Journalism vs. Stenography

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on June 16, 2016

An article published yesterday by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting is a textbook case of the differences between journalism vs. stenography.

I discovered the article because one of the people I follow on Twitter is Andrew Donohue who used to run an alternative media website in San Diego called "Voice of San Diego."  Donohue is  now a managing editor at the Center for Investigative Reporting in the Bay Area and tweeted out a promo for a story one of his "reporters" wrote.

I've seen enough of Donohue's work to understand that he does know journalism, which would normally would make me wonder why he'd allow this piece to be published as-is. I've also seen enough of Donohue's work to know that he's politically liberal, which explains how this piece got published as-is.

The article, by Christina Jewett, makes the claim that California's Gun Violence Restraining Order law which went into effect at the beginning of this year could have prevented the Orlando terrorist (whose name I refuse to mention) from having guns had similar legislation been on the books in Florida.

The article provides some background on the impetus for the GVRO law, offers a brief summary of the Orlando shooter's interaction with law enforcement and then makes the claim that it could've made a difference in Orlando.

Here's the final 3 paragraphs of Jewett's story:

Such gun-related restraining orders exist only in California and Indiana, said Lindsay Nichols, a senior attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. But several states, including Washington, Illinois and New Jersey, are considering them. They’re the kind of common-sense measure the nation needs, she said.

“I think state lawmakers need to start taking serious action,” Nichols said. “We need to quicken the pace because people are dying on a daily basis in this country. While we have slow progress that is happening, we cannot continue this way as a country.”

The California gun restraining order lasts 21 days and can be extended for up to a year. Nichols said the law was not controversial. Legislative records show that law enforcement agencies – including the California Police Chiefs Association – backed it.

Nichols of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is the only person quoted in this story. When I attended journalism school, single-source stories were generally frowned upon.

This isn't journalism. This is stenography.

Let me tell you what happened. Someone at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence sent an email or made a call to Jewett or one of her editors and pitched their story: "You know, California has a law that could've prevented that attack on the gay nightclub in Orlando."

And Jewett took notes and wrote up her little story.

Nichols is pitching expanding GVROs across the country and using the terror attack to do it, but a moment's critical thinking would show that using a GVRO to stop a terrorist attack is a long-shot.

In a brief Twitter exchange Jewett claimed that the FBI could've requested a GVRO (because the terrorist's wife certainly wasn't going to do it). But the FBI didn't have enough to make a criminal case against the terrorist, and a judge is going to extend the GVRO beyond the initial 21-days based on the FBI saying it can't make a case against the guy?

journalism vs. transcription
Christina Jewett went radio silent after my last tweet.

Highly unlikely.

Perhaps the worst part is that Jewett takes Nichols claim that the GVRO legislation was not controversial. This is demonstrably false. It was very controversial. 36 lawmakers voted against it in the state legislature. Both the  NRA and the California Rifle and Pistol Association opposed the law. A simple Google search could turn up several sources that Jewett could've contacted to get the other side of the story.

This isn't journalism. This is stenography. And coming from "The Center for Investigative Reporting?" Oy vey!


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June 2016



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