How to Be Fair in Your News Reporting

Fairness is described in college journalism textbooks, but reporters often run into problems in applying these standards to real-life news situations. Use these tips as a checklist for every news report you broadcast or publish to ensure you're being fair in your news reporting.

Beware the Dangers of Anonymous Sources

A picture of two men sharing secrets
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Anonymous sources can make all sorts of claims while hiding from view. Verify what anonymous sources are telling you by finding someone willing to go on the record with their face and name. Check with your editor before publishing or broadcasting a story based solely on what anonymous sources told you in order to ensure fairness.

Attribute Facts in Online Media

Just because you find information on the faceless Internet doesn't excuse you from attributing it when you use these facts in your news story. If you're simply copying and pasting it into your story, you are plagiarizing and not being fair. Do your job as a reporter and find the original source and make sure you give proper credit.

Refuse to Accept Payola in News Coverage

Money and news make for a dangerous combination. Never accept or agree to accept cash, favors or expensive gifts in exchange for coverage. Even if your story is fair, it will be tarnished by those questioning your ethics. Accepting a T-shirt at a charity walk is one thing, taking something from a corporate or political heavyweight is asking for trouble. More

Avoid Bias in Political News Stories

Even as a reporter, you have a right to your political opinions. It's part of what makes you an informed citizen. However, you must put your viewpoints aside when interviewing any politician. Avoid argumentative questions with people on the opposite side of the political spectrum and stop being a cheerleader for your side. Everyone should be subjected to your tough, yet fair, questions. More

Show Sensitivity in Reporting Crime News

Crime news is full of so much emotion that it's easy to put your professional fairness aside. The man being led away in handcuffs is innocent until proven otherwise in court. The victim who is lying bleeding on the ground may have caused the confrontation. Crime stories are often much more complicated than what you see when you first arrive on the scene. More

Address Bad News Involving a Sales Partner

Media companies form partnerships with community businesses all the time. Problems arise when there's bad news involving those companies. If your media company's partner just announced massive layoffs, you must treat the story as you would any other in order to ensure fairness. Don't allow a friendly corporate relationship to camouflage the facts that must be presented to your audience.

Ask Tough, Yet Fair Reporter Questions

Anyone can ask tough questions. The trick is to make sure you're fair while asking them. Hounding the mayor while she's eating with her family at a restaurant isn't fair if you report that she tried to avoid talking to you. Make sure you're seeking information and not just a confrontation by phrasing your questions professionally and avoid starting off in attack mode. More

Prepare for a Combative News Situation

Sometimes, you know an interview will be combative. The key to conducting a fair interview is to plan ahead, especially on how you can try to calm the situation. If that's not possible, know how to stand your ground with the person you're interviewing while being fair to that person, your story and your audience. More

Prevent Mistakes in News Reporting

Failing to be fair in your news reporting is one mistake you should avoid. That often happens when you rush to be first with an explosive news report, when you are afraid to ask questions so that you fully understand what you're covering or when you present one-sided information and neglect the other side of an issue. Take time to check your work before you present it.

Correct Errors in News Reporting

We are all bound to make a mistake in newsgathering, sourcing or writing a story. The final act of fairness is to address these errors and correct them. Sometimes it's as simple as clarifying what you originally said. Other times, it takes a correction of a factual mistake. The worst scenario is to retract a story entirely. While you may be embarrassed to do it, it is essential if you want to be seen as a fair news reporter.

Fairness Requires a Commitment

Fairness in news reporting requires a daily commitment. It's easy to rush a story because of deadline pressures. That pressure shouldn't keep you from checking facts, getting another viewpoint or having your report proofed by an editor. That's far easier than cleaning up an embarrassing mess later -- one that the public has seen.