SHODDY NEWS: How to complain about bad journalism 2.0Posted: August 12, 2018
Just lately, more than a few people have been complaining about journalists just recently.
It’s not critical stories that truly bother people, it’s not giving a fair crack of the whip.
As a former journalist, I get the Press needs to hold the organisation to account.
As a former press officer, I also get that that on occasion the journalist or news organisation needs to be held to account, too.
Taditional media. No longer the only show in town but as the Edelman Trust Barometer shows, in the UK 61 per cent trust traditional media.
Every generation blames declining editorial standards. But as news rooms have been hollowed out old heads have gone. There’s also less time to check copy and pressure to get the story online.
If the content is in accurate complain about it.
Golde rule: get your facts straight first
One day when I worked in local government, the door flew open. An angry social worker demanded we I declare war on the local newspaper for the damning front page she was shaking at me.
“Calm down,” I said. “Let’s go through it line by line.”
Of the 14 paragraphs, all but one was accurate. It quoted her in a report she’d written. The sum of money was at issue. So, I picked-up the phone and spoke to the journalists about the inaccuracy.
Golden rule: Get your facts straight first. What’s the problem? If the piece is inaccurate, you’ve got a case. If you’ve not been given a fair say, too.
Yes, you complained once and all you got was three lousy lines on page 17. What’s the point? You’re firing a shot across the bows. You don’t see is the pain stripping inquisition that may have led to those three lines. When I was a reporter, I made mistakes just like anyone else. I sure as hell I didn’t enjoy the process of explaining myself. At best, it’s time consuming. At worst, it can be pretty unpleasant.
Stage 1: the off-line conversation with the journalist direct
Sometimes, the offending headline isn’t the fault of the journalist themselves. It’s the sub-editor where they still exist. Talk to the journalist direct over the phone to air your grievance. Chances are most things can be sorted this way. But if the issue is particularly bad, just go straight to stage two.
Stage 2: the on-line conversation with the newspaper direct
You can talk to your residents directly to set the record straight. So, why wouldn’t you?
The BBC Press Office have got really good at this. Annoyed at reporting they want to challenge they’ve taken to Twitter. Be straight. Be factual.
A story that’s crass beyond belief… pic.twitter.com/nltTCx1YK6
— BBC Press Office (@bbcpress) August 24, 2017
Top tip: some in the organisation will fear this is just having a row and hey, we’re above that. So, do a bit of homework first. Have a word with the people who know policy backwards. In a council, this is usually constitutional services. Ask them for chapter and verse of policies on transparency and accuracy. Frame your conversations in the light of these policies. You are not having a row. You are making sure council policy is carried out by being transparent about the issue, is all.
Stage 3: the off-line complaint to the news organisation
Now, this is where your homework comes into play. Twenty minutes going through documents line-by-line could save you hours and days and weeks.
This is the important part. You are looking at what holds the journalist to account.
You don’t necessary have to complain to the regulator direct. But you can cite where the breaches of the regulator’s code are then complain editor or news editor above the reporter’s head. This makes the difference between the unstructured shouting and the constructive argument.
There’s plenty to choose from.
The IPSO editor’s code of conduct
There is a big debate over press regulation. That’s for some other time. The majority of newspapers opt to be regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation or IPSO. There are 14 areas of the Editor’s Code of Conduct that you can complain under with the first – accuracy – likely to feature prominently.
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
There was a handy webpage with a list of organisations governed by IPSO. That’s now got a 404 so you’ll have to make use of the old school contact page to check if the body is regulated.
The IMPRESS code of conduct
If the organisation you want to complain about are regulated by the official regulator IMPRESS the code can be found here. They’ve recently regulated their 1,000th organisation with a fair number of blogs and websites on the list.
The National Union of Journalists code of conduct
The NUJ – disclaimer, I’m a member – has 12 points in its code of conduct. If the journalist is breaching them, cite them. It doesn’t matter they are not members it is a nationally recognised code of behaviour for the journalist themselves.
The news organisation themselves’ own code
The news organisation themselves often pride themselves in upholding the highest standards. That’s great. Hold them to them. For example, Reach, the new name for Trinity Mirrior, has a complaints policy. The BBC has editorial guidelines. If you are complaining about a BBC reporter know what the guidelines so you can show whey they have been broken. Use them.
Stage 4: the formal complaint
If sticking locally doesn’t work, then do put the complaint in writing to the right regulator.
In a fast moving news cycle, you’ll need to act fast, accurately and fairly. If you don’t, who in your organisation will?
Picture credit: Ryan Adams / Homedust.com