The Shop Talk panelists discussed what reporters and editors can do to avoid becoming entangled in costly litigation.
Will Buss said it’s not enough to attribute comments to someone –research should be done to verify what happened. He recognizes many newsrooms are understaffed but he said that doesn’t excuse sloppy reporting or fact-checking that falls short.
Buss hopes the cases don’t scare off enterprising reporters. He said both cases should serve as cautionary tales from which journalists can learn.
Jasmine Crighton said she reminds student reporters that words matter and should be chosen carefully. She said journalists should take care in building their stories and editors should carefully scrutinize the reporting.
Crighton also pointed out ABC stands by its reporting but settled out of court. She thinks the ABC and Rolling Stone cases will not discourage investigative reporting but they will cause newsrooms to be a lot more careful.
Rich Egger said he’s worried about small newsrooms that can’t afford fact-checkers. He worries the threat of defamation lawsuits could lead such newsrooms to forego investigative reporting. Crighton said many local TV stations already have given up on it. Buss said local newspapers still do some investigative stories and HE considers it a saving grace for newspapers.
Jasmine Crighton is News Director of NEWS3 at Western Illinois University and Will Buss is the Director of Student Publications at WIU.