Burriss: How reporters get their news

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We've been hearing lot of talk lately about where and how reporters get their news, particularly news from Washington. Do reporters just make material up, or do they just copy what someone else has written? The answer to both of these questions is "yes," and "no."

It's important to note here we're not talking about the Weekly World News or the National Inquirer, where fabrication is the norm. Rather, we're talking about responsible news outlets trying to give us a picture of what is going on in our world.

In one sense reporters do make stories up. They gather information from a variety of sources and then ask, "Is there a story here?" Or sometimes they may not be gathering information at all. They may just be casually observing what's going on around them, and see a connection or an idea that strikes their curiosity.

Those ideas may come from public documents, may come from simply talking with people or, in some cases, may come from other stories.

In this last case, when using stories from other media, reporters gather new information and not simply read what someone else has written or reported.

After all, one news story may trigger an idea for another story, or perhaps an idea for another angle on an older story.

Of course, there is always the problem of perception here. Two people may see the same event entirely differently, and both of them will think they are right. This is why reporters check their own version with other witnesses or participants, and why reporters check each other's work.

From another angle, more and more we're seeing partisans from both sides of the political spectrum spin facts and non-facts to prove their own points. And it's the job of the reporter to sort through all of this conflicting information and non-information.

Reporters don't just make material up. They do what all of us should be doing every day, all the time: observing the world around us and questioning everything we see and hear.

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Larry Burriss
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