The Skeptic in the Newsroom
Tools for Coping with a Deceptive World
- Written By: Zvi Reich, Yigal Godler
- Publication Date:
- Cover Type: Download only
- Number Of Pages: 44 Pages
This booklet of questions is part of the Israel Democracy Institute’s initiative to improve journalistic coverage by encouraging reporters to think skeptically. It contains a series of questions that journalists should ask themselves before they publish their articles.
The questions are arranged around four focal points: information; news sources of information; the working methods used to gather data and carry out studies that are later covered by journalists; and the methods used by journalists.
What Is Skepticism?
The booklet of questions you are holding is part of the Israel Democracy Institute’s initiative to improve journalistic coverage by encouraging reporters to think skeptically. It contains a series of questions that journalists should, and often must, ask themselves before they publish their articles.
The questions are arranged around four focal points that invite journalistic skepticism: information (the first chapter); news sources of information (the second chapter); the working methods used to gather data and carry out studies that are later covered by journalists (the third chapter); and the methods used by journalists (the fourth chapter).
Why are the questions raised by this booklet left unanswered? Because questions are the tools and soundtrack of skeptical thinking. They serve the overburdened journalist by condensing what is vital and relevant for reporting and are a bridge between general ideas and concrete coverage. The questions are offered as a reminder, a springboard, and a practical outline for skeptical thinking.
A Note to Reporters:
The questions are deliberately rhetorical. To presume to answer them ourselves is tantamount to trying to replace you, the reporter, even though we were not there, as you were, inside the situation being covered. We are unacquainted with the details, circumstances and precedents, and are not responsible, as you are, for what is published under your byline. You and your editors are in a position that allows you to answer these questions in accordance with the best details you were able to obtain by the time of publication. The questions are formulated in the first-person singular in order to keep them in a format that reporters can easily pose to themselves in real time.
Why skepticism? Why now? Journalism is undergoing a crisis. Fewer (and increasingly overworked) journalists are acquiring less in-depth familiarity with their fields of coverage and the journalistic immune system is becoming less capable of withstanding the forces of spin and deception. This makes skepticism now, more than ever, essential for high-quality journalistic work.
Skepticism has many benefits. It serves as a built-in “bullshit detector” (as journalism scholar and Professor Tony Harcup put it), a self-defense mechanism against manipulative information and news sources. Skepticism also increases a journalist’s self-awareness, illuminating certain facets of the profession that are often gray and ambiguous.