Two questions, one answer on reporting

Two very different questions were directed to me at a recent panel discussion on journalism.

One questioner sought to know why we weren’t reporting more details about a police shooting in Bloomingdale earlier this month in which a Carol Stream man carrying a knife was killed. From the wording of the question, it was clear the person believed we either were deliberately withholding or were refusing to pursue information that could show carelessness, or worse, on the part of officers.

The second wondered why we, and others in the press, continue to report the statements of President Trump in spite of the frequency of his lies and misrepresentations.

A local police shooting. Coverage of the president of the United States. They are two distinct issues, but understanding them, or at least understanding the journalism involved in reporting them, requires one particular approach – the willingness to examine an individual news story in the full context of the issues it suggests.

In the case of the Bloomingdale shooting, this is not unlike the approach I discussed a few weeks ago regarding the Jussie Smollett case. The truths embedded within a given event are rarely entirely evident immediately. The Smollett narrative changed drastically over the course of a month and is still evolving. Getting all the facts of the Bloomingdale shooting will take time, too, and we’ll report them as we gather them. But they shouldn’t be interpreted until they’re all in, and even then, the interpretation may depend largely on the prejudices of the person doing the interpretation.

Which brings me to the Trump question. It is not an uncommon one, though it must be said that I far more often am asked its counterpoint – why are you in the press always crticizing or distorting what the president says? Whichever way you approach the topic, the answer is the same. We report each individual story as best we can. What an individual story means – whether that the president is a liar or that he is a paragon of American values – can truly be assessed only when you examine a particular statement or action from the context of many statements, actions and points of view.

To be sure, many people have already made up their minds regarding President Trump’s credibility. There is, after all, a decadeslong historical public record regarding him. But our job is not to feed any specific conclusion. It is to report each story and let you determine what it means. Similarly, in the case of any police shooting, or almost any story of consequence, while we strive to provide as much useful detail as possible, we rarely expect a specific news report to tell “the whole story” beyond what can be known up to that point. We strive to do our work in such a way as to earn your trust in the accuracy of each piece of information we provide along the way of devloping circumstances.

With that as our foundation, we trust you to draw whatever conclusions seem reasonable to you. I would simply encourage you to be sure to consider the whole of a story before you make judgments about any of its parts.

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