In the short time I’ve studied journalism I’ve recognized and stressed over, what I’m going to call, the journalist’s “no-no” list. This consists of the basic rules students learn and apply in their 100-level newswriting courses. Stepping on quotes, clichés, and redundancies are just a few examples of content I was taught to avoid and omit from stories.
Recently, my not-to-do list expanded to include “calls to action,” particularly in radio. Asking listeners to go see a local concert or contribute to a specific medical cause can upset some consumers. Such statements may be taken as reflections of news source bias.
Alana Moceri, an American political writer, differs. She views a journalist’s call to action, or Journalists for action, as necessary in modern democracy. Watching a TED talk Moceri recorded last year, helped me see this issue from a new perspective; changing my basic notions of how to go about writing news.
Ken Doctor’s article “Newsonomics of Telling Your Audience What They Should Do” offers another defense. Doctor credits New York Public Radio CEO Laura Walker’s view on how journalists should look at the issue. He says she “draws a clear line between telling people what to do and giving them better options” and uses recent NYPR projects to support Walker’s position.
A sleep study called Clock Your Sleep invited NYPR listeners to follow a sleep tracking program. The study ended up improving many participating listener’s sleep schedules. The niche NYPR found in calling their audience brought positivity rather than listener distaste and shed light on how to go about conducting similar health studies in journalism. He said to “assess some of the greatest needs of the communities you serve and set an agenda of how to do journalism around those issues. And figure out ways to involve readers and listeners in the work, so the journalism isn’t just being done to them.”
Both Moceri and Doctor have actually grounded my thought process as a journalist; Both take me back to the basics, reminding me that things are never as black and white as they may seem.