Objectivity and Ethics: Tips from Our Newsletter

Last Updated April 2024

The guidance below collects the thoughts, tips, and must-reads about journalism, ethics, and objectivity published in our weekly newsletter, Revisions. The information is presented in roughly chronological order, has been edited for clarity, and is updated where necessary.

Language & Word Choice

January 13, 2022
Do questions belong in headlines?

No. That’s surely an unpopular opinion, considering how many news outlets do use questions as headlines. But as someone who has been a reporter, digital editor, and social media manager, I’ve rarely encountered a good reason to use a question in a headline beyond intriguing readers enough to click through. If the answer to the question is truly, deeply important to your audience, you should definitely include it in the headline rather than require someone to spend more time clicking and potentially hitting a paywall. It’s also inappropriate for journalists to imply unknowns where there are none. (Think: “COVID-19 is worse than the flu. Here’s why,” instead of “Is COVID-19 worse than the flu?”) Since most folks see way more headlines and news clips in a day then they could ever follow up with, many more people will see your headline than read the story. Don’t let imaginations run wild about important info if you have the answers handy.


February 2, 2022
When issuing a correction, should news organizations avoid repeating the mistake?

Shout-out to my colleague, Resolve Philly Senior Collaborations Editor Gene Sonn, for mulling over this question. When newsrooms make mistakes in their reporting they typically issue corrections as an addendum, preface, or editor’s note to the reported piece where the mistake took place. Traditionally, many newsrooms’ corrections policies instruct editors to not repeat the mistake in the correction. For instance, if they reported an event happened on a Tuesday instead of a Monday, the correction might say, “An earlier edition of this report misstated the date of the event. The event took place on Monday.”

There are many reasons for this structure, perhaps most importantly that repeating a mistake means just that — repeating something false for others to read, even in the context of a correction. But it also creates a lack of transparency over what the newsroom got wrong.

Considering how “sticky” information can be, it’s a good general rule to avoid repeating false information in a news report even if it means eliding details of an initial mistake. Exceptions to that might include, however, particularly egregious cases that require additional transparency from the editorial staff beyond a brief factual error, or misidentifications, where false impressions made due to an error should be made explicit in order to clear a person’s name or reputation.


April 21, 2022

This tip comes courtesy of a tweet from writer Tara Murtha. She criticized a CNN headline which attributed the phrase “the steady rise in abortion restrictions across the US will worsen maternal health crisis” to “Black women fear.” As Murtha points out, this is not just a “fear” of Black women, it is the established medical consensus, and thus should be reported as fact, not as an emotional reaction by one group.

Attribution is a powerful thing. Attributing a statement to a long-trusted and long-established institution gifts that statement with a sheen of trust reflective of that institution. Attributing a statement to a group of people that, its implied, doesn’t have institutional expertise or has special interests paints that statement with uncertainty and a hue of personal or ideological bias. Using attribution this way is a tactic many journalists use to establish their “objectivity.” Rather than stating as fact something that has broad consensus but may be attacked by bad-faith actors or disinformants — such as on a topic like abortion — a journalist can protect their reputation by attributing the statement elsewhere.

The bottom line: journalists should strive to put two and two together for audiences by describing facts as such, not perpetuating bothsidesism and the notion of multiple truths on polarizing topics.


May 12, 2022

Reliable Sources editor Alex Koppelman topped the popular CNN newsletter with a plea for newsrooms to reflect the current threat to U.S. democracy accurately and completely. I recommend reading the whole thing, but the end struck me:

“People in newsrooms typically don’t have time amid the crush of news to think about the big picture of our coverage, to step back and look at all of it and the overall story it conveys to our audiences. But now, right now, we have to make that time. We have to think about the coverage decisions we make, the stories we cover and don’t and the ones we play big and the ones to which we give short shrift. This doesn’t mean being biased. It doesn’t mean rooting for one side. It doesn’t mean slanting our coverage. It means recognizing that doing anything else will slant our coverage.”

He’s essentially calling for our industry to undertake some content analysis. That’s something we have experience with at Reframe — the full-tilt academic kind, a kind we’re more than happy to talk to interested newsrooms about. But there are many easier, quicker ways your newsroom can examine your output and discover actionable insights. Here are two breezy exercises your outlet can try right now.

Metanarrative Brainstorm (Group)
Block off two or three hours. Put all your editors in a room (with snacks) and give them 5 minutes to answer the question, “What would an extraterrestrial being who just landed in town understand about my beat from the last nine (or six, etc.) months of stories?” Then have each editor answer that question for all the other beats. Finally, share and discuss the similarities and differences in answers and how accurate they feel to the environs being covered. Boom, you’ve analyzed the metanarratives of your newsroom output. Key in on the differences between the answers written by those working on a beat versus outsiders; that’s where you’ll find room for improvement.

Word Cloud iSpy (Individual)
Gather the links of stories (or transcripts for audio or video folks) you’ve published from a chunk of time that’s representative of your recent output — depending on your metabolism that might be three, six, or even twelve months of work. Copy all of the body copy and headlines from those stories into one document. Upload it into a word cloud generator like classic.wordclouds.com and poke around. Look for names of sources, jargon or slogans voiced by specific groups, names of cities or neighborhoods. What words are the most frequent in your work? Which are the least? Are they what you expected? Why or why not? You may be able to spot a facet being under- or over-covered from this alone. Take a walk and ruminate on it — the time to process makes all the difference.


July 14, 2022

In July 2022, the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE chose to publish video footage it received from inside Robb Elementary the day of the Uvalde shooting. The video itself is heartbreaking, disturbing, and completely damning of the police response, and its release was not met without controversy.

So the publications chose to explain why they published the footage and how they came to their decision. This type of editorial transparency is good practice, because explaining complicated choices like these builds trust with audiences.

When should newsrooms show their work?
Ideally, as much as possible. But a good measure of whether your audience might require a breakdown of decision-making is whether that decision required serious deliberation within your newsroom. If it took significant time and resources to decide internally, there’s a good chance that decision could use some public illumination. Additionally, if you think an editorial decision might incur public controversy, proactively reporting out this process will go a long way.

How should newsrooms show their work?
The way you normally publish information! It can be as easy as publishing a letter from the editor, adding a brief explanatory segment to a broadcast, or amending a sidebar to a print piece. But it must be thorough and clear about who made decisions and why. This is as much about increasing media literacy as it is about accountability.

What are some examples of newsrooms showing their work?


September 15, 2022

Resolve Philly’s inaugural fellow, Madison Karas, spent the last year investigating how to introduce more transparency and trust into the interview process. The result is an incredible resource for reporters in the form of a tip sheet for before, after, and during interviews with private citizens.

Some of my favorite tips include:

  • Treat educating others on your process as a part of the job. Find ways to continually inform others how your newsgathering process or your newsroom works. Giving or excluding information about how your journalism works is an active choice. Consider what opportunities for training, style guides, how-to pages, and other forms of public-facing documentation would benefit community understanding of the newsgathering process.
  • Validate — don’t dismiss — interviewee’s concerns. If an interviewee expresses suspicions, hesitancies, or concerns about interacting with you or the media, acknowledge and have a conversation about those. People’s concerns about the media come from prior experiences. Talk about what those concerns are for your interviewee and how you can demonstrate trust.
  • Ensure quotes aren’t just verifiably accurate, but meaningfully accurate. Continually honor the “ethos” of what was shared in the interview throughout the editing and publishing processes; advocate for it when needed. Ask if the final story is representing an interview’s scope and intent, and have conversations about it between editors and reporters.

Check out Madison’s essay explaining the project, then download the tip sheet.


March 2, 2023

This spotlight is inspired by a recent Tweet from UNC professor Deen Freelon.

In past issues, I’ve highlighted how “critical race theory” has become what’s called a floating signifier — a term that no longer has an agreed upon meaning, but can be molded and used by different parties for different ends. In reference to Freelon’s thoughts, I’d argue “cancel culture,” “woke,” “elites,” and “fake news” have all become floating signifiers, too. Depending on who is using the terms, the definitions can be changed and weaponized, or be nearly meaningless beyond their power to invoke rage. Journalists must use these words — and quotes from public figures that carry them — with caution.

Beautiful Trouble, a resource created by artist-activists to train other activists, has a solid explainer of how floating signifiers can be a powerful political tool. Their Toolbox of Theories would be of great use to journalists writing about democracy. It breaks down various important communication theories from the perspective of their applicability to current political movements.


September 28, 2023

The Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon just released a new report called, “Redefining News: A Manifesto for Community Centered Journalism.” It is a well-sourced, digestible guide. (Hint for the “too long, didn’t read” crowd: skip to page 22.)


October 5, 2023

The Center for Journalism Ethics’ popular “Why Should I Tell You?” guide to non-extractive reporting has been translated into Spanish! I’m excited to see this great advice spread even further.


February 15, 2024

ProPublica’s editor-in-chief wrote an essay explaining the publication’s editorial priorities, and how they differ from those of cable news. It’s an interesting read, but could also serve as inspiration for your newsroom’s own transparency efforts.


February 29, 2024

Using unnamed sources in reporting can be tricky. Poynter has created an illustrated guide to doing so that helps clear up labels and definitions in the name of transparency.

Better News has the scoop on how the Concord Monitor used a writing workshop to recruit new writers to their opinion section. The results? Their first workshop sparked a waitlist so long they needed another session.


March 14, 2024

The latest “Trust Tip” from Trusting News is all about news avoiders. Take a look through three of the reasons avoiders cite as the root cause of their habits, and consider how your newsroom can adjust to meet their needs.


March 28, 2024

Does your newsroom need an AI ethics policy? The answer is “yes,” but if you don’t have one yet, it’s your lucky day. Poynter just released a template that you can fill out as a group, along with instructions on who to bring together for the conversation.

Nieman Storyboard has interviewed New York Times reporter Ellen Barry and created an annotated version of her recent story “The Man in Room 117,” on the mental health crisis facing New York. It pulls back the curtain on how she reported the story and makes for an educational read.

Journalists Amanda Ripley and Hélène Biandudi Hofer have created Good Conflict to help people use communication to deal with complex problems. They also created a toolkit for “Good Conflict Journalism” that’s well worth a bookmark.


Inside Felicia Sonmez’s Lawsuit Against the Washington Post
Clio Chang, New York Magazine
The story of Felicia Sonmez, a reporter at the Washington Post who was barred from covering sexual assault after publicly speaking about her own alleged sexual assault, is emblematic of too many newsroom conversations about “objectivity.” Clio Chang’s retelling of this conflict makes clear how the industry’s “view from nowhere” ideals are often twisted to reinforce a very particular perspective.

I Moved to a Remote Cabin to Write, and I Hate It
Blair Braverman, Outside
I was not expecting to come across a lovely pep talk for writers in the advice column for Outside magazine, a lifestyle publication for outdoorsy folks. But this week’s reply to a person living “the dream” of a Walden-like writer’s retreat is a balm.

It’s time for a new contract between journalists and public contributors
Alex Murray, Reuters Institute
Reporter Alex Murray, a broadcast journalist at the BBC, proposed a new standard for working with “public contributors,” or new subjects who aren’t public figures. He’s developed a list of 11 tenets to serve as a new social contract between journalists and their sources, from explaining publishing timelines to understanding informed consent. It’s a worthwhile read.

How a Philly-born brand of TV news harmed Black America.
Layla A. Jones, the Philadelphia Inquirer
As part of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s “A More Perfect Union” series, in which they examine “the roots of systemic racism in America through institutions founded in Philadelphia,” Layla A. Jones reports on the birth of Eyewitness and Action News. These brands may have began in Philly, but they spread their editorial sensibilities and aesthetics — and thus their racial stereotyping — to local stations across the U.S. Considering how many Americans still get the majority of their news via TV, we all should understand the history of this format and its negative impacts.

Snap judgements: how audiences who lack trust in news navigate information on digital platforms
The Reuters Institute released research on the six ways users make “snap judgements” about news content to determine whether information is trustworthy. Considering the deep distrust that still exists between journalists and many audiences, anyone working in news should memorize them and evaluate how their content does or does not signal reliability.

In journalism, ‘objective’ is a good word with a noble history. But let’s consider ‘distance from neutrality.’
Roy Peter Clark, Poynter
Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark released a chapter from his book that discusses journalistic objectivity and what he calls distances from neutrality. I think his classification of objective, neutral, engaged, advocacy, partisan, and propaganda is a useful measuring stick for journalists struggling to define their work in the post-”objectivity” era. (If we say we’re in that era enough times, we will be, right?)

Confirmation bias in journalism: What it is and strategies to avoid it
Carey Morewedge, Journalist’s Resource
All humans experience confirmation bias, in which we seek or trust more fully evidence that supports a belief we already have or question we’re asking. Behavioral scientist Carey Morewedge explains what that looks like in journalism and, most importantly, how to overcome it.

If you’re reporting on trauma, be sure to take care of yourself and check out the resources below.

I stopped reading the news. Is the problem me — or the product?
Amanda Ripley, Washington Post
Journalist Amanda Ripley spends a lot of time thinking about journalism. Her writing on conflict and how journalists should “complicate the narratives” challenge how traditional reporting has handled controversy. But even she’s been dispirited by the news of late. Her new opinion piece for the Washington Post addresses the plague of news avoidance and how journalists can and should turn it around.

Public Opinion at 100
Andre Forget, The Bulwark
One hundred years ago journalist Walter Lippmann published his classic work Public Opinion and sought to answer the question, “How can a truly self-governing society function under the conditions of ‘mass culture’?” A new essay from The Bulwark examines the impact of the book and what it means to the news industry now. It’s a must-read whether you’ve read the original or not — but if you haven’t, you can find a PDF here.

Semafor is the Problem
Laura Wagner, Defector
You may have heard about new news start-up Semafor, which recently raised $25 million in funding and is led by two unrelated men named Smith. Well, their site launched recently touting a brand new “Semaform” of journalism that will help audiences understand the news. But, as the Defector’s Laura Wagner examines, the not-so-new format is unlikely to be as transformative as it purports.

How The Athletic will be covering the World Cup – and navigating the moral issues
Alex Kay-Jelski, The Athletic
In an admirable show of editorial transparency, The Athletic published an explanation of how it plans to tackle its World Cup coverage considering the awful human rights abuses of the tournament’s host, Qatar. The essay makes for an interesting read about “sportwashing” and balancing ethics with audience expectations.

This report sees journalistic “bias” less as partisanship and more as relying on too-comfortable habits
Joshua Benton, Nieman Lab
This Nieman Lab breakdown of a new 50-page report out of the U.K. will challenge your ideas about “bias” in news. They found a lack of partiality in BBC coverage of taxation, government borrowing and public spending — but not the political kind. Rather, the bias they found speaks to habits and beliefs held deep within the journalism industry, opinions we don’t even realize we’re asserting as fact. For instance, they found, “Some journalists seem to feel instinctively that debt is simply bad, full stop, and don’t appear to realize this can be contested and contestable.”

The Roadmap for Local News
A provocative, carefully considered, and enlightening report from the minds behind Chalkbeat, Free Press, and City Bureau just dropped. The report explains the civic media movement and how, “The new practice seeks not simply to ‘inform,’ ‘entertain,’ or ‘engage,’ but to equip people with the information they need to make the places they live better: civic information.” It also argues that media practitioners and their supporters should focus on expanding civic information — instead of saving the news business.

News for the powerful and privileged: how misrepresentation and underrepresentation of disadvantaged communities undermine their trust in news
Dr Amy Ross Arguedas, Dr Sayan Banerjee, Dr Camila Mont’Alverne, Dr Benjamin Toff, Dr Richard Fletcher, Prof. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Reuters Institute
A brand new report from the Reuters Institute studied groups across Brazil, India, the U.K., and the U.S. to understand how the information needs of excluded groups impact their trust in news outlets. It certainly isn’t news to those in the industry that reporting has the potential to cause harm to marginalized communities. But what this report documents is the real, personal harm misrepresentative news has on individuals. It then challenges newsrooms to choose a path forward with this knowledge in hand. “This comes down to a question of priorities – just as not taking such steps is also a choice,” the authors write. “In other words, there is no neutral path here.”

Trusting News Trust Kits
Trusting News, a project of the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the American Press Institute, recently released new “Trust Kits.” These “step-by-step guides for journalists ready to demonstrate credibility and actively earn trust” will be added to over time. But for now you can explore modules under the following topics:


The Origins of Our Investigation Into Clarence Thomas’ Relationship With Harlan Crow
Stephen Engelberg and Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica
Earlier this month, ProPublica debuted groundbreaking reporting on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ relationship with Republican megadonor Harlan Crow. That reporting has called into question the ethics of their relationship as, in addition to treating Thomas to lavish vacations, Crow has supported Thomas’ relatives via real estate and tuition deals. To explain just how they came to these conclusions, ProPublica published a deep-dive into their reporting process. It’s a fascinating and downright useful read.

The Gross Spectacle Of Murder Fandom
McKay Coppins, The Atlantic
If you know me personally, you know I find the study of fandom absolutely fascinating — and that I not-so-secretly theorize that fandom has taken on religious aspects for many. So, when the Atlantic published this look into the harm online communities can do to the very real humans behind their “favorite mysteries,” I had to read it. It’ll leave you (rightfully) rethinking every “true crime” podcast or show you’ve consumed.

The mirage in the trust desert: challenging journalistic transparency
Jussi Latvala, Reuters Institute
For anyone working in trust and journalism, this deep dive into its actual impact from Reuters Institute fellow Jussi Latvala is a wake-up call. He went to Reuters “with the aim of defining best practices in journalistic transparency and winning back our audiences.” The result? “I’ve become skeptical of transparency’s ability to do anything meaningful to increase trust from the audience.” He tops his full ten-essay report with a witty, engaging summary of findings that you’ll want to read ASAP.

The new Black press is changing the game
Phil Lewis, What I’m Reading
In a new report, Phil Lewis explores the Black-led and Black-focused news outlets that have sprung up across the country over the last few years. It’s a treasure trove of exciting ideas and a one-stop-shop for the outlets and journalists you need to be following now.

Risk assessments can make journalism safer
Joel Simon, Columbia Journalism Review
Simon of the Journalism Protection Initiative wrote about how newsrooms can use risk assessment tools to make journalists safer when they report on or from hostile environments. Send this one to your Slack group.

What is news, anyway? Readers’ answers depend on how much they see people like themselves in the story
Joshua Benton, Nieman Lab
The media industry is very interested in how people react to news — how they feel about it, when they trust it, whether they’ll pay for it, etcetera. But every new poll about news audiences has me yelling at my screen, “How do the respondents define ‘news,’ though?!?” Luckily, as Nieman Lab reports, researchers Stephanie Edgerly and Emily K. Vraga, have been studying this. Their latest research explains how feelings of relevance actually change how people define a story as “news.” It’s fascinating and well worth a read.

Five things news media can do to respond to consistent news avoidance
Dr. Benjamin Toff, Ruth Palmer and Prof. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Reuters Institute
News avoidance is a popular topic of discussion amongst publishers which usually focuses on providing audiences with a mix of “good” and “bad” news. But what I find most useful about this excerpt from new book Avoiding the News is where it goes next: the problem of intelligibility. Political journalism, the authors write, can be “about as meaningful for many potential news consumers as sports journalism of a specialised game would be for those who have little conception of the stakes, norms, or rules – only it is not a game.” The full excerpt is full of such truths that every editor should read.

How a DEI task force can help shift perspectives and drive change
Ashley Hopko, Better News
Southern California Public Radio created an internal DEI task force to make progress on systemic changes. Their work improved coverage decisions and workplace culture.

We need spin-checking in addition to fact-checking
Milijana Rogač, Poynter
Poynter has published a new opinion essay by Milijana Rogač, executive editor of Serbian fact-checking group Istinomer. Her argument for adding a layer of spin-checking to traditional journalistic fact-checking projects is very compelling. As Rogač writes, “It means that we go beyond whether an individual fact is true or not, so that our reporting highlights patterns in public deception, deconstructs propaganda, points out emotionally charged language, and offers a more robust look at political manipulation techniques”

Thoughts & Thinkers

Enrique Acevedo: You know what else is not reaching most Spanish speakers? The Facebook papers. The original consortium did not include any Spanish-language platforms. If we're serious about tackling disinformation start by acknowledging most FB users live in non-English-speaking communities.

As revelatory as the Facebook Papers were, 60 Minutes’ Enrique Acevedo brings up a critical point. Acevedo is responding to reports that Mark Zuckerberg objected to providing voting information in Spanish on WhatsApp out of fear it would make Facebook appear “partisan.” The startling report also serves to ironically highlight just how English-centric the roll-out of this important reporting was.

Another good read on the topic: Mathew Ingram on the consortium’s media strategy.

It’s not underrepresented. It is systemically excluded. It is institutionally oppressed. Accountability starts with language.

Kudos to creative consultant Nora Rahimian for this important reminder. Accountability for injustice requires illuminating and describing causes of injustice. Describing only its effects (like underrepresentation) linguistically lets those doing the harm off the hook.

“Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.” — Morgan Housel Studying the past is a shortcut to expanding your experience.

I don’t know about you, but this quote from business writer Morgan Housel stopped me in my tracks. As Shane Parrish adds, studying others’ experiences opens up our minds, but it’s also a good reminder to occasionally humble ourselves and be more curious about what we don’t know.

Directly after George Floyd media orgs promised to do better. That was supposed to include not repeating everything police and public officials say as if it’s fact. Yet two years later you see reporter after reporter doing exactly what all these orgs said they would stop doing.

We had hoped, like Femi Redwood of WCBS Newsradio 880 and 1010 WINS, that the lessons of the past few years would stick. But it seems the journalistic need for access and decades of treating institutions as vessels of truth makes taking official statements for granted as fact a hard habit to break.

Journalism ethics rule proposal: The rule that you shouldn't report untruths is more important than the rule that you should protect off-the-record statements. If someone says trump is a dangerous maniac in private, it's not OK to uncritically report their public praise.

Journalist Adam Davidson’s tweet is in reference to leaked tapes from New York Times reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin. The tapes included Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell privately criticizing Trump and their colleagues in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. In public, however, they quickly fell back in line with supporting Trump and the rest of the GOP. In that light, Davidson’s proposal seems a more than reasonable addition to journalism ethics.

Ever notice that whenever someone's going to try to push things way too the right that they try to brand it as embracing "neutrality" or being "nonpartisan"? says media critic Parker Molloy in response to an interview with Politico's new owner, who has a "contrarian" "nonpartisan" plan for American media.

Media critic Parker Molloy raises a critical point about media owners who seek to “balance” their coverage, from recent CNN shakeups to this new plan for the already right-leaning Politico. Balance, neutrality, and nonpartisanship are often code for appeasing (and thus gaining the eyes and money of) right wing audiences who complain about any coverage that strays from their reality-bending views.

no need to talk about political dysfunction by making ahistorical remarks about "banana republics" or everyone's fave "third-world countries" when all these ~first-world countries~ are right there, right now

Journalist Stacy-Marie Ishmael is referring to the chaotic week had by the United Kingdom’s government in late October 2022, but her point stands for many political events. Using euphemisms like “banana republic” and “third-world countries” to label homegrown Western dysfunction perpetuates the exceptionalism that drives white supremacy and imperialism.

🧵Critics of the Her Emails media coverage understand that there's something dishonest in the way its defenders narrow in on particular individual bits of it, stripped of context, and ask indignantly, "should we not have reported this?!"Above all they get the message that it is *incredibly important* -- worthy of intense coverage, more important than any of dozens of possible stories it pushed aside. There's the facts conveyed in the stories & then there's the *impression conveyed by the coverage*.

The argument clean energy and politics reporter David Roberts makes in this thread has several more points which you should check out. This is a theoretical discussion that comes up frequently in journalism. Those who criticize the amount and/or tone of coverage of a topic as overblown are often faced with a straw man defense: “What, are we supposed to ignore this story?!?” The answer is almost always no.

Editors need to take time to step out of a hype cycle and thoughtfully assess whether the volume of their coverage is proportional to a topic’s importance. Because to the average audience member, volume is equal to importance — and they’re not wrong. Newsroom resources (time, money, reporters, front page space) are finite and where we use them is a de facto assessment of a story’s value.

I find this argument silly. Journalists do promote a certain viewpoint in terms of race, gender and class often through omission of divergence from white male and middle-to-upper class politics l. That is advocacy for an imagined baseline viewpoint

Erica Ifill, a journalist and economist, points out the hypocrisy inherent in this statement. All journalism, in a sense, is advocating something. You can’t write a story without framing, which tells the audience what is a problem, who or what caused it, and what solutions may be possible. By choosing what stories to cover in our finite time, we’re advocating that attention be given to some stories over others.

Media criticism is not de facto activism. If I saw reporting I assigned being used in courts to harm marginalized communities I would review those pieces and try to understand why. The knee jerk refusal to even consider this is mind boggling.

Elizabeth Spiers, a New York Times opinion contributor, also brings up a great point. Important journalism institutions have a difficult time absorbing criticism and often dismiss it as activism, regardless of its origins. “Do no harm” is an objective journalists should strive for and, when confronted with evidence of real harm, we must be humble and investigate.

What happens when we integrate our newsrooms and begin servicing audiences historically excluded from our coverage is that our assumed "neutral" white normative sensibility is challenged. As it turns out, there are other people with other experiences and perspectives!!

In response to the ongoing New York Times trans reporting discourse, journalist Wesley Lowery used this recent Twitter thread to explore a key cause of newsroom strife. The stated goals of many newsrooms looking to diversify their staffs and coverage are often at odds with what institutions consider “journalism.” It’s worth a read.

“Journalists are often taught to go after ‘the story.’ But that terminology can be misleading. Every story is, in fact, many stories. Despite our best efforts, very rarely does any one journalist or media organization tell any of them completely. The same question, asked several times, can yield different answers.”

— Wesley Lowery, “A Test of the News,” CJR

If I had my way, Wesley Lowery’s latest on journalism’s “objectivity” debate would be the last word on the subject. It’s a long read but it’s worth every minute.

A recent New York Times profile on Theranos founder and convicted fraudster Elizabeth Holmes garnered quite a reaction on Twitter. Human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid sums up just one of its many criticisms quite well here.

“…the shared condition of precariousness leads not to reciprocal recognition, but to a specific exploitation of targeted populations, of lives that are not quite lives, cast as ‘destructible’ and ‘ungrievable.’ Such populations are ‘lose-able,’ or can forfeited, precisely because they are framed as being already lost or forfeited; they are cast as threats to human life as we know it rather than as living populations in need of protection from illegitimate state violence, famine, or pandemics.”

— Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (Free PDF here.)

How does a society decide whose deaths are worth covering vociferously and whose are not? The Judith Butler quote above gets at the heart of her book’s position: when one group (a state, country, or even religion, identity etc.) is in high conflict with another group, its government, press, media, and thus its people frame the opposition as inhuman. From this lens, you might be able to understand why Western mainstream media has covered these two tragedies differently — it feels more aligned with one group than the other. It’s no wonder the plight of hundreds of migrants — whether at sea or at the border — would go undercovered.

At what point do we move beyond asking questions that already have definitive answers— Do N95 masks really block air particles? Is it a problem if we destroy our primary source of oxygen on earth? Does gun violence decrease when there are fewer guns? Are books good?

This tweet from filmmaker and activist Bree Newsome Bass is part of a short thread in which she asks when the news will stop asking questions like, “Is climate change causing extreme weather?” I couldn’t agree more that journalists need to stop posing answered questions as unknowable ones, even if the headline framing is in the name of SEO service journalism. These faux questions only tell audiences that certain facts are still up for debate.

“Recognize that this is an emergency, and adjust coverage accordingly. Democracy, and by extension freedom of the press, are on the ballot next year, but journalism is still doing business as usual. It is long, long past due to take an activist stance on behalf of democracy. The people who want to end it — and who have made clear they will do so if put (back) into power — count on journalists’ adherence to norms that were appropriate in the late 20th century. ”

Dan Gillmor, Arizona State University

I also wanted to highlight an excerpt from Dan Froomkin’s Press Watch. Froomkin recently published a collection of advice for political journalists from a long list of media critics. It’s a great read from leaders across the field. (Though unfortunately a reminder of how white and male that field is. But, I digress.)

This quote tweet from media scholar Jeff Jarvis and journalist John Norris references the capture of Danelo Cavalcante, a convicted murderer who escaped from a Pennsylvania prison in September 2023. Of course this story was of deep concern to the region where Cavalcante was hiding.

But breathless, “above the fold” coverage in international outlets is out of step with traditional news values that prioritize stories that impact the most people. Around the same time, thousands died and thousands more went missing in Libya and Morocco. This coverage is simply disproportionate.

Washington Post reporter Olivier Knox’s insight here is spot on. We don’t talk enough about how and when editorial choices are impacted by the fact that journalism is a job and newsrooms are workplaces. All-important choices are sometimes affected by external forces that have nothing to do with news itself, from the limits of human cognition and energy to the stress of everyday life. They just happen to have a significant impact on the rest of the world.

The result is most mainstream news orgs today are either simply not equipped to determine for themselves what’s happening in some of the world’s biggest stories, or lack the confidence to allow their in-house technical specialists to cast doubt on a star reporter’s trusted source

So you end up with situations where huge, respected news organisations are reporting as fact things that have already been shown by technically adept news gatherers outside newsrooms to be false or at the very least highly uncertain. It’s hugely damaging to trust in journalism.

In October 2023, newsrooms like The New York Times were forced to correct or clarify their reporting on the origins of a bomb that hit a Gaza hospital. They and others reported that Israel had struck the hospital based on claims from Hamas that they could not immediately verify. Vanity Fair has the scoop on how this decision-making went down at the Times, whose own visual investigations team has made strides in understanding what exactly happened.

Financial Times chief data reporter John Burn-Murdoch shared his take (above) on why national newsrooms move too fast on reporting like this. His whole thread is worth a look but, in sum, he argues that a lack of data reporting expertise has real, tangible consequences on this geopolitical conflict.

Unhappy mismatch between what is representative, and what is newsworthy and then becomes perceived as representative. "I was actually talking to a journalist about this. His take: civil conversations at university are not a news story."

This is a snippet of a Bluesky conversation between Georgetown professors Dan Moynihan and Erik Voeten and Stanford professor Ken Schultz about classroom conversations on Israel and Gaza. It’s yet another example of the newsroom truism that “dog bites man” isn’t a story but “man bites dog” is — and, as Moynihan points out, its real-time consequences. Violence and threats on campus make the news and then, to the public, become representative of the overall temperature among students. Just like social media amplifies “engaging” (read: emotion-provoking) content, traditional journalistic standards often do, too.

“Belonging is a good. The danger is in not belonging, and filling that void with malign substitutes for true community: joining a cult of personality or conspiracies, an insurrection, or some nihilistic, depraved perversion of a religion.

What role might journalism play to fill that void instead with conversation, connection, understanding, collaboration, enlightened values, and education?”

— Jeff Jarvis, “Journalism, Belief, & Belonging”

I often think today’s political landscape is more related to fandom than self-interest or democratic values. So, I couldn’t have clicked faster on Jeff Jarvis’s new essay on the place belonging has in our communities and how journalism can and must respond to this reality. If belonging matters more than facts to some, then we need to be asking tough questions about news and its purpose.

why would a car do this?

News reports anthropomorphizing cars is well-trodden territory at this point. But it’s still worth pointing out its silliest manifestations, like journalist David J. Meyer does in the tweet above. “A car went inside” — like it’s a wandering deer making unusual if innocuous choices — might be the most strangest use of accountability-skirting language I’ve ever seen. When we speak like cars act of their own accord, do we make ourselves less inclined to hold their drivers accountable?

if you cannot understand that people whose *personal positions* you might actively disagree with can still be doing thorough, fair reporting then you do not understand the difference between the *process* of objective journalism as opposed to your received wisdom of the status quo theory

When asked about objectivity in journalism, the Modifier team often tells our audiences that objectivity is an ideal meant for a process, not a person. Expecting any reporter to leave their life behind when they step into the newsroom each day was always a fool’s errand. Journalist Stacy-Marie Ishmael’s reminder here is always helpful to hear.

What this essay – and all analyses of “viewpoint diversity” that I have seen – there’s a key (and perhaps stubborn) misunderstanding of people in this country. White men in the center often assume that everyone's most important and polarizing identity is a partisan one. But for most people, there are dozens of concerns, identities, and social locations that matter more than left versus right: class, race, gender, geography, vocation, ethnicity, disability, and sexuality among them. In fact, people are TIRED of left/right polarization.

You may have heard that now-former NPR senior editor Uri Berliner has resigned following his publishing of a scathing essay on what he believes are the organization’s issues with building trust. He suggests that NPR is hopelessly left-leaning and lacks “viewpoint diversity.”

The essay prompted conversation in journalism circles, including an interesting rebuttal at Slate from Berliner’s former colleague, Alicia Montgomery.

I also deeply appreciated journalist Lewis Raven Wallace’s Twitter thread on the topic. I’ve excerpted part of it above, but recommend reading the whole thing. I love Wallace’s assessment that arguments for “viewpoint diversity” are needlessly partisan, and reconfigure the many ways we organize our opinions around an inherently polarizing two-party system. How much does journalism’s obsession with appeasing (or, at least, equally antagonizing) both the left and right actually reify this system?

Reframing Headlines

May 12, 2022

“Israeli forces have shot dead Al Jazeera’s journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the occupied West Bank, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Abu Akleh, a longtime TV correspondent for Al Jazeera Arabic, was killed on Wednesday while covering Israeli army raids in the city of Jenin in the northern occupied West Bank.”

So begins Al Jazeera’s own story on Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing.

Al Jazeera Journalist Is Killed in West Bank

The New York Times headline above on Abu Akleh’s death uses journalism’s tried-and-true evasion tactic: passive voice. Rather than explain who killed her, the Times leaves it a mystery with “Is Killed.” One might argue that this is because the Times feels the circumstances around her death “were not immediately clear.” The Palestinian health ministry says it was Israeli forces while the Israeli military called for an investigation into whether she was killed “possibly by Palestinian armed gunfire.” Is this a “he said, she said” scenario? Only if the Times discounts the reporting and eyewitness statements from other Al Jazeera journalists who were there and quoted in their reporting.

American reporter killed by IDF, network says; Israel calls for inquiry

Given the same information, the Washington Post headline above uses attribution to avoid passive voice and highlight accountability. They state Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces and attribute that information to the journalists at Al Jazeera. Perhaps to provide some “balance” they cite Israel’s call for an inquiry, but this is clearly secondary to the key details.

For further reading on media coverage of Israel and Palestine, see an opinion published by the Post: How media coverage whitewashes Israeli state violence against Palestinians.


October 13, 2022

Shout-out to Democracy Docket’s Marc Elias for capturing the shift in headlines and copy from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times below. Both stories refer to tweets Kanye West sent over the weekend which included the phrase, “when I wake up I’m going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.”

In the first edition of the WSJ headline (below, top left) it read “Purported Anti-Semitic Tweet.” The second version dropped the word “purported.” The first version of the Times story (below, bottom left) remarked the tweets were “widely criticized as antisemitic.” That deck copy was later revised to “made antisemitic remarks…that were widely criticized.”

These may appear to be small differences of just a word or two, but they carry a lot of meaning. The first versions of both the WSJ and Times copy distance the reporter from the claim that the tweets were antisemitic and instead attribute that accusation to a vague third party. But West’s comments were extremely and clearly antisemitic; there is no other way they could be interpreted in good faith. Thus it’s important that news outlets make the claim as a matter of fact, without attributing it to others’ opinions. That’s why the better, updated versions of both stories (above, top and bottom right) remove that hedging language of “purported” and “widely criticized as.”

Related reading: for an examination of where news organizations are succeeding and failing at calling racist things racist, see this deep dive from Nieman Lab.


February 2, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a legislative plan Tuesday that, if taken up wholesale, will have a huge impact on the state’s higher education system. DeSantis, who is expected to run for president in 2024, wants to ban state colleges from hosting programs on diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory. (Reminder: CRT has gone from a term describing a legal theory not actually taught in U.S. grade schools to a euphemism for American history that acknowledges racism and slavery.)

This sounds very much like the desire for a memory hole where the country’s long history of racism and white supremacy is “disappeared” for the benefit of the white and powerful. The rewriting of history for political gain, banning education that would weaken white supremacy, suppression of the opposition … add to this Florida’s new censorship of school libraries and state “retraining” on book collection and it’s hard not to describe this series of moves as neo-fascist. That ideology, of course, relies heavily on tightly maintaining the education of its people in a way that serves its leaders. That education usually promotes a revisionist nationalism, often calling back to idealized “better” times and/or traditions.

The following statements came from DeSantis’s office Tuesday:

“… the legislation will ensure Florida’s public universities and colleges are grounded in the history and philosophy of Western Civilization ….”

“In Florida, we will build off of our higher education reforms by aligning core curriculum to the values of liberty and the Western tradition ….”

And yet, headlines from major outlets announcing this news barely batted an eyelash. Some, like the New York Times headline below, felt the crux of the story is actually its impact on DeSantis’s political clout.

DeSantis Takes On the Education Establishment, and Builds His Brand

Not only does this wording dismiss very impactful policy as a savvy political move, but it sets up and normalizes conflict between DeSantis and the public education system. Calling it the “education establishment” — as if state government and public education don’t necessarily work in tandem — legitimizes this “culture war” and aligns itself with a populist ideology that rails against said “establishment.” The DeSantis office was probably high-fiving over this headline today.

Similarly, the headlines below support DeSantis’ point of view more than an “objective” journalist would expect. The first is a National Review headline run by Yahoo! which highlights the elimination of “bureaucracies,” language used by DeSantis and a common dog-whistle from the right as it denotes ineffective government spending. This headline fully buys into the premise that DEI initiatives are wastes of money.

DeSantis Proposes Legislation to Eliminate DEI Bureaucracies in Florida Colleges

The second, below, is from the Tampa Bay Times; a similar wording ran in Orlando’s Spectrum News 13. Both use “indoctrination” in quotes to imply the word came from DeSantis, not necessarily the newsroom. But since nothing about either headline seeks to interrogate the existence of actual indoctrination, we’re left to assume that it does actually exist. Unless, of course, the writers were attempting a bit of irony-via-scare-quotes. It wouldn’t be the first time, but it’s a cheap way of attempting to telegraph the truth without being married to it.

DeSantis proposes sweeping higher education measures aimed at ‘indoctrination’

What would have been an appropriate headline to announce DeSantis’s intervention into higher education? The Associated Press, below, simply tells it like it is.

DeSantis pushes ban on diversity programs in state colleges


February 23, 2023

Fatal police shootings are still going up, and nobody knows why

The Washington Post published the above headline earlier this week. The story describes how a lack of consistent data on police shootings makes it impossible to establish cause and effect. Reasonable enough. But the phrasing “nobody knows why” stopped me in my tracks. Well, I thought, that depends on what you mean by “knows.”

How do we know what we know? The field of epistemology (a very fun rabbit hole, if I may say so myself) seeks to understand this and to distinguish justified belief from opinion. Many arguments in journalism over objectivity boil down to this question: whose claims are evidence-based and whose are “biased?” In mainstream journalism, evidence is implicitly defined as empirical data or anecdotal data from those imbued with institutional expertise and authority. However, if you have data or expertise and you are particularly invested in a cause, that evidence might be dismissed as “advocacy.”

As the Post story explains, we don’t have empirical data that specifically links one cause to the rise in police killings across the country. But we do have data on the consequences faced by police involved in these killings (sometimes jail time, sometimes a raise) and data on how early police claims in these cases are often “misleading” (sometimes lacking detail, sometimes outright lies).

Other data we have includes:

Again, we can’t use these data points to empirically point to what is driving this rise. But I think, as a society, we can put two and two together here. We can make some inferences about how police are trained, how they are shielded from accountability, and what ideologies shape them, and place that against the cultural background of polarization.

Does that constitute “knowing?” Clearly not in a way that meets the Post’s editorial standards. But it explains why a phrase like “nobody knows why” feels so jarring to those engaged with this news. Do we have no idea why this is happening, or do we have many ideas? Perhaps some trends are too complex for a data-based conclusion that fits a newspaper’s idea of evidence. Journalists need to figure out how to communicate this type of knowledge to their audiences.

Either way, a discussion on the rise in police killings doesn’t need to determine a cause. The headline from The Guardian, below, does this well.One in 20 US homicides are committed by police – and the numbers aren’t falling


March 23, 2023

“Just the facts” is a common newsroom refrain that’s supposed to encapsulate the gold standard of objectivity. Of course, the presentation of facts is vulnerable to human bias and true objectivity is impossible.

But another problem with the “just the facts” mentality is its abdication of responsibility for how audiences react to new stories. If they give “just facts,” the logic holds, then a news outlet isn’t at fault for any actions that result from their stories. All they did was present the cold, hard truth.

Which is why we still get an abundance of horse race journalism every election cycle. This, despite the fact that research has shown that news stories that predict candidates’ chances of winning can actually decrease voter turnout for the predicted winners.

And, I guess, why the headline below from the Hill amplifies Sen. Lindsay Graham’s prediction for how the American people would react to the potential indictment of former president Donald Trump. Graham may be stating his true belief, he may be making a statement he believes will serve him politically, or maybe a bit of both. But he’s not psychic.

Graham warns Trump arrest would ‘blow up our country’

We love taking credit for journalism’s immediate impact when it exposes corruption or rights a wrong. But what about the potential domino effects of repeating politicians’ opinions dressed up as fear-mongering predictions? The headline above makes it sound like an arrest of Trump would cause danger and unrest. And it might! But we don’t know that. Those aren’t facts.

The impact of amplifying Graham’s statement is impossible to know, but media effects research tells us making “predictions” in the news can influence human perception and behavior.

Journalists in the coming days should stick to what we do know will happen next, legally, like Time did in the headline below.If Donald Trump Is Indicted, Here's What Would Happen Next in the Process


June 1, 2023

As part of the negotiations to lift the debt ceiling and avoid economic turmoil, U.S. House Republicans wanted to sweep away legal hurdles for the Mountain Valley Pipeline — and they got their wish. The fossil fuel project had been held up by court challenges due to its plans to cut through the Jefferson National Forest and hundreds of waterways and wetlands, NPR reports. The headlines below, from The Washington Post and The Guardian, refer to this surprise announcement.

‘Terrible public policy’: Why the debt deal infuriates climate activists‘An egregious act’: debt ceiling deal imperils the environment, critics say

Both of these headlines use a common tactic for reporting out the impact of a controversial policy from a “neutral” stance. Instead of simply describing that impact as factual — in this case, the impact is a significant threat to the environment, predicated on a long history of U.S. pipeline accidents that damage people, animals, and land — it is attributed to “critics” or “activists.” This framing turns the negative impact of such a policy into a matter of opinion rather than fact.

The attempt to be “objective” here is misplaced. Policymakers and activists may have different opinions on whether a policy should be made law due to its impact. But where that impact is observable and/or provable, its existence is not up for debate. In other words, it’s not just that “critics say” such a deal would imperil the environment — empirical fact and logic says it would. Whether that should stop such a deal from being made, however, would be a matter of opinion suitable for journalists to present via opposing viewpoints.

A fairer, more accurate headline would treat the risk this new pipeline poses to the environment as self-evident. The headline below from the Hill doesn’t quite get there, but it does at least point out that the deal makes this possible due to its changes to environmental law.Debt limit deal would approve West Virginia pipeline, curtail environmental law

The example below, from Slate, is a bit better. It is a little too clever for my taste, but it does manage to get across the inconsistent message of the deal: the MVP has a greenlight, but last year’s climate and energy bill remains in tact.

The Debt Ceiling Deal Somehow Manages to Save and Screw the Planet


June 22, 2023

Both the events of the Titanic submersible and the migrant boat which capsized last week leaving as many as 500 people missing were covered by many reporters around the world, and both deserved to be. However, I (and many others who consume media) noticed a huge discrepancy in how these events were covered — not necessarily in their language or framing, but in their proportionality.

Each newsroom has limited resources; the proportion dedicated to a story reveals the value that story holds in the newsroom. This might be true news value, but it also might be monetary value, because the two are inextricably if not explicitly linked. This value shows up both in the number of stories reported and the way they are promoted online, in print, and on social.

Today I want to point out what this looks like in practice through one of those avenues. Below are two screenshots of NYTimes.com, the New York Times’ homepage. The one on the left is from Tuesday, June 20 and displays a prominent package of six stories about the Titanic submersible. When I saw it, this was the third package from the top of the page, a valuable spot for capturing reader attention.

This made me curious about the “play” that the migrant ship story got when that news broke last week. I used the Wayback Machine to find screenshots of NYTimes.com from June 14 and 15 (hence the blank image placeholders); one of those is below, right. You’ll see one small headline about it in this section that was well down the page. Of the many captures I checked, this was the most attention it got in those first days.

On Wednesday June 21, NYTimes.com hosted another submersible-themed package (complete with a custom 3-D model of the vessel, presumably requiring more newsroom resources), this time in the second and third slots on the page (below, left). It also hosted a package on the migrant ship (below, right) for a brief period in the middle of the page — though, ironically the main story and image focused on the superyacht that saved some of the passengers.

I also checked CNN, the Washington Post, and a few other sites the same way. I can’t include them all here, but I found enough similarities to see a pattern of inequitable coverage between the two stories. I also searched Google News for search keywords about both stories. On Wednesday afternoon, Google retrieved 22,300 results for “migrant boat Greece” and 514,000 about “submersible.”

I don’t know why any of these editorial decisions were made and I can’t say I have complete knowledge of how stories were placed in their valuable real estate. But I do know that examples like these telegraph the perceived importance of a story to audiences, and this juxtaposition paints a damning picture of what is considered “newsworthy” to mainstream outlets.


November 30, 2023

Henry Kissinger died this week and, in turn, a flurry of obituaries and retrospectives were published by media outlets around the world. The headlines of these stories mark so wide a spectrum you’d be forgiven for wondering whether they’re all about the same man.

A sample from HuffPost, The Telegraph, USA Today, and the Washington Post, respectively:Henry Kissinger, America’s Most Notorious War Criminal, Dies At 100Henry Kissinger, a statesman who indelibly shaped US foreign policy, dies at 100

What pieces of a long public life are newsrooms to amplify when such a figure dies? For starters, journalists should by no means extend the courtesy to not speak ill of the dead when recording the first draft of history. One could say, “give us just the facts,” but how the media chooses to present the facts in what limited space they have is the name of the game.

As former U.S. Secretary of State, Kissinger could objectively be labeled a diplomat or a statesman to level-set for unfamiliar audiences. The USA Today option above hits this neutral tone without opining on what “shape” that foreign policy took.

It is a fact that Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. A reporter might justify its inclusion in the headline titling his obituary because it is indisputable and an award of import.

It is also a fact that Kissinger directed the secret bombing of Cambodia, a neutral country, at the end of the Vietnam War. Attacks on neutral states are considered war crimes. The full extent of this attack would not be revealed until years later, but it is estimated to have killed as many as 150,000.

This is just one of Kissinger’s many decisions that led to death and violence. As Rolling Stone’s obituary says, “Kissinger played a role in the deaths of so many different peoples that treating each with due consideration requires writing a book.”

Some outlets used words like “divisive,” “dominant,” or “polarizing,” to avoid appearing biased in their assessment of Kissinger’s legacy. If operating from a place of moral clarity and with the above facts in hand, however, newsrooms should feel confident in making the harms he inflicted the salient part of his legacy — and write their memorializing headlines accordingly.


February 22, 2024

Earlier this month Nex Benedict, a nonbinary 16-year-old from Oklahoma, died the day after they were beaten by classmates in a school bathroom. I use this phrasing based on an interview with Benedict’s mother at The Independent, who said “she was called to the school that day to find Nex badly beaten with bruises over their face and eyes” and that Benedict collapsed at home the next day before being rushed to the hospital where they were pronounced dead.

On Wednesday, local police released a statement which reads, in part,

“While the investigation continues into the altercation, preliminary information from the medical examiner’s office is that a complete autopsy was performed and indicated that the decedent did not die as a result of trauma.”

The Benedict family also released a statement, which reads, in part, “While various investigations are still pending, the facts currently known by the family, some of which have been released to the public, are troubling at best.”

Nonbinary Teen Nex Benedict Dies After Being Attacked By Peers in a School Bathroom

The ultimate cause of Nex’s death is unclear at this point, but it is difficult to imagine it is wholly unrelated to the bathroom altercation. The headline above, from Them, does justice to this tragedy by connecting the dots without making unsubstantiated claims.

When details like these are both murky and highly consequential (as they are for the students involved in said altercation) it is crucial that journalists revisit how they typically choose whose voices are determinative and authoritative.

Reporters must place their decisions about whose testimony is given the benefit of the doubt against a backdrop that includes the following:

1) Oklahoma’s recent treatment of LGBTQ+ youth

For this context, I turn to the report from Them on Nex’s death:

“Sue Benedict told The Independent that other students started bullying Nex at the beginning of the 2023 school year. The Independent notes that in May 2022, a bill requiring public school students to use bathrooms that match the sex on their birth certificates became law in Oklahoma.

The LGBTQ+ advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma, as well as numerous progressive and LGBTQ+ media outlets … pointed out that Benedict’s death comes as Oklahoma’s head education official, state superintendent Ryan Walters, continues to embrace anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and policy. In January, Walters pushed an emergency rule to prevent students from changing the gender listed on their school records. Last month, he also appointed Chaya Raichik, the woman behind the virulently anti-LGBTQ+ platform Libs of TikTok, to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s advisory council overseeing the state’s school libraries, despite Raichik not even living in Oklahoma. Last year, a Tulsa elementary school received a bomb threat after Raichik shared a video with the name and school of a local librarian. In 2022, Raichik similarly targeted a teacher in Benedict’s school district for openly supporting LGBTQ+ students who weren’t accepted by their families. The teacher later resigned following harassment.”

2) Historic relations between police and LGBTQ+ communities

A brief set of relevant facts:

3) Histories of inaccuracies or falsehoods in police statements

Many publications, from USA Today and CNN to The New York Times, The Grio and Salon, have reported on the dire consequences of false or incorrect police statements. Though historically treated as a neutral source that is accurate by default, police reports should be treated by journalists like any other source. Details should be corroborated and placed in context, not amplified as if they are inherently factual.

That’s why I have an issue with the headline above from Oklahoma’s News on 6. It leads with the quote from police about the unreleased autopsy and then lists both the Owasso police and Benedict’s family. This could easily be read as if the Benedicts are the source of — or at least are in agreement with — the initial quote, when the family’s statement actually implies the opposite.

I’m not suggesting that the police statement is inaccurate. I have no reason to believe it is. But when dealing with incomplete information, reporters should not amplify any one party as the impartial, objective, single source of truth above another until there is further clarity. Doing so risks biasing the public toward one telling of events before all of the details are known.

That’s why I prefer News Channel 8’s headline, above, which focuses on reactions to the statements without strongly preferencing any singular voice. Alternatively, the version from 2 News below highlights the police statement but clearly lays out the source of the information and qualifies it by calling the report “early findings.”

No matter what further details are revealed, Nex’s death is a tragedy. To honor their memory, journalists on the story must refrain from relying too fully on any one source to provide the facts and continue to investigate.