How real jour­nal­ists act

Yes, peo­ple some­times mas­quer­ade as jour­nal­ists to get ac­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - Local - PAUL BER­TON Paul Ber­ton is edi­tor-in-chief of The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor and thes­pec.com. You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or pber­[email protected]­pec.com

A Hamil­ton com­pany re­cently re­ceived a tele­phone mes­sage from some­one claim­ing to be a Spec­ta­tor re­porter. The caller was al­legedly in­ves­ti­gat­ing “the un­fair prac­tices be­ing done by man­age­ment down there” but the com­pany rec­og­nized the fake in pretty short order.

Or­di­nary cit­i­zens mas­querad­ing as re­porters is noth­ing new, and this in­ci­dent was not the first I’ve been alerted to, but it’s of­ten done in a ham-fisted way. Per­haps they get their les­sons from Hol­ly­wood, al­ways a bad re­flec­tion of real life.

I sup­pose the con­tin­ued ex­is­tence and per­se­ver­ance of im­pos­tors speaks to the power, real or imag­ined, of the press.

We do in­deed in­ves­ti­gate mis­con­duct, ask un­com­fort­able ques­tions and root out in­jus­tices. Of­ten we are the or­ga­ni­za­tion of last re­sort for those seeking an­swers.

But those do­ing it un­der false pre­tences should be easy to spot. To begin with, real re­porters do not ask vague ques­tions; they ask pointed ques­tions.

We do not leave threat­en­ing mes­sages; we sim­ply look for a com­ment or in­for­ma­tion in a timely man­ner. We do not as­sume that “prac­tices” are “un­fair.”

We ask or­ga­ni­za­tions to ex­plain them­selves, and of­ten they do just that, some­times elim­i­nat­ing the need for a story.

Spec­ta­tor re­porters iden­tify them­selves by name — first and last — and are easy to ver­ify through our web­site or sim­ply by calling our news­room.

Spec­ta­tor re­porters try to be po­lite, even when peo­ple are not po­lite to them.

Re­porters should never use their po­si­tion as jour­nal­ists or em­ploy­ees of this com­pany to lever­age spe­cial treat­ment, un­less it in­volves cov­er­age of news. In other words, we might ask for spe­cial per­mis­sion to get into a re­stricted area or stand in a prime lo­ca­tion if we are covering an event, but not to get a good ta­ble in a restau­rant, say, or to re­ceive spe­cial ser­vice.

Nor would it be ac­cept­able for any re­porter, pho­tog­ra­pher, edi­tor or any­one else em­ployed by a me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion to threaten any es­tab­lish­ment with a story or in­ves­ti­ga­tion sim­ply be­cause we may have been per­son­ally un­happy with the goods or the ser­vice.

Any­one who might sus­pect us of do­ing that should call or write me or any other edi­tor here per­son­ally, or find an­other way to dis­creetly let us know.

All this and more is out­lined in a doc­u­ment on our web­site that dis­cusses at length the jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards of this or­ga­ni­za­tion, which all em­ploy­ees are ex­pected to fol­low.

Most jour­nal­ists at large news or­ga­ni­za­tions are also well aware of the le­gal and fi­nan­cial jeop­ardy that bad be­hav­iour can put us in, or the rep­u­ta­tional dam­age it can cause a news agency that has worked on gain­ing the trust of its read­ers and com­mu­nity, of­ten over decades or cen­turies.

Fi­nally, like many other news or­ga­ni­za­tions, The Spec­ta­tor is a mem­ber of Canada’s National NewsMe­dia Council, a watch­dog or­ga­ni­za­tion that al­lows mem­bers of the pub­lic to file com­plaints that are re­viewed by a panel of in­dus­try ex­perts and mem­bers of the gen­eral pub­lic.

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