Sunday, July 19, 2015

Just the Facts Please...

By Julia Rogers Hook

It’s been quite a summer for news in South Carolina lately. We’ve had the tragic Charleston massacre and then the ensuing controversial demands for taking down the Confederate flag that flew on the State House grounds. Before the deaths of the nine black worshippers at a Bible study in June by an accused white racist at Emmanuel AME Church, a white police officer was seen on video firing shots at and ultimately killing a retreating black man he had pulled over for a traffic stop.

While across the nation there were riots over similar incidents that also entailed looting and the burning of buildings, in our state the tragedies seemed to unite the people as opposed to dividing them. As a resident, I am deeply proud of my state but as a journalist, I faced some hard questions.

It’s obvious that unless we’re writing an editorial, no journalists’ opinions should enter our work. We are there to “report the news” and not to “comment” on it. We are supposed to deliver the facts and simply tell the story. We are never supposed to become part of the story if we are giving a fair and balanced account of events.

With the removal of the Confederate flag from the state Capital grounds, there was a lot of gray area and it was not always a clear cut story.

One side said the flag was representing Southern heritage and history. The other said it glorified the days of slavery and racism.

How does a “fair and balanced” story come out of such a wide gulf? How, when a reporter is allotted only so much space, does he tell both sides and do it fairly?

Can it even be done?

I believe it can be done but it’s tricky because, no matter how fair a reporter tries to be in the delivery of the news, reports could be tainted by past life experiences such as upbringing, religion or politics. The news giver could lean one way or the other and with a few small changes in wording, change an entire meaning of a sentence.

For instance, if we take the police shooting in Charleston earlier this year, if the reporter said that “the officer said the suspect was going for his taser when he pulled out his gun,” that gives the officer some credibility.

But, if that reporter said that “the officer claimed that the suspect was going for his taser when he pulled out his gun,” that throws doubt on the officer’s statement.

With the flag controversy being all about opinions, I tried to find at least one appealing point of view from each side of the argument and then attempted to deliver that viewpoint to my readers as clearly and succinctly as possible. I wanted to give them information, not my personal feelings.

My goal is that what they hear from me will be the truth…unvarnished and simple.

Then I’m doing my job.

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