I’ve been a professional in broadcast journalism for more than two decades and I would not feel comfortable going on air anywhere and discussing the decision by the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Speaking about this topic with my friends in politics or financial services is a different story. I understand the issues, but not to a point where I’d be an authority on it.
I’m guessing the vast majority of broadcasters, even in the news world, have probably spent the last week studying British politics and of course what a decision like that does to worldwide financial markets. The point is this, if you are like me and aren’t someone who studied these issues, be very careful how you present information on stories that are layered in nuance.
On a day to day basis, news is not a hard issue to cover. Something happens that has ramifications and you find the details to tell the story of what happened and what it means. But in the case of Brexit (the widely circulated nickname combining BR from Britain and EXIT) it’s necessary to have a clear understanding of the issues before ever going on air. This is a matter of 1) understanding that you might be a novice when it comes to these nuanced world political issues and 2) being willing to allow your guests to educate you and the public on the points that matter most. But that second point comes with a dangerous side effect. You must understand the issues at play so that when guests present one side of the issue from whichever political viewpoint they personally have, that you are ready to combat that to give the viewer a broader look at what this truly means.
So what do you do when you aren’t confident about the issues at hand? First, you study every piece of information you can get about it and be honest with yourself. If the material is difficult to comprehend, make sure you are talking to people who do understand and ask them at least initially to break it down in lay terms without bias or political leaning. You can then offer them the opportunity to explain their perspective but until you understand these issues at face value, you won’t be able to clearly define it for the viewers who expect you to make sense of this for them.
The next step is making sure you stick to what you do know. Don’t take guesses and don’t be wrong. Educated guesses framed in that manner are always welcome by producers, but they must come from a place of clear understanding of the issues at hand. So if you are someone who understands European politics or world financial markets, this may seem like an oversimplification. But the vast majority of American journalists likely don’t specialize in either of those fields. When guests appear on air, keep your questions short, lean and open ended and make sure you are listening closely. You need to be educated yourself. It’s up to your producers to procure guests who have a clear understanding of these issues and can explain them effectively. Credibility is on the line in these moments. The most important aspect is knowing that sometimes you don’t know everything. Guessing about issues as nuanced as these can backfire. This isn’t to suggest you should go on air and plead ignorance, but learning along with the viewer works when framed correctly.
So are YOU prepared to report on Brexit? Take the short quiz below to test yourself, do you pass?
1) Do you know which countries constitute the British Isles?
2) If so, do you know the political ramifications of each separate island’s government in terms of how they will potentially react to this vote?
3) Do you know what the European Union is?
4) Why would leaving the European Union be a big deal regardless of which country did it?
5) What is the United States political relationship with both the United Kingdom and the European Union?
6) How will financial markets likely respond to news like this?
7) Why would financial markets react positively or negatively to this news?
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Email me: Bram@Reelmediagroup.tv