New broadcast journalism ethics code from RTDNA compared to old

Word cloud created from new RTDNA Code of Ethics.

Word cloud created from new RTDNA Code of Ethics.

What’s changed in the area of journalism ethics?  Quite a bit if the new RTDNA Code of Ethics is any indication.  In the news release, RTDNA indicated that the code was last revised 15 years ago, with this latest version taking a year and a half to develop.

“During 18 months of work, RTDNA’s Ethics Committee considered search, social media, ‘native’ content and other important changes in the way news is produced, distributed and consumed.”

The first tenet of the code — “Truth and accuracy above all” — clearly recognizes the 24/7, social media-driven news world journalists live in today with these two bullets:

o “Trending,” “going viral” or “exploding on social media” may increase urgency, but these phenomena only heighten the need for strict standards of accuracy.

o Facts change over time. Responsible reporting includes updating stories and amending archival versions to make them more accurate and to avoid misinforming those who, through search, stumble upon outdated material.

An increased focus on transparency is made evident by the headline for the second tenet — “Independence and transparency” — with three bullet points devoted to the idea that financial pressures are tougher than ever for news organizations.

o Editorial independence may be a more ambitious goal today than ever before. Media companies, even if not-for-profit, have commercial, competitive and other interests – both internal and external — from which the journalists they employ cannot be entirely shielded. Still, independence from influences that conflict with public interest remains an essential ideal of journalism. Transparency provides the public with the means to assess credibility and to determine who deserves trust.

o Acknowledging sponsor-provided content, commercial concerns or political relationships is essential, but transparency alone is not adequate. It does not entitle journalists to lower their standards of fairness or truth.

o Effectively explaining editorial decisions and processes does not mean making excuses. Transparency requires reflection, reconsideration and honest openness to the possibility that an action, however well intended, was wrong.

The issue of privacy was recognized in a more comprehensive way in this newest code, with the third tenet — “Accountability for consequences” – indicating that preserving privacy needs to be “balanced against the importance or urgency of reporting.”

Just for fun, we created two word clouds of the old and the new codes.  The 2015 code is featured in the image at the top of this post, the 2000 version (pdf) is below.  Missing from the old version, words like “responsible” and “transparency,” “commercial” and “audience” — all signs of changing times for journalism ethics.

Word cloud from the 2000 RTDNA Code of Ethics.

Word cloud from the 2000 RTDNA Code of Ethics.


How to maximize your mobile video stories


In the words of James Harding, BBC’s news director, the age of mobile video is upon us.  So, how are they responding at the “Beeb?” With an understanding of audience demands, according to Nathalie Malinarich, editor for mobile and new formats.

“You really need to grab people immediately,” says Malinarich. “If they don’t like it, they’re going to wipe away or click away.”

She says that “the show and tell is a great example of a format that works really well on mobile and on digital in general.” Walking the audience through a scene and getting them as close to the action as you can makes mobile content more compelling.  She also encourages mobile reporters to dispense with some of the old conventions.

“If it’s a bit rough and ready, that just makes it more authentic,” Malinarich says.  “Sometimes a piece doesn’t need any commentary; viewers on mobile may not have headphones with them. Sometimes natural sound is all you need to tell the story; sometimes quick, improvised video can be the most dramatic.”

She says all of this has “implications for how you think when you arrive at the scene of a breaking news story.”  BBC correspondent Matthew Price breaks down his thought process at the scene of a breaking story this way:

1.  First, get video of any action.

2.  Think about sound.

3.  Describe what’s happening.

4.  Record a short clip with your face on camera.

5.  Publish your material ASAP.

6.  Keep it short.

Malinarich agrees that short is better, but also says it’s not all about breaking news.

“Some slower treatments can work really well; one example of that is the first-person piece.  Documentary styles — making the most of human voices and pictures can also be very popular,” she says.

They key here is thinking differently about this different medium and considering the mobile audience first.


Behind the scenes in TV news

Producers, assignment managers, directors–viewers don’t see what they do but TV news couldn’t exist without them. San Francisco station KRON has decided to share The Backstory in a six-part series, taking viewers behind the scenes.

“There is something naturally compelling about a newsroom and what it takes to gather news every day,” says general manager Ashley Gold Messina.

Whether it’s fascinating or not to the general public, it’s certainly of interest to news junkies and anyone who wants to be a TV journalist. It’s not quite reality–I heard none of the foul language typical of many newsrooms I’ve worked in–but it’s not sugar-coated either.

The series airs on Sunday evenings at 9:30.

Thanks to TVSpy for pointing it out.


What mobile journalism should be and why it isn’t

Mobile guru Judd Slivka much of the gear added to mobile devices increases quality and decreases mobility.

Mobile guru Judd Slivka says much of the gear added to mobile devices increases quality and decreases “mobility.”

“We’re doing mobile journalism wrong.”

Judd Slivka teaches mobile journalism at the University of Missouri and says he’s tested more than 700 apps in the process.

So, why is this mobile evangelist down on mobile news gathering as it’s done today?

“We’re trying to use the tools to create TV packages, what used to work in the traditional news culture.  We’re not playing to the technology’s strengths,” says Slivka.

According to him, mobile has four big advantages:

1. Mobile gives a force multiplier effect. Think of a story — tragic or otherwise — where you need to flood the area with assets. Every news staffer with a mobile phone can be used to gather the kind of quick-hit video and interviews that resonate over social media.

2. Mobile gives us a single production platform. Typically we’d report on a camera or audio recorder, transfer a card to a laptop and assemble and edit there, transmit either from the laptop or through a sat transmitter and then watch social reaction via phone or laptop. Mobile consolidates that and reduces time-to-publish.

3. We can go direct to social fast. This is where the brand battle is going to be increasingly won and lost, as flagship products such as newscasts and websites become places for deep story details.  Mobile platforms are built as social tools and can help us get accurate information to the audience ahead of competitors.

4. The app universe lets us build novel content. Content won’t look the same when we build it from a phone — and that’s a good thing. Using a collage app like Diptic or PicPlayPost, still images or videos can be presented in a way that lets the audience decide how they want to interact with the story.  360 Panorama can do an immersive 360-degree shot, for example, to show the breadth of damage at a natural disaster or what a football field looks like at halftime of a big game.

Slivka says we need to be thinking about “mobile made” as a separate content form.

“It’s bite-sized and consumable.”



Why NBC News had to suspend Brian Williams

Brian_Williams_2015When NBC suspended its main news anchor in February, it put out a statement saying his actions were inexcusable. Taking him off air for six months without pay, said NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke, was a “severe and appropriate punishment” for having “jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News.”

Williams had already apologized for misrepresenting what happened to him covering the Iraq war a dozen years ago–falsely saying his helicopter had been shot down. When that didn’t quell the furor, he took himself off air “for several days.” It wasn’t nearly enough.

By stopping short of firing Williams, NBC left the door open for his return–just a crack. But the door could easily slam shut if the internal investigation still underway uncovers evidence Williams did more than embellish one war story. Questions also have been raised about his reporting after Hurricane Katrina. If it turns out he’s a serial fabricator, I think he’s toast.

Why so harsh? “It’s a thing you build over time…called trust.” That what NBC was selling in a series of promos just two months ago, marking Williams’ 10th anniversary in the anchor chair.

Whatever trust Williams had, it’s seriously compromised. NBC clearly hopes that putting him on a shelf will protect the rest of the news division from further damage. But that’s no slam dunk. It’s not just possible but probable that others within the news division were aware Williams was fibbing about Iraq, and that he’d been doing it for years. What does that say about NBC’s commitment to truth and accuracy? If the network really wants to put this behind them, they’ll likely have to do more than punish the figurehead.

NBC News will survive without Williams. Lester Holt is a well-qualified and experienced anchor who has been the network’s designated substitute for years. And Andrew Tyndall, who monitors network news, says it doesn’t matter all that much who is in the chair.

Network nightly newscast audiences are remarkably stable, if gradually aging and declining. Audience size is determined much more by the performance of their lead-in local newscasts than by the identity of the newsreader. And, as said, journalistic content is determined much more by the performance of correspondents and producers than by the newsreader’s personality.

Could Williams resurrect his career? Of course he could. Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute even thinks he could return to the anchor chair. He wouldn’t be the first journalist caught fudging the truth to get a second chance, and Americans love a redemption story. But I’m not so sure. I have trouble imagining how the network would deal with more “lyin’ Brian” memes, which are bound to resurface even if Williams offers an abject apology.

One thing is sure in today’s network news world: money talks. “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” is the only network newscast in eight years to draw more than 10 million viewers in a week. If the ratings plummet without him, NBC just might try to find a way to bring him back.


A version of this post was previously published at NewsLab


How to boost audience engagement

Two things we know about social media. Sharing news is easy. Engaging the audience is hard. So why bother?

Engagement is key to building an audience for the journalism you work so hard to produce. Here are three tips for boosting engagement that we shared at the Broadcast Education Association conference in Las Vegas this week.

1. Know your audience.
The BBC’s Facebook page for its soccer program, Match of the Day, has more than 2.7 million followers. What it didn’t have was much success referring its Facebook fans to the BBC website. BBC_match_of_the_day_FacebookThat changed when social media managers became more intentional about engagement. Digital development editor Chris Hurst says referrals grew by 6000% after making some changes on Facebook: more “fun” posts, regular Q&A sessions with pundits, and many more replies to fan comments. They also used analytics to figure out how and when to post to get the most referrals. Consider how your student media use Facebook now and whether some of these strategies could boost engagement and referrals.

2. Target the right audience.
Facebook now allows pages to target fans by interests in addition to age, gender and location. The New York Times is experimenting with sharing TV show recaps on Facebook only with fans of the show in question, reaching a smaller but more passionate audience. The newspaper has seen spikes in engagement that sometimes reach 30 to 40 times what a normal post would elicit. VOX Media’s sports site SBNation targets posts to fans of specific teams. Student media could try this kind of targeting for posts about sports or other campus activities like music, theater and so forth.

3. Use the medium correctly.
Twitter may be a megaphone but your message won’t go far if you don’t know how it works. Consider two tweets sent out the night a man was shot at the U. S. Census Bureau outside Washington, D.C. Both are from journalists, but you’d never know it from the first one. Clarence Williams is a reporter at the Washington Post. He has 227 followers. His tweet makes no mention of his employer (@washingtonpost), which has more than 4 million followers. Opportunity missed.

Census bureau wapo reporterProducer Margo Shear (560 followers) does mention her employer in her tweet, so it’s amplified to the 66,000 plus followers of the television station, @wusa9. She also includes a hashtag, to make sure the tweet reaches anyone following the story that way.

Census bureau crazy night

One more point about engagement on social media: it’s a moving target. Facebook and Twitter are the big dogs, but it seems like there’s a new puppy up for adoption every week. Meerkat and Periscope make live video streaming easy for anyone with a smartphone, and allow users to comment on or ask questions about what they’re watching. Messaging apps like Snapchat are being used to share news. And even the anonymous gossip app YikYak may have news applications: the University of Florida’s J-school is experimenting with a YikYak feed, sharing campus news in the Gainesville area.

Whatever social sharing site or app you use, engaging the audience takes work. If you’ve tried something new and seen it pay off, we’d love to hear about it.


Must-have multimedia tools for TV journalists

RussellWhen Tony Russell heads out to cover a story for KOTV in Tulsa, Oklahoma, his toolkit includes two phones and a host of apps.  His favorite is Instagram.

“I use Instagram because I like to show viewers what I’m working on,” said Russell, who goes by @tonyrusselltv across social media. “I also like how Instagram can share my photo across Twitter and Facebook.”

Russell says there’s an active subculture of people who use the #tvnews #tvphotog #tvreporter tags on Instagram and he wants to tap into their interest.

When it comes to the most useful app for breaking news and time-saving, Russell says he uses Dropbox daily.

“I find this really effective on spot news. I can upload five photos, pop an email out with a public link to the newsroom and have it upload while I continue to work,” he said.

Of course, Twitter still matters, too.

“Twitter is the news breaking machine for me. When I post something that includes “RIGHT NOW” and “BREAKING” on Twitter I seem to get the most feedback,” said Russell.

He’s quick to point out that he does not use Twitter to post old stories or ask viewer questions. For him, Twitter is about staying on top of the big story with “happening now” information.

Depending on where you work, Russell says certain apps may be more important than others.  For him, a key app is RadarScope.

“I work in Oklahoma and this is the premier app for storm chasing and tracking storms. This pulls in hi-res Doppler weather data,” Russell said. “It costs money, but I rely on it.”

Other apps that come in handy for Russell include AP Stylebook for the text version of his stories, UStream to stream video and something called Hazmat.

“This app allows me to spot a hazmat triangle on a truck and quickly search for its contents,” Russell said. “Imagine rolling up to a spot news scene and you want to know that’s burning from the tanker? I can search through this app to find out what might be inside based on the triangle stickers on the side of the load.”

Russell says he relies on his two phones as an essential elements of his toolkit.

“The short videos I send are full-res videos shot on my phone. I upload them through Dropbox. All my ‘whips’  and pics are sent from my phone. Sometimes the Web will pull a still photo from our VO to use.”

To see more of what Russell does beyond the TV screen, check out



The “local” in local TV news matters more than ever

A Pew Center study of local news in three different U.S. cities determined one clear winner in the competition for top local news provider — TV.  The three cities studied include Denver, Macon, Georgia and Sioux City, Iowa.  What’s particularly notable is that TV is such a dominant source for news in a large market like Denver, which has 143 local news providers, according to Pew.


These findings bode well for TV newsrooms, but the study is also a reminder of why focusing on local content vs. network feeds and franchise material is so important.

According to the study “nearly nine-in-ten residents follow local news closely—and about half do so very closely.”

The Pew report also offers interesting details on the topics of news people pay attention to — a fifth or more of people in all three cities studied say they closely track news about weather, crime, schools and education, as well as government and politics.

In a world where celebrity news and sensational stories are available across a myriad of channels, this study seems to be a reminder of where local stations should continue to focus their news coverage to better serve their communities and maintain their audiences.


How to put together a TV news package

Courtesy:  University of MontanaOne of the strongest broadcast journalism programs in the country is located at the University of Montana, and Professor Denise Dowling is one of the best instructors in the school.

She gets students started on video storytelling by following a simple formula.

“Begin and end every story with natural sound,” says Dowling, “include a nat pop in or out of every sound bite.”

Did you get that?

  • Begin and end every story with natural sound.  Natural sounds are those that occur naturally within your shooting environment.  This works best in stories that are rich with natural sound, i.e. a kid’s soccer game or a house fire with firefighters working hard at the scene.  However, at times, even traffic noise or people talking can be used as a natural sound break.  The trick is to be sure that you gather good natural sounds when you’re in the field, so you have them to use in editing.
  • Include a natural sound break or “pop” before or after sound bites.  Of course, the natural sound has to be relevant to what the interview is discussing.  Natural sound for it’s own sake is seldom compelling.

Dowling has also created a mantra to guide her students when they’re out shooting video.

“Wide, medium, tight, super tight, action, reaction,” says Dowling.  “The goal is to capture the moment.”

When people are new to video storytelling, they often do a great job of getting lots of wide and medium shots, but it’s the close-ups and extreme close-ups that draw the audience in.  A good rule of thumb is that 50 percent of the video you shoot should be made up of tight and super tight shots.

The reaction shots can be used to tell the audience what the story means.  For example, the face of a man shaking his head in disgust after the city council passes a new ordinance is likely to be a useful shot for telling part of that story.

To reinforce these concepts, Dowling asks students to produce packages that focus on something locally produced; the best of their “Made in Montana” pieces air on the local PBS affiliate.

Of course, folks who’ve been producing packages for years will probably frown at the idea of using a formula to tell stories, but for those who are just starting out, you could do much worse than following this path for your first TV packages.

This post was previously published on


More tips for writing TV news

writingonlineThe single most popular post here at Advancing the Story offers tips on writing TV news. They’re just as useful now as they were when we first shared them in 2008, but the Canadian journalism site where we found them has just been updated and the original post has vanished.

Not to worry! Here’s a recap, plus some bonus tips for good measure.

Don’t write more than you have pictures for. Obvious, right? But even experienced TV reporters sometimes write themselves into a corner because they fail to thoroughly screen their video and they have less to work with than they think. The result, too often, is lip flap or words-on-a-screen graphics. Ick. Know what you have and write tight.

Don’t fight your pictures. Pictures really do speak louder than words. Make sure your images and words are telling the same story. If you show two officials smiling and shaking hands, the viewer will get the impression they get along well even if your track says they’re suing each other. If you say it, make sure the video proves it.

Write to the corners of the pictures. The old admonition, “See dog, say dog,” is totally wrongheaded. Don’t tell viewers what they can already see. Use words to add detail, context and meaning to what they’re looking at. Don’t say traffic is bad when that’s what your pictures show; tell how much longer than usual it’s going to take drivers to get downtown.

Connect names with faces. When you introduce a character by name, make sure viewers can clearly see the person you’re referring to. Reporter Boyd Huppert looks for what he calls a “handshake shot”–a head-on medium shot. “There’s no reason to introduce a character without looking him in the eye,” he says. “I don’t want to see the side of the head or back of the head or the person in a shot with other characters so I don’t know who I’m supposed to be looking at.”

Preserve surprises. Don’t use your narration to announce what’s coming up. Let the viewer experience it through video and sound. Instead of writing, “Just as the show was starting, the tent collapsed.” Try something like this: “What happened next wasn’t on the program.” Show, don’t tell.

Parallel park. Use pauses productively. Instead of cutting a sound bite to remove a pause and covering the edit with a cutaway, let the video roll and insert a short line of narration during the pause. Parallel parking your track makes for a seamless story.

These tips should help you write stronger, more coherent stories. If they work for you, please let us know!