Friday, October 11, 2019

Letters to a newspaper publisher III: A shameful scandal right under your nose

How should a media executive manage the business during a time of disruptive technological change? Alfonso Nieto attempted to answer that question in his book "Letters to a newspaper publisher," written in 1987 when newsrooms in Spain were moving from typewriters to computers. His comments have acute relevance today.  

Alfonso Nieto, photo University of Navarra
In this letter to a fictitious newspaper publisher, titled "A Shameful Scandal", Alfonso Nieto criticizes media executives who are focused only on the bottom line without paying attention to the quality of the content in their own publications. (The scandal is a defamation lawsuit against a reporter.)

Nieto also emphasizes the importance of hiring journalists with high ethical standards. "This profession is so prominent that it should exclude those of mediocre character who are untrustworthy, resentful, or selfish" (p. 58).

The top executives of the media organization have the responsibility to communicate clearly the editorial standards of the organization, Nieto says. Without that, there is disorder in the newsroom. In the absence of clear direction, each section editor creates their own fiefdom, and "this disorder is the key that opens the door to misinformation and mistakes" (pp. 59-60).
Versión en español
We often see something similar in 2019 in large newspapers, which publish column after column of mutually contradictory information on a topic that has been barely researched or is demonstrably incorrect.
In this letter, Nieto also touches on another topic relevant to journalism today: the need to gain the trust of the public by publishing only verified information, even if that means publishing after competitors. Slow news, in other words. (See Toward a Slow News Movement by Dan Gillmor.)

"Many times we should be quiet: watch and wait, don't publish without verifying. And if others beat you in publishing the news? Then it's time to say that the winner in journalism isn't the one who publishes first but the one who publishes the truth" (p. 61, emphasis mine).

Journalists need humility, above all, in order to do their job well, Nieto says. The vain and arrogant make many mistakes and undermine the credibility of the publication, especially when they resist admitting their errors.

The profile of a good journalist
After describing the many faults of bad journalists–excessively intuitive, argumentative, unprepared, resentful, petulant, cynical--Nieto described the desirable type of person: "A good journalist knows how to listen, to engage in dialogue, to verify information, to present both sides--or 47 if there are that many--and to write the news so that it is not half true and half false . . . They know how to distinguish between a mistake and the person who made it; they reject the one and respect the other" (p. 64).

News organizations that have clear ethical standards gain credibility and consequently have better financial results, he says.

Nieto's principles bear repeating in journalism classes and in the best newsrooms. He has described a path toward recovering the credibility of media, which is the most valuable economic asset of a media organization and its major contribution to society. (For more on the subject, Publishers Pivot Toward Users and Credibility.

Alfonso Nieto was one of the pioneers in the discipline of media economics, and his writings have acute relevance today, when the media world has been disrupted again by digital technology. He was rector of the University of Navarra 1979-1991, where I now teach. 


Letters to a newspaper publisher: It's not just the bottom line
Letters to a newspaper publisher II: Treat your readers with respect

No comments:

Post a Comment