When Regulators “Crack Down,” That Means Reporters Have Let Their Guard Down

A memo from the Journal’s Deputy Editor in Chief Matt Murray:

In a regulatory era, we naturally find ourselves writing a fair bit about regulators, probes and regulatory issues. That’s a big source of news these days.

But when we do so, it is vital that we write in neutral terms and that we don’t take sides with either regulators or their targets, either willfully or implicitly through language choices. It is important on every such story to ensure we think through the dynamics on all sides and convey the facts as directly, clearly and objectively as possible, to make sure that as writers and editors we are in no way tilting toward one view. Adding to the complexity, there is sometimes a sourcing imbalance, and we must do all we can in articles to correct any such imbalance, make sure all parties comment and treat all assertions with appropriate caveats and skepticism.

A particular trap in the very construction of many such stories is the often inadvertent implication that regulators are correcting/fixing/addressing what is objectively seen—or should be seen—as an existing problem. Be aware that in many instances there is a range of opinion on what constitute problems and what constitutes an appropriate response, and we should vigilant about the difference between facts and assertions. We should always strive to report the facts of what is happening, aggressively, while we attribute assertions and allow readers to draw their own conclusions.

As always, sensitivity to the meaning and use of words is important, especially in our standing effort to eliminate newspaper clichés, since words do carry connotations we may not intend. For instance, when an agency “cracks down” on something, the words suggest they are rolling up their sleeves and cleaning up an existing, generally acknowledged problem. Better to say “focusing on” or “paying increased attention to.”

This can be tricky stuff, but that’s why it’s so important. Our readers depend on us to be factual, neutral and to play it straight. As always, the best test is to ask yourself how a passage would read from various angles.

No comments:

Post a Comment