Telling It Straight
September 9, 2022
I have been around journalism before most of my co-workers could hold a pen or pencil, let alone know the reason red pens and pencils existed at newspapers. They were editing tools—cross out a word or sentence and add the revision indicated by a red carrot over the deletion.
We called our sources for follow-up or to verify our facts. We wanted a relevant story, and if we nabbed a wrongdoing in the process, we were doing so in good faith, for the public good. The cardinal rule was never going back to sources to review a story prior to publication. They were the source; we were the reporters.
I mention this because of the way we do things differently in the Journal of Emergency Dispatch. We contact our sources before a story goes to layout or is posted online. Journal sources are subject matter experts—and sometimes co-authors. This was said best by Greg Scott, IAED™ Associate Director of Protocol Evolution: “This seems to me to be one of the main differences between straight news reporting—where sources are sometimes kept anonymous and readers are often given snippets and bullets of ‘newsworthy’ information—and the Journal, where we welcome expert opinion and frame our case examples as a learning experience, for the future benefit of the emergency dispatch community.”
We do not want to misrepresent the emergency dispatch community.
Now I understand that our process is unique compared to newspaper, radio, and other publicly or privately owned media outlets. They have space and air to fill. Deadlines and competition pressure exist in getting the story out fast. The cardinal rule exists for them. However, I do not understand running with a story when something’s in question, considering what else could be causing the issue. I suppose some think it’s easier to point a finger compared to checking the facts.
I am not here to wave a magic red pen or pencil to delete and carrot the errors. But if someone is drafting a story about something they know nothing about—except the hearsay from one source—then it is time to do a little homework. Get the facts straight. Understand the concepts.
We are sensitive about sincere reporting at the Academy and in the Journal. It is not only about us, but the thousands of people who depend on us when calling in an emergency or the emergency dispatchers providing instructions and resources. As I learned long ago, verify what is really happening and, likely, not shown or spoken of by an only source contacting the media.
Good reporting is about acting in good faith, for the public good. In the Journal, it’s like the big incentive behind protocol: Giving our best to the professionals who give it their all.