The tragic events unfolding in Israel and Gaza that began October 7, 2023, are complex to understand and difficult to report on, especially from afar. Many student publications are grappling with how to report on this crisis for their audiences.
Misinformation and disinformation are rife. It can be confusing for any publication, and especially for student publications, perhaps, to discern what is reliable information, and what is the right tack to take on reporting and writing about the conflict. This report from Stanford University Cyber Policy Center is a helpful resource for understanding the issue and provides a playbook for newsrooms.
As Poynter points out in an October 13 post, “The Basics on Israel, Gaza, Palestine and Hamas for Local Journalists,” it can be difficult even for professionals to get right. “While there are many sources of information, it’s important to recognize that both Hamas and the Israeli government have an interest in presenting their side of warfare. For journalists, the ethical principle of independence requires news organizations to be open to completeness and accuracy.”
What to consider when reporting on difficult and complex topics:
- Consider sources very carefully. Verify “facts” using three reliable media sources and include wire services such as Reuters or the Associated Press. Other sources may be reliably used, such as U.S. government resources such as CIA World Factbook, for general country information.
- Deliberate on word choice. Words matter, and how people identify themselves matter. Refer to Poynter’s recommendations in the above article.
- Opinions must be presented as opinions in a news item. Be diligent in making this clear in writing, video, and social media posts.
- Save opinions for editorials.
- When writing editorials, take care to present arguments rationally.
Poynter has specific suggestions when covering protests and other inflammatory remarks in its report. “Be thoughtful about allowing protesters to make unsubstantiated claims, spread hatred, and mischaracterize others. Just because protesters carry signs and chant slogans, journalists have no obligation to publish or air those messages.”
This advice is also true for student journalists. Doubtless there can be strong emotions tied to such events and consequently, strong opinions. Remember to be vigilant in omitting bias from your reporting and writing, and just as well in imagery, video, and social media posts.
Just as professional journalists employ established standards set by their respective organizations, so too should student publications.
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