week I’d been planning to write about one specific idea – even had the thing pretty much written in my head already.

Then my phone on my desk at work started ringing off the hook this morning and my e-mail inbox was flooded with angry tirades.

(Okay, so maybe that’s exaggerating a bit, but there were a few.)

So, my pre-planned column topic went out the window and I decided to write about this matter, instead.

In any case, all the negativity I have heard today and yesterday was about the same thing – the article I wrote that appeared in Tuesday’s paper regarding the incident with Judge Lewis and Bertie County School officials.

Some people, apparently, were incensed that I had written such a &uot;one-sided&uot; article without presenting the Board of Education’s point of view.

That issue completely aside, this is a pretty common complaint that people in the newspaper business get when a situation like this occurs.

Therefore, let me get up on my soapbox for a minute and educate people about how this business works.

Number one, reporters attend events and cover what happens there.

We then write the facts of what took place and report what other people say, not our own opinions.

If we are unable to attend the event for whatever reason, we have to talk to people who were actually there and get their reactions on what happened – or else listen to a tape of the meeting, if there was one.

We cannot print &uot;hearsay;&uot; that’s someone else’s version of what they heard at a meeting.

That wouldn’t be true reporting; that would be an opinion piece.

We also cannot derive comments from thin air.

If we make phone calls and people decline to comment, then there is no &uot;other side&uot; to present.

If we make phone calls, and they’re not returned by press time, the show – as they say – must go on.

We’ll still give the other party a chance to have their own say another time, if they choose to contact us or return our phone calls at a later date.

Such was the case with what happened in Tuesday’s article – which, if people had read the entire thing, including the last two paragraphs, they would have understood.

Today’s edition presents that &uot;other side.&uot;

I hope that I have been as fair and impartial as I possibly could be with these two stories and given each party the chance to say their piece.

As a reporter at a newspaper that only prints the &uot;hard facts&uot; and does not editorialize in its articles, I am not allowed to have an opinion.

Yes, I can write whatever I want in this particular space – page A4 – but that’s about it.

Every other thing you’ll ever see my name on is my best attempt at being completely neutral.

Yes, there are going to be times when it seems like an article leans a certain way.

This wasn’t the first time and it certainly won’t be the last.

Yet that’s the way things operate at a newspaper, or any media outlet for that matter.


Because we operate on a deadline.

We can’t wait around and sit on a story forever just because all parties involved don’t return phone calls promptly.

We can’t hogtie people and make them say something, either (well, technically we COULD, but I think then we would get arrested and BECOME the story).

If someone chooses not to comment and offer a dissenting opinion, then the article runs as-is.

Period, end of story.


Jennipher Dickens is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

She can be reached via email at or by calling (252) 332-7208.