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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Baltimore Sun's Morgan Freeman Story Demonstrates Cherry Picking Sources

LaShawn Barber was called by a reporter for The Baltimore Sun earlier this week and asked for a comment about actor Morgan Freeman's recent observations about Black History Month. Go here for LaShawn's discussion of her conversation with the reporter, Dan Than Thang, and the story (registration required) that followed.

Such cherry picking of sources is a common practice among mainstream media reporters because it allows them to pick and choose among the comments received to produce a report that is consistent with the reporter's original story concept.

Contrary to what they often say, all journalists begin a particular story with a particular "slant" in mind. They have to do so, otherwise they have no idea who should be interviewed, what research must be done or what are the potential angles for the news hook.

Frequently, reporters also must have a story concept in mind in order to sell their editor on the piece. Most reporters have to talk a potential story through with a desk editor before the story idea gets on the morning news tout (i.e. the schedule of stories being worked on in the newsroom that day). The "juicier" the story, the more space and play it will get.

If the editor doesn't buy the story concept, the reporter risks being assigned a different story and one that might not be of much interest. This interplay between reporters and editors is at the heart of the inherent newsroom friction that is key to punctuating the news process.