Just the facts Ma’am. It is a phrase most of us have heard. It has been associated with journalism, despite it coming from the television show, Dragnet, a police drama in the 1950s. These days finding and understanding “just the facts” is easier said than done. This was the premise for a panel at Emerson College featuring Stephen Adler, President, and Editor-in-Chief of Reuters. Adler making it clear to students and faculty the mission of Reuters “providing news to people so they can make better decisions.”
The panel was titled “Finding Facts with Steve Adler” and students as well as faculty were encouraged to discuss objectivity in journalism at a time when the White House is openly hostile to reporters. You may recall Adler sent a memo to his staff in January about how to cover the White House, it leaked, and Adler decided just to make the document public. Many believed he was comparing the Trump Administration to regimes in places like Turkey and Iraq, but during this discussion, he corrected that misconception.
Adler saying they are putting more resources in better places than the White House press room adding “most of the action is not in that room.” Adler saying that has always been the case, not just in Washington but in countries around the world. Reporters need to develop sources and find a story not wait for it to be handed to them. Adler would argue that is easier in Washington under the Trump Administration than it was under President Obama, saying more people in government are willing to talk to reporters.
When pressed about the decision to remain in an off the record gaggle that other news outlets, including CNN, were not allowed Adler responded, “our job is to get the news, not commit mass acts of journalism.” Adler did say they shared information with the briefing, and there have been discussions about the course of action should a similar decision be made by the White House Press Secretary in the future. Adler says there are a number of organizations that work on behalf of journalists to fight First Amendment issues, and he is a member of those groups.
When it came to the topic of objectivity, and how some news organizations may not be following that model Adler was clear Reuters will not stray from the practice. Saying Reuters sells stories to other news organizations around the world and need to uphold a certain standard. Adler believing you cannot do an accurate story if you are not fair. He went on to acknowledge this practice does mean fewer “shares” on social media because people like opinion, and do engage when it is included. Adler not a fan of the media model based on clicks, instead wants to focus on journalism.
There was another pressing issue those in the audience wanted to discuss with Adler, fake news. These are stories that appear to be real news stories but are true fiction. CBS 60 Minutes did a short segment on this recently.
The creators are out to make money. However, the practice has made the general public skeptical of news. Not to mention the President referring to fake news on a regular basis. Adler talking about building trust with the audience, and how at Reuters the focus is on accuracy over speed. This means independently verifying every piece of user-generated content before it can be included or referenced in a report. At times this means they are the last ones to go with a story, but upholding the Reuters reputation is worth it.
Adler suggested more organizations be transparent in their news gathering process. Post the court documents or other paperwork if you have it, so there is no question the information is accurate. He also suggested news literacy needs to be increased in America, a return to civics classes for example. Adler agrees the job of a reporter has changed, more information than ever is to be disseminated. He also believes some things stay the same, like accurate and fair reporting.