By Adam Harris
The life of a reporter is never easy. There are so many pitfalls that one must be a true professional to escape some of them. But even the most professional of the lot falls prey to the pitfalls as was the case of the New York Times when a reporter, Janet Cooke, concocted a story about an eight-year-old drug addict.
Other newspapers decided to track the story and soon found that it was a hoax. Needless to say, Janet Cooke was fired. Yet it was not all bad for her because she got a contract to write short novels from the company that printed those love books that young girls loved to read.
There was the state visit by President George H.W. Bush to China. Only professionals are assigned the White House beat. One of those professionals was a CNN reporter and he sent a story that suggested that President Bush had died. The truth was that the American President was at a banquet when he vomited in the Chinese President’s lap after he collapsed.
Three years ago, NBC Anchor, Sue Simmons, released an expletive during a break in the news. Every professional knows that he or she should always treat a microphone as live.
That expletive went out to viewers and Ms Simmons was made to pay. Foreign media houses do not take kindly to lapses on the part of professionals.
But there was the epitome of professionalism when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein exposed what became known as Watergate. They got information that something was going down but they did not rush to print. Instead they followed each lead and then began the process of verification.
In Guyana, where most of the reporters are not trained, the question of professionalism still remains, but the reporter must learn this vicariously—from the experience of others. They are expected to read. In some cases they must benefit from the training programmes offered by the foreign entities that make it their duty to offer training for reporters.
However, this is not done enough, with the result that reporters attempt to print the first thing that is proffered to them. There are so many examples that this column cannot afford the space to deal with them.
There are problems in every community and people are ready to talk about these problems at the drop of a hat. They have bad roads, are asked to pay higher fares to travel on minibuses, have high prices in the marketplace at times and the list goes on.
The young reporter is content to report on the problems rather than expand on the story.
The result is that more often than not, editors have to ask the reporters whether they are emulating a certain television programme where the emphasis is on airing problems and little on offering solutions. The focus is often on apportioning blame.
I would always tell reporters to get the other side of a story. Sometimes by doing that the reporter realizes that the other side is often the real story rather than the initial idea or concept.
Sometimes the initial concept is based on a misconception and in the long run the story that is eventually published turns out good for everyone.
I remember going to a presentation ceremony and reporting on the event. Because I am a bit of an old warrior I checked the reason for the presentation and the story was much better than a few people handing over some articles to a group.
I often try to tell reporters about this angle but it must be that they are simply content to produce the mundane rather than work. On Friday I opted to follow-up a story that a columnist did and I uncovered something interesting.
There are communities on the outskirts of the city without electricity. Indeed, the initial report was that the electrical connections had been removed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact was that these people, some of whom had been living where they are, for 24 years, were squatters and they had been told that they could only get lights if they had some legitimacy to the land they occupied.
They were also told that there was the likelihood that they would be removed and that they should not expand on their settlement. In the end, the original story was that they had been targeted for removal in the wake of the passage of recent legislation.
But even more worrying was the publication of a story from an individual whose qualification was not even checked out. What this individual had to say sounded good, but subsequent investigation revealed that everything said was a figment of the imagination.
Sometimes, officialdom would lead a reporter up the garden path with half-truths because the intention is to discredit the reporter and the newspaper. A shrewd reporter would insist on quoting the official or would attempt to follow the thread tossed out by the official.
Kaieteur News with its paucity of trained reporters has been exposed to people who simply wanted the newspaper to get the facts wrong. It happened in a recent edition. The newspaper was chasing after the specifications for some capital works but these specs were not forthcoming.
Patience is often described as the greatest of virtues. The reporter lacked patience and the paper got the story wrong.
The professional takes every bit of information with a pinch of salt. He remembers the adage that if something appears to be too good to be true then more often than not it is too good to be true.
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