Carol Marin, Chicago journalist
By Casey Bukro
“Fake news began with the cavemen,” asserts Carol Marin, a leading Chicago television and print journalist.
A caveman returned to his cave, telling heroic stories about his exploits. “The demons he killed were enormous,” Marin assured an audience gathered to hear a newsroom ethics panel featuring some of the Chicago region’s best-known journalists. “It has always been a presence in our lives.”
The topic was “Fake News” versus “Real News.” The place was the WGN-TV studie in Chicago.
“Facts matter,” said Margaret Holt, the Chicago Tribune’s standards editor. “It all begins with facts.”
Holt recited a famous dictate of Chicago journalism: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Take nothing for granted and check out everything.
“The job of journalism is to get facts, get facts clear,” said Holt.
Don Moseley, a political and investigative television producer offered this: “Specificity, for people who watch and read. Specificity.”
Moseley is co-director with Marin of DePaul University’s Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence.
Marsha Bartel, WGN-TV investigative producer, believes “people have become too passive. You’ve got to do work on your own. I urge everybody to become better consumers.”
Maggie Bowman, a documentary file producer for Kartemquin Educational Films in Chicago, said audiences weigh information given to them.
“It’s up to us as storytellers to be transparent, like who funds us,” said Bowman. Resita Cox, a City Bureau reporter, agreed: “Explain how you got to where you got to.” City Bureau is a nonprofit civic journalism lab in Chicago.
Holt added: “Also, ask what’s the voice that is missing. Have more voices. Look at who is missing.”
This was the next question: How do you determine the reliability of sources, and whether to use anonymous sources?
A two-source rule is helpful, said Marin. “We spend a lot of sleepless nights looking at the pieces of the story,” including the motives of sources.
Moseley: “When you use anonymous sources, you vet them, their background and the foundation of their knowledge.”
Bartel: Most sources have a motive. “I take the sources as a lead” and look for documents to verify what the source said. “Work it and work it and keep adding pieces of information. I really try not to use anonymous sources any more, unless there is no other option.”
Moseley: “Think carefully before you use them.”
Next question was how social media complicates the lives of journalists.
Social media can help develop a story, said Cox, but “is the person telling the truth? Is this a story? You have to go the extra step and verify sources.”
Next question, what is a conflict of interest?
Holt pointed out that the late Jerome Holtzman, a former Chicago Tribune sports writer, wrote a book entitled, “No Cheering in the Press Box.” It warned sports writers to avoid taking sides in reporting sporting events, but Holt said that advice applies to all journalists.
“There has to be personal separation,” said Holt. “You cannot separate yourself from your social media presence. You have to be careful about how you present yourself in the professional world.”
Marin added: “We don’t take a side, we don’t belong to anyone’s club. It’s very hard to impress that on young journalists. We’re not there to support, but to present the facts.”
On the issue of copyright and fair use, Bowman said “fair use is a way of finding the balance in copyright material.” It’s difficult, she said, to use copyright material without paying exorbitant fees. She typically uses seconds or minutes of television clips for historical content, for example.
“As users of copyright material we continually defend our right to use it,” she said. Fair Use laws, she said, allows “free expression in our democracy,” adding “we can’t make things completely objective, but we can be transparent.”
For a source on fair use, free speech and intellectual property, Bowman suggested going to the Center for Media and Social Impact at cmsimpact.org. It is based in Washington, D.C.
On television, Marin said journalists often fail to explain the difference between news and analysis, a point of view. “In a lot of ways we fail.”
The next question wondered about a reporter’s rights in public and private settings, considering that journalists sometimes are told to leave the premises.
“If someone asks you to leave their house,” answered Cox, “you have to leave the house. But the sidewalk is public. Trespassing is a big thing. You have to figure your way around it.”
When covering government, said Marin, officials will try to set the rules.
“None of them really like the press,” said Marin. “But it is our job to cover them whether they like it or not. They are public officials.”
Holt added: “Arm yourself with education before you get into this. Army yourself. There is all kinds of training. There are things you can do even before you get into this position. We will fight. It’s incumbent on us to know what we have a right to.”
Bartel pointed to an alarming change in attitudes toward reporters since she first started covering presidential national conventions.
At the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, she said, “we were shouted at, called liberal media. I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s a very different atmosphere and felt like this was not a safe place to be.
“In this environment, you need to defend yourself and speak out” because there is a tendency to attack reporters.
On the issue of making mistakes, Holt said, “we all make mistakes and own your mistakes. What’s the point of making mistakes if you don’t learn from it? The people who make the most mistakes have the most challenging jobs. If you make mistakes over and over again, that is on you. Do the best you can in the time available. You build your credibility day by day.”
Moseley recalled that in speaking to a class, Holt pointed out that baseball players who sit on the bench during a game make no mistakes.
Race relations complicate the life of a journalist, Cox pointed out.
“I feel like we’re at war with each other,” she said. “I’m a woman of color and reporting in an era of Trump.” There are stories that don’t tell both sides, she said.
Marin said she opposes the idea of expecting African American reporters to cover African American issues. She would object to being identified as a white reporter with Swedish heritage, she said.
“We lose reporters who see nuances” by attempting to pigeon hole them according to ethnicity, said Marin.
Bartel added: “I think we are giving too much voice to the KKK. When I started I thought everything was black and white. Now it’s all shades of gray. The world is not right or wrong, black or white.”
In a similar vein, Cox said: “There are stories that are outright wrong and we don’t have to give a platform to those people.”
Holt said journalism often is “driven by white, older men. It’s difficult if you are a young reporter to balance this stuff. Part of what you bring to the job is you come from a different place. That is a valuable voice. Young people see the world differently from those with a more traditional view.”