It is no secret that the journalism industry is in trouble -- with decreasing advertising dollars being the biggest obstacle.
The public's interests have moved from print to digital, and ad revenue has not followed at the same pace. News readers are becoming younger and sometimes changing their areas of reader interest.
Entertainment scandals trump crime. Some (not all) bloggers tap their fingers waiting on a reporter to do all the research just to rewrite their stories in blog format. Even worse some provide absolutely no attribution.
There's also a disconnect in making the public connect with a rotating lineup of broadcasters. And some readers assume that op/ed columnists don't have credible reporting. (The bias may be known, but the facts are what they are.)
But no matter the gripe from the readers or the newsroom, credibility should always be the highest principle to follow. In season 5 of "The Wire," TV writer/producer David Simon (who previously worked for the Baltimore Sun) took on dying newspapers and problems within newsrooms.
And there is no problem worse than the fictional Scott Templeton (played by Thomas McCarthy).
Even though The Baltimore Sun fictional reporter had a fictional background working for the Kansas City Star for three years and the Wichita Eagle for two years, viewers would've guessed the man was going into a Journalism 101 course with the stunts he pulled thinking he'd get away with them in Baltimore.
Season 5 of "The Wire" would be a very useful tool in any college journalism course to write essay after essay about why a reporter who acts like Scott should rethink the idea of reporting. Everyone isn't cut out for it. Some people prefer features over news reporting. Or local news over world news. Or national news over suburban news. Or travel over health. Or fashion over food. There's nothing wrong with having a preference. But anytime you apply for a career in journalism, be ready to comb through your research with teeth fresh out of the package.
Check out this list above for things Scott did that no honest journalist should ever do.
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Do not make up sources.
Episode 2 "Unconfirmed Reports"
In this episode, Scott couldn't find baseball fans to talk to so he created a wheelchair-bound, 14-year-old boy who'd been shot and couldn't go to a baseball game because he couldn't afford scalped tickets.
If made-up names are used as examples to explore a feature piece, it makes sense. No one really cares about the names of the people when the larger point is the advice from the story. (Click here for an example. Does it matter who Gwen and Richard are, or is the bigger story about roof repairs? By the way, Gwen and Richard are a real couple, but they're still not the point of the piece.)
And since this is a source that is being quoted to add more weight to the story -- and some pretty serious circumstances -- run it by the supervising editor to make sure that he/she is okay with an anonymous source. Something like a shooting should be fact-checked.
Don't underestimate a potential source.
Episode 5 "React Quotes"
Scott seemed genuinely puzzled by his boss City Editor Augustus "Gus" Haynes (played by Clark Johnson) asking him to get reaction quotes from homeless people about the serial killer.
Gus: You can go and uh . . . talk to homeless.
Scott: React quotes from the homeless?
The best sources for a news story are those that are affected by the highlight of your story. Are you writing a news story about unemployment? Talk to people who are unemployed. Are you writing a news story about global warming? See if a conservationist is available. An entertainment blog holds more weight if real-life videos, tweets or interviews about the celebrity are used. So it should be pretty obvious that homeless people are the most likely to be effected by a serial killer only killing homeless people. Everyone has a right to speak. Don't judge economic level by source level.
Become familiar with your source's whereabouts.
Episode 5 "React Quotes"
After Gus told Scott to get reactions from homeless people, Scott (with a straight face) asked, "Where am I going to find homeless people?"
Gus' response: "Not at home, I imagine."
It is possible that you may not know where every single source (politician, medical professional, criminal, etc.) is, but at least give it some kind of effort. This question was too stupid to take seriously, but what's worse is someone in real life may actually ask it anyway as though "homeless shelter," "food shelters" and "alleys" are in the same place as the Tooth Fairy.
And in a major metropolitan area, it's not uncommon to find homeless people selling newspapers (ex. Bubbles sells "The Baltimore Sun," in Chicago "Streetwise" is the popular choice) or strolling around trying to keep warm or cool during the day. When you write about a subject, try to find out as much information as possible about it.
Avoid lambasting previous employers.
Episode 4 "Transitions"
Scott tried to leave The Baltimore Sun and applied for an interview with The Washington Post. Any at-will employee has the right to look for another job at any point and time, but try not to insult the previous employer while on a current interview even if the previous newspaper absolutely sucked.
The interviewer at The Washington Post critiqued Scott's reporting, stating that his feature work was a little "raw" compared to their style. Scott then defended himself by saying he'd prefer to "write it dry," but his current writing style is what the bosses want.
And even when The Washington Post complimented his current employer, he still shot The Baltimore Sun down a second time.
Washington Post interviewer: Sun's a fine paper.
Scott: Before the cutbacks, maybe.
On top of complaining about a previous employer, Scott missed the opportunity to prove what his real writing style was.
Instead of bringing all writing samples in a style that wasn't his preference, he should've included writing samples that he liked better. And if all of the writing samples available are only from previous employers, at least toy with the idea of asking an interviewer about the possibility of submitting a writing sample that's more their style.
Do not lie to make a news story better.
Episode 5 "React Quotes"
Similar to the baseball story, since Scott couldn't find a source that worked, he just made one up. Not using quotes for a feature story that's based on instructions versus a hard news story just don't carry the same weight. (Refer to the roof story, and again, Gwen and Richard are real people so it even helps to use real people on instructional material.)
But Scott's journalism career spiraled out of control with him having to keep up with countless lies just to keep up with his original lie. He went so far as to call a pay phone from his cell phone to create a fake conversation with the serial killer. And once authority figures (ex. police officers) are caught up in the lie, there will be two times the amount of fact-checking.
Always record interviews or take good verifiable notes.
Episode 8 "Clarifications"
Terry Hanning (played by Aubrey Deeker) calls Scott out for misquoting him in the interview on homeless veterans. Terry isn't as much concerned about his own reputation as he is that of his peers who may read the misinformation in The Baltimore Sun. Instead of Scott owning up to lying, he blames it on Terry drinking and completely disregards that the two talked during the day over donuts and chocolate milk, not liquor.
Scott is appalled that Gus wants to not only fact-check his work but print a correction should Scott's story be incorrect.
Some reporters are fine with pen and paper documentation. Others live by a tape recorder. And still others (read: Shamontiel) record and take notes in case electronics fail, recordings are accidentally erased or batteries die. But if Scott was actually telling the truth, he could've easily released the recording and the quotes to prove he did not lie. With pen and paper, it's your word against theirs -- and even their words should be verified before they go to print.
Episode 9 "Late Editions"
Notice that when Gus goes to the U.S. Army's Walter Reed Army Medical Center to talk to the soldier who lost his hands, Gus he pulls out a tape recorder during their discussion.