Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Accountability Journalism

Sam Abood

Kathleen Carroll and Bob Stewart 
Photo credit: thenewpolitical.com

Kathleen Carroll, vice president and executive editor of the Associated Press, was honored with the Carr Van Anda award from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University on Monday night, Sept. 30. The award is the highest honor the program can bestow upon an individual. Carroll addressed what she considers to be the two most important questions in journalism during her speech. Those questions are "How do you know that?" and "What do we do journalism?"

Carroll argued that there ought to be an amendment to the five W's of Journalism (who, what, when, where and why) and said that it should contain the question "How?" She stated that how questions are what your audience truly craves. 

"They get you into the plumbing of what happened," said Carroll.

She spoke about how these questions fall into a concept called "accountability journalism". Accountability Journalism, as she explained, keeps governments and big businesses in check to make sure that they are not overstepping their boundaries. To some, this concept may initially appear to focus on organizations slipping up, like the story she shared about the discovery of Colorado politicians' special license plates. But positive stories can be just as effective, as long as you present your news in a way in which your audience feels they need to know it. Accountability journalism, according to Carroll, is how we as journalists prove our worth to society. Along with keeping others accountable it is essential to hold yourself to the same standards. You can write 500 excellent stories, but the second you plagiarize or leak a source, that's often what you will be remembered by for the rest of your life. 

When we ask the question, "How do you know that?" it helps to separate the truth from speculation. Carroll referenced the story about Ohio State University athletic director Gordon Gee's disgraceful departure from the school this past summer. She spoke about how the story broke, that reporters originally obtained the audio files because they were under the impression that he said something which he did not. What he said turned out to be a lot more juicy than what they were expecting, and that is why you always ask, "How do you know that?"

The answer to the other question "Why do we do journalism?" is to serve the public's interest. Carroll emphasized the importance of anticipating questions from your audience so that you might be able to provide a more comprehensive story. She spoke about the current lack of diversity in newsrooms today. It is essential to communicate with individuals who come from different backgrounds and think differently than you so that you might be able to appeal to the widest demographic possible. 

Kathleen Carroll is known for her terrific managing skills, specifically her clear vision and standards. Her peers praise her for her public awareness as well as her ability to quickly address mistakes and take ownership of them. After listening to her speech last night it is evident that she puts her money where her mouth is, that she keeps herself and her entire organization accountable to themselves. 

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