February 10, 2008 in Opinion

Wanted: accurate, professional dialogue

Becky Tallent Special to The Spokesman-Review
 

Osiyo (hello).

With that greeting, you realize that I am not from around here.

Who am I? I am a woman of Cherokee heritage from Oklahoma who moved to the Idaho Palouse in April 2006. I am also a former reporter and public relations professional who now teaches at the University of Idaho. Please do not mistake me for an “insular academic.” I continue to work hard within the news profession, especially in helping young journalists find their own talent as well as counseling seasoned professionals.

I’m also the ombudsman for The Spokesman-Review.

What do I believe? I am a great advocate of excellence in journalism and will cringe faster than any of you when I see or hear bad and/or inaccurate reporting. That is part of why I am here: to help The Spokesman-Review’s editors and reporters improve their product. I also am very keen on media ethics and diversity. As part of my full disclosure you should know I am also physically handicapped with a hearing loss (I wear a hearing aid). Do not expect me to back away from any of these subjects: excellence, ethics and diversity.

Speaking of ethics, have you weighed in on the newspaper’s new ethics code yet? As someone who was deeply involved in creating the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics code and who has watched this paper’s code undergo development, I know how important it is to receive outside input – and what a rare and wonderful thing it is for this paper to give you the opportunity to give feedback. Not all newspapers will take this additional step.

Now back to the ombudsman’s role. Let me explain something that I take very seriously: Any issue that has already been resolved and is past will stay in the past. That is especially true of any issue that has received a finding from the Washington News Council or any other recognized professional journalism association. If something new comes to light about the issue, then it is fair game; but I refuse to sink down into the trough on some old issues for people who will not let go. Let’s move on, folks; we have plenty to deal with in the current world.

Another fair warning is that I am a journalist first and I will investigate any complaints or issues myself. I will not rely on any organization that will attempt to tell me what to do or say. I can analyze any given situation and will do so with all the available facts that I might be able to discover.

Please do not send me links to groups with agendas for or against the news media; I will not subscribe to them. I am independent and plan to stay independent. As I said, I am not from this area and have no dog in several of the hunts that were brought up by people to the previous ombudsmen.

When I talk about journalistic excellence, it also means excellence in the understanding by the paper’s readers. Occasionally, I will talk about why journalists do what we do and describe some of the issues that surround our decision making. This is much like your decision making at home or work: It is not always black and white, rather many shades of gray. Sometimes, our codes of ethics may seem in conflict with your personal or business code. I’ll try to help you understand why it is different and why journalists report the way they do.

There will be many times when we disagree, and that is fine as long as we leave it at a civil disagreement. Any personal attacks toward me or the newspaper’s staff/management will be ignored; but civil discourse is always encouraged.

The only request beyond civility that I ask of you is that you please use my Spokesman-Review e-mail address to contact me. My university account is owned by the state of Idaho, and I believe it is unethical for me to conduct newspaper business on state time.

Now, as one of my Osage friends would say, “Um buck shay” (let’s go!). I’m looking forward to an enlightening and interesting conversation with all of you.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email