Media Mistrust Reaches New High: Gallup

Gallup says, “Americans’ distrust in the media hit a new high this year, with 60% saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. Distrust is up from the past few years, when Americans were already more negative about the media than they had been in years prior to 2004.”

Trend: Trust in Mass Media, by Party

Attention Paid to Political News Lower Than in 2008

Americans tend to pay more attention to political news in presidential election years, and that is the case in 2012. However, Americans are less likely this year to be paying close attention to news about national politics than they were in 2008. The 39% who say they are paying close attention is up from last year — when Americans were paying a high level of attention compared with other non-election years — but down from 43% in September 2008.

Trend: Overall, how closely do you follow news about national politics -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

Hostage Taker Uses Facebook-Journalists Watch

A hostage taker in Pittsburgh talked about his frustrations and even threatened suicide on Facebook Friday as friends and family tried to talk him into giving up.

Police pleaded with journalists and others not to talk with the gunman.  Cops said the conversations online were distracting the suspect from talking with the police negotiator.  Online sites live blogged the conversation.

Journalists have been aware for years that they had to take care when “going live” during hostage standoffs.  They always assume the hostage-taker had access to a television and could watch coverage.   This case reminds us that online conversations now could play a roll in these unfolding dramas. Live blogs, chats, random comments could all be seen by the hostage taker and in this case we can see the gunman is geting increasingly irritated by what he reads.

Use these guidelines in a police standoff”

Guidelines for Covering a Law Enforcement Action

For the Spanish version, click here.

In covering a developing raid or law enforcement action, journalists are advised to:

  • Be extremely cautious to not compromise the secrecy of officials planning and execution. If staking out a location where a raid will occur or if accompanying officers, reporters and photographers should demonstrate great caution in how they act, where they go, and what clues they might inadvertently give that might compromise the execution of the raid. They should check and double-check planning efforts.

In covering an ongoing crisis situation, journalists are advised to:

  • Always assume that the hostage taker, gunman or terrorist has access to the reporting.
  • Avoid describing with words or showing with still photography and video any information that could divulge the tactics or positions of SWAT team members.
  • Fight the urge to become a player in any standoff, hostage situation or terrorist incident. Journalists should become personally involved only as a last resort and with the explicit approval of top news management and the consultation of trained hostage negotiators on the scene.
  • Be forthright with viewers, listeners or readers about why certain information is being withheld if security reasons are involved.
  • Seriously weigh the benefits to the public of what information might be given out versus what potential harm that information might cause. This is especially important in live reporting of an on-going situation.
  • Strongly resist the temptation to telephone a gunman or hostage taker. Journalists generally are not trained in negotiation techniques and one wrong question or inappropriate word could jeopardize someone’s life. Furthermore, just calling in could tie up phone lines or otherwise complicate communication efforts of the negotiators.
  • Notify authorities immediately if a hostage taker or terrorist calls the newsroom. Also, have a plan ready for how to respond.
  • Challenge any gut reaction to go live from the scene of a hostage-taking crisis, unless there are strong journalistic reasons for a live, on-the-scene report. Things can go wrong very quickly in a live report, endangering lives or damaging negotiations. Furthermore, ask if the value of a live, on-the-scene report is justifiable compared to the harm that could occur.
  • Give no information, factual or speculative, about a hostage takers mental condition, state of mind or reasons for actions while a standoff is in progress. The value of such information to the audience is limited, and the possibility of such characterizations exacerbating an already dangerous situation are quite real.
  • Give no analyzes or comments on a hostage takers or terrorists demands. As bizarre or ridiculous (or even legitimate) as such demands may be, it is important that negotiators take all demands seriously.
  • Keep news helicopters out of the area where the standoff is happening, as their noise can create communication problems for negotiators and their presence could scare a gunman to deadly action.
  • Do not report information obtained from police scanners. If law enforcement personnel and negotiators are compromised in their communications, their attempts to resolve a crisis are greatly complicated.
  • Be very cautious in any reporting on the medical condition of hostages until after a crisis is concluded. Also, be cautious when interviewing hostages or released hostages while a crisis continues.
  • Exercise care when interviewing family members or friends of those involved in standoff situations. Make sure the interview legitimately advances the story for the public. It should not simply be conducted for the shock value of the emotions conveyed or as a conduit for the interviewee to transmit messages to specific individuals.
  • Go beyond the basic story of the hostage taking or standoff to report on the larger issues behind the story. Examine the how and why of what happened, report on the preparation and execution of the SWAT team or the issues related to the incident.

Created by Bob Steele, Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values at The Poynter Institute.

The Importance of Backgrounds and Setting

September 12, 2012, GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney was to make a campaign speech in Jacksonville, Florida at the party headquarters. 150 supporters were there to cheer him on.

But Romney’s comments were to focus on the killing of the U.S. Ambassador in Libya.

The campaign cleared the supporters out of the room and moved the journalists to a new setting.

The campaign assembled a blue background, planted some flags behind a lectern and completely changed the setting for a more somber speech in which Romney launched a critique of the Obama administration’s response to the attacks.

The President stood in the Rose Garden to make his comments. The sunlight was harsh. But the President, standing in the Rose Garden sends a different message than him sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office or standing in the White House press room.  The press room implies he will be open to questions, not just making a statement.  The Oval Office implies a grave situation that requires his full concentration.  The fact is the President got on Air Force One after making his statement to go to Las Vegas for a campaign stop.  So sitting behind the desk would send a mixed message -on the one hand he is so busy he can’t get up from his desk-on the other hand he is on the campaign trail.

Especially in moments of crisis and tension, it is critical that candidates appear “presidential.”  How would each of these comments have appeared to be different if they had campaign supporters cheering the statements, holding signs or if the candidate was not in dark suit and tie but in shirt sleeves?

There are lessons in this case for journalists.  Consider the setting, the background, the atmosphere you choose when interviewing subjects. The setting provides a context for how the viewer will understand the comments.

Video Mic Flags Turn up at Conventions

Ever since FDR sat in front of radio microphones, networks have used mic flags, logos on their mics as a sort of advertisement. Networks mostly abandoned the flags on the evening news but local stations use them all the time, especially in news conferences and for reporter standups.

Now we have the new wave.  The digital video mic flag.  You can program a logo or message into the mic flag,  CNN, among others is using these at the national political conventions.
Take a look.