Editor's note: I wrote this column last November before participating in an open forum answering questions on the WCPO Facebook page. A year later, I'd like to take your questions again. I wanted to start with these basic Frequently Asked Questions. You can join me on the WCPO Facebook page from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 25 to ask additional questions or share your feedback.
The news is complicated.
I’m not talking about just the stories we bring you each day about our community. I’m also talking about the processes we undertake to tell those stories.
Every day, our team of journalists is working hard to report and share dozens of stories with you. It’s not easy. There are often difficult decisions and ethical debates.
Life in a newsroom is really a barrage of questions: Which of these stories is more important? Do we use that photo? Do we have this information confirmed? Could reporting this cause harm? Are we presenting both sides fairly? Is there more to this story? Are we communicating this information clearly enough?
Most people don’t see those questions. Most people don’t know how hard journalists work every day to get the story correct. And they don’t know the agony most journalists feel when they make an honest mistake.
At WCPO, we want to share more about the reporting process. We know many of you have questions of your own. Among the most frequent questions (or to be honest, often negative assumptions) are:
- Are you biased?
- Can we trust you?
- Who makes decisions about your coverage?
- Do you make decisions just to drive ratings and pageviews?
I’ll answer each of those questions in a moment. But first, I want to explain why I’m even writing this.
On our About Us page, we have information about who we strive to be as a news source. That includes the following paragraph on transparency:
“One of our goals here at WCPO is to be transparent. We want to be clear, in our storytelling and reporting, about where we get information and how we convey it. We are also eager to clarify why we make the decisions we do – whether that’s answering your questions in emails or phone calls or through on-air or online features explaining our actions.”
Transparency is a huge part of who we are. One reason for that is we push the powerful in this community for transparency. We believe we need to hold ourselves to that same standard.
We also recognize that trust in media is low. We hope by sharing information about who we are and how we make decisions it will help you understand us better and, hopefully, help you trust us a little more.
This is one way we are working to be transparent. Let’s start with the answers to those four questions:
Are you biased?
We are biased toward the truth and toward you, our audience. Our only goal is to tell important stories about our community, fairly and accurately. That said, our team is made up of dozens of individual people. Each has their own background and way of thinking. Yes, that means each of us has biases. Everyone has biases. We are people, not robots. But we are professionally trained on how to remove our biases from our news coverage. We have checks and balances in our newsroom. We aren’t always perfect. But we work hard to present the news fairly.
Can we trust you?
It’s easy for me to say: "Trust us." But I understand that trust takes a long time to build and only seconds to destroy. Trust is incredibly important to any news organization. We also know that there are news organizations out there and shows or websites that purport to be journalism that are not trustworthy. Every news organization is different. And every journalist is different. Just as there are good government employees and corrupt ones, there are good journalists and bad ones. I can speak only for our newsroom. It’s a newsroom where we work hard to do the right thing. Please give us a shot to win your trust. If you have concerns, you always can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who makes decisions about your coverage?
I get several emails per week claiming or referencing that ABC forces us to air stories. That’s simply not true of our local newscasts or our website. All of the decisions about what we cover and how we cover the news are made at 1720 Gilbert Ave. in Cincinnati.
Do you make decisions just to drive ratings and pageviews?
Ratings are important to us. There are strategies and tactics we use to grow ratings. But that should never mean we do anything unethical, sensationalizing, unfair or inaccurate. My goal as a news leader isn’t to trick you into turning to us on TV or on our digital platforms. My goal is to provide journalism that matters to you. And maybe I am naive, but I believe that if we consistently tell stories that are important to you, the pageviews and ratings will follow eventually.
Those are my honest answers to four frequently asked questions. But I know you might have further questions.
That’s why from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 25 I will be answering your questions on our Facebook page. If you aren’t on Facebook, or aren’t available during that time, you can always email me at email@example.com or call me at 513-852-4040.
Mike Canan is the Senior Director of Local Media Content at WCPO. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.