Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Behind the Bylines: Washington Post Video Series Documents 'How to Be a Journalist'

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Behind the Bylines: Washington Post Video Series Documents 'How to Be a Journalist'

Article excerpt

Russian hackers. Partisan political posts masquerading as news content. Cries of "fake news" and "media bias" from politicians and their supporters who don't like the coverage they're receiving.

It seems like these days there's a war on objective truth, and reporters and the media companies they work for are more often than not finding themselves dead center in the crosshairs. It doesn't help on social media platforms like Facebook, where a millions of Americans read the news, credible reporting often lives side-by-side with dubiously-sourced drivel and outright false information.

As a result, it can often be a struggle to discern the two, especially for younger readers that didn't grow up trusting a local newspaper or a strong news brand, and often consume little more than the headline presented on social media. It isn't just a reader-centric problem; Pew Research Center recently found that 48 percent of the links shared by members of Congress since January 2015 were to partisan outlets.

So, how do media companies convince readers being drowned by a firehose of content that the journalism their newsroom is producing is trustworthy and non-partisan?

That's part of problem Michelle Jaconi is trying to tackle over at the Washington Post. As the executive producer for the Post's video division, Jaconi decided one way to confront the issue of trust was to pull back the curtain and launch a new video series aimed at putting the Post's reporters in the spotlight.

The series, which is hosted by Post on-air reporter Libby Casey, acts as a "how to" of journalism, using reporters from the newsroom to discuss everything from how to file a FOIA request to how to use an anonymous source. The videos, which will initially be published weekly before moving to a couple a month, are posted both on the Washington Post website as well as on a curated playlist on YouTube, where the "how to" genre is particularly popular.

"There's so much curiosity about what is real journalism, and our goal is to show rather than tell," Jaconi said. "With the next generation on Instagram and Snapchat, we can really promote transparency and our reporting by adding a visual component like this."

The first video of the series took partisan attacks against journalism head-on. After Post investigative reporter Beth Reinhard and national enterprise reporter Stephanie McCrummen first reported on several women making allegations against then-Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, their reporting was attacked by Moore's supporters who criticized the paper for using anonymous sources.

So, Casey spoke with both Reinhard and McCrummen to discuss the nuts and bolts of their reporting on Moore--every thing from how they vetted information to how they got people to move from being background sources of information to agreeing to go on the record. Not only does the video offer insight into how the story developed, it humanizes both reporters and their approach to gathering news, with McCrummen admitting at one point, "I like to treat someone the way I would like to be treated."

It turns out seeing both Reinhard and McCrummen as real people with honest motivations cuts through the false narrative often used to discredit journalism that reporters are biased or have an axe to grind. McCrummen even mentions that she was born in Alabama and was the granddaughter of a southern Baptist preacher, something a reader might not expect to hear from a reporter working in a major metropolitan newspaper. …

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