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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Transparency also means sharing what we don't know

Great article from Poynter Institute's Butch Ward on journalists' need to share not only what they know, but also what they don't know.
Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach, in their book, "The Elements of Journalism," argue that journalists who are seeking renewed credibility should embrace the concept of transparency -- a willingness to share with the reader more information about how we know what we say we know.

And a willingness to say what we don't know.

"If journalists are truth seekers," the authors write, "it must follow that they be honest and truthful with their audiences, too -- that they be truth presenters. If nothing else, this responsibility requires that journalists be as open and honest with audiences as they can about what they know and what they don't."

Think about it: When you include in a story the questions that remain to be answered, you signal that the search for the truth is unfinished -- and needs to continue. You also reduce the chance that the reader or viewer will come up with their own list of unanswered questions. And you head off any criticism of your work as careless, shallow or biased by acknowledging that it is incomplete.

If our goal is to prove something beyond doubt, we need to keep reporting until we possess that proof -- or we decide to quit trying and kill the story.

But if our goal is to provoke debate, promote serious discussion, shine a light on a situation that deserves further examination, let's tell our readers and viewers about the work that remains to be done.

Odds are, we'll be more credible for it.

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