A time and place for “he-said-she-said” reporting

Journalists may be doing 17 things at once, but if they’re going to write a story quoting not one, not two, but three opponents of bills in the state legislature, you’d think they would at least quote one proponent of the proposed legislation.

But in a Feb. 26 article in the Denver Business Journal, three opponents of health-insurance-related bills in the Colorado Legislature were quoted–while proponents didn’t get a paraphrase much less a quote.

I asked Bob Mook, who wrote the piece, about his strategy in reporting the article.

“The story was about how the insurance industry was reacting to the legislation,” he told me, adding that he had “space constraints” and that the views of Democratic legislators or consumer groups “would convolute the piece.” He also pointed out that he described the bills in question (HB 1166, 1168, 1234, 1266, and SB 76), explaining what they would do.

“In general,” he said, “I’m finding that the he-said-she-said model of reporting has sort of fallen out of favor.”

To a degree, I’m with Mook about he-said-she-said style. With all the dubious information out there, people are looking to newspapers to tell them the facts, if the facts are clear or mostly clear. Who wants to read a newspaper full of regurgitated quotes with factually inaccuracies embedded in them?

For example, reporters shouldn’t give us the he-said-she-said routine when oil industry spokespeople claim that Colorado’s oil-and-gas regulations have driven rigs out of the state. Reporters should state that this is almost certainly false, rather than offer competing claims that are not supported by the facts. (I wrote in more detail about the limits of he-said-she-said reporting here.)

But in Mook’s story, the facts are reasonabley in dispute about the impacts of the health insurance bills. And so readers need basic reporting of different points of view, including views from folks who support regulation of insurance companies. With none offered, and none planned, Business Journal readers are left with the impression that business in general is opposed health insurance regulation, especially when opponents in the article say the cumuluative effect of the bills could be bad for business.

I told Mook that some businesses favor health insurance regulation.

“I’d like to meet some people who actually believe that, especially within the insurance industry” he said. “I’d like to talk to people who thought that was true.”

I called Kjersten Forseth, State Director of Change that Works, and asked her about businesses that support health insurance reform.

She told me her organization has held multiple events featuring small businesspeople concerned about the health care situation and favoring reform.

She said: “We’ve gotton Bob [Mook] on the phone, and he says, ‘We don’t cover those kinds of things.’ How is he going to become educated on these issues if he doesn’t attend our events? If Bob wants to take a true business stance, he needs to pay attention to the costs of health care insurance on small business.”

Mook, who is leaving the Business Journal at the end of the week to become Editorial Manager at the Colorado Health Foundation, said, “We [the Denver Business Journal] have the view of a business publication, and we’re pro-business. And you know, what’s good for the bottom line is good for our readers.”

That’s excatly why he should offer a variety of views when the facts are in despute–as they are on the health insurance bills in the State Legislature.

“Things are changing, especially with niche-oriented publications” Mook told me. “It’s not the traditional AP style anymore, where you try to be as comprehensive as you can. It was a business piece written for businesspeople. I didn’t see it as partisan at all. The thesis was, insurance industry insiders have concerns about this legislation. Here are their concerns.”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.