Saturday, May 24, 2008

What kind of a job is the media doing?

Ann Wilmer of Green Ribbon has put forth an interesting question and suggested some solutions. Please read and see what YOU think, and then read MY REPLY directly below.

Reporting Adoption: What kind of a job is the media doing?

I'm researching how the media reports adoption issues and I could use some research support. I'm trying to identify major areas in which the media does not report well and find specific examples. I'm sticking to legitimate news standards for this exercise. Bias is another investigation.

I have done several email interviews with triad members regarding their impressions of news coverage of adoption and gotten some very good feedback. In order to approach the media with my findings, I need proof (examples). As you read the newspaper and online sources, I know you already evaluate what you read informally. I'd like you to take time to more formally evaluate what you read by comparing it to the criteria journalists use to define good reporting.

Reporting isn't considered "good reporting" unless it meets certain standards:
* Accurate
* Properly attributed
* Complete
* Balanced and fair
* Objective
* Brief and focused
* Well written

For our purposes, I'm only concerned about the four of the standards above. Brevity and style can be fixed in the editing process and probably do not impact the issue of fair and balanced reporting (if you find an exception, let me know). Proper attribution is primarily an issue of accuracy although inexperienced news writers will try to use words other than "said" (e.g. opined, shouted, etc.) to attibute a quotation and that can lead you down a dangerous path. Said is almost ALWAYS the best choice although there are some other neutral ones like "asked" or "replied," you just don't see them in newswriting very often.

My major areas of concern are these:

An example of inaccuracy that has serious implications for the triad community is when either mother of an adoptee is labled the "real" mother since both women perform actions that make them a mother. Using the term "birth" mother is "subtly pejorative" although if that describes you, you may not think it subtle. We may have to live with this term for a while because it has traction, however, it remains an area that offers us an opportunity to educate reporters, editors and the public as long as we do it in a calm and rational manner. If you find an example of inaccuracy, I'd like to know about it. In fact, I'd like to have a copy and a bibliographic citation of the offending article. (By that I mean only name and date of publication -- if I actually get to the point of needing a footnote, I'll call the newspaper.)

Completeness is a double-edged sword because reporters are loathe to leave out any fact the discover but sometimes the issue of adoption, while not relavant to the story, is included anyway. The typical example is when an adoptee kills his parents. His adoption may or may not have been at the heart of what happened. Early reporting can't tell so if a neighbor happens to mention that the kid being arrested was adopted then it gets into the story. On the other hand, a story about a woman who surrendered a child to adoption and then changed her mind cannot be told without explaining who the child is to her.

Unbalanced or unfair
Balanced and fair is where you will probably find the most problematic reporting. General assignment reporters are usually newbies in the newsroom. They have no specialty so they are sent ont to cover any story that the editor considers not requiring a reporter with specialized skills. At small newspapers, that can be most stories. So in doing his homework -- we are giving this rookie the benefit of the doubt -- he Googles the National Council for Adoption. He doesn't know and NCFA will not point out that they are a lobbyist group rather than a professional association of adoption workers. So, he will get their spin and not realize that he should be getting another side from Child Welfare League of America. Until and unless triad members are listed in the phone book as such -- look in the yellow pages under adoption and you will find agencies, not individuals who've been subjected to the process -- reporters will only think to get our perspective if they know our connection to adoption. To that end, I suggest that every support group out there buy a bunch of Rolodex cards and type them up with the heading "adoption" and list the names of several members from all corners of the triad who are willing and able to speak articulately to adoption issues and send these to local media people. In fact, it would be a great idea for your group to walk into the newsroom -- not as easy as it used to be -- and pass your cards around to everyone in the newsroom during Adoption Awareness Month in November.

Although objective reporting is the goal, news reporting is rarely comepletly objective -- it's a human failing. So we try to be sure a story is fair and balanced. News reporting is unfair if the reporter:
* Omits facts of major significance
* Includes essentially irrelevant information
* Consciously or unconsciously misleads or deceives
* Hides reporter biases or emotions behind subtly pejorative words
* If innocent people are hurt

If you find a news item that falls into the above category, send it to me. You can always email it to me via GRC_Update-owner@ yahoogroups. com. The handfull of people with moderator status will get the clipping and whoever is "on duty" will post it if it includes the URL (which I would need, too).

Be sure that you look at media coverage objectively. It's not easy when the issue is adoption! Here are some guidelines for you.
* Be aware of your own biases
* Do not draw conclusions
* Verify suspicions, feelings or hunches and report the facts that prove them
* Report what people say or do
* Provides context for to help the reader make judgments

I look forward to hearing from you.

Ann Wilmer

No comments:

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