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Reporting On Reports

Thursday morning, NPR’s International Correspondent Julie McCarthy reported from New Delhi, India on a blue-ribbon panel’s recommendations for reducing violence against women. During an appearance on Morning Edition, host Steve Inskeep asked her if this report would actually lead to any changes.

As he put it, if you stacked up every blue-ribbon panel’s critically important report on every important issue, you could reach the moon.

That got me thinking about whether the media cover reports like these too frequently, or with too much fervor. If it’s not actually going to result in anything happening, should we really be giving it airtime or space on the website? Are we adding to a discussion that isn’t going anywhere?

The flip side to that, of course, is if we ignored valid, legitimate reports from blue-ribbon panels, researchers, and think tanks, we would in many instances be doing a disservice to the audience. It may feel repetitive to report on so many reports, but if we don’t do it, a listener might miss a piece of information that actually affects their life in some way.

And from a pragmatic perspective, if we don’t report on a report and everyone else does, the community may no longer see us as a resource to which it can turn -- and, at the risk of sounding crass, we would miss out on a story that can fill necessary airtime or keep the our website fresh.

I would also be remiss if I didn't the discuss the additional wrench thrown into the works by the fact that many, many, many (many) reports are issued by organizations with agendas, both covert and overt.

While the agenda of the organization responsible doesn't make a report inherently less newsworthy, it is of critical importance that the journalist who reads it and covers it bears in mind the perspective from which it was authored. Reports dealing with contentious topics (immigration being a prime example) can often use exactly the same set of data but come to vastly different conclusions.

But I think we (the media) would all do well to pick and choose carefully from the deluge of reports … and to bear in mind when reporting the piece that none of this may actually translate into a real-world solution. That would do as much of a service to the community as reporting the key information to begin with.

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