Brendan Sweeney is KUOW's managing producer. He oversees The Record.
On yesterday’s episode of The Record, Bill Radke spoke with a Seattleite who wore a Nazi band in public. The conversation aired at 12:57 p.m.
The response from our audience was swift and largely negative. Broadly speaking, that feedback via phone calls, emails, tweets and Facebook posts fell into two categories:
- Listeners who felt strongly about the need to engage with the ideas expressed by the guest;
- Listeners who questioned the editorial judgment of the show (as in “What on earth were you thinking giving a platform to this guy?”)
The Record will address some of these questions on today’s show. But this process has also raised important editorial questions for the station about our role as a local news source and as a convener of important conversations.
KUOW’s mission is “to create and serve an informed public, one challenged and invigorated by an understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.”
The station views The Record as our public square, a show where we discuss news and ideas that matter to Seattle. We believe deeply in the principle that it is better to talk to someone rather than about them.
The initial decision to speak with this guest was based on that ethos. However, the interview exposed thorny question about journalistic practice and editorial judgment:
The guest requested anonymity as a condition of appearing, citing fears of reprisals. Was it the right call to give him anonymity? The NPR policy guide states clearly that:
Unidentified sources should rarely be heard at all and should never be heard attacking or praising others … it is unfair to air a source’s opinion on a subject of coverage when the source’s identity and motives are shielded from scrutiny.
I asked Kelly McBride, vice president at the Poynter Institute, for her take on anonymity in this circumstance. Her response:
“It’s a legitimate request, even though he’s not a sympathetic figure. I think it was OK to grant him anonymity as a pathway for getting his voice into your report. But giving him anonymity confers a responsibility on you to make sure the information is real.”
This interview occurred on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The timing was related to a public event that occurred the previous Sunday. The team should have taken greater care to acknowledge one of the High Holy Days.
The team set out to try to understand what motivated this man: bigotry, self-righteousness, or some other grievance. The bigger question is whether any answer we could have gotten outweighed the possibility of giving an anonymous man a platform to disseminate hate.
None of these questions have easy answers.
The Record approached this topic with good intent and journalistic rigor. But yesterday’s interview clearly left many of our listeners feeling hurt and uncomfortable. We value your feedback and reflections as we work to tackle this ongoing news story.
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