Respect the facts… but be careful
Respecting the facts is not just sticking to recounting them. It’s also describing them as they occurred, putting them in context, trying to explain why they occurred… This implies being an active observer, not just a casual, passive one.
If related without discernment, out of context or while you’re emotional, facts can lie if they’re just fragments of the truth. When in doubt, an honest journalist will confess his ignorance : we don’t know precisely what happened.
Respect the testimonies…don’t caution them
Respecting the testimonies is not just recounting them precisely as they were told. It’s also telling the reader how you got them, in which circumstances, who exactly the witnesses are and how legitimate their words are. If the testimonies come with hypotheses, the journalist shouldn’t relate them for their readers as if he thought them up.
Even though they sometimes weigh your story down, some precautions are necessary to avoid any ambiguities : According to this witness… This witness claims that… Mr. X saw everything…
Respect the opinions…don’t share them
A journalist relates all opinions, even if he doesn’t share them or dislikes them, but he doesn’t caution them. News coming from governmental organizations (press releases, statements…) should be treated with just as much caution as those coming from other sources.
The general public has a right to expect the journalist to explain why and how their authors want them broadcasted. Always state the facts. Use adequate layouts (distanced headlines, explicative lead…) so as not to give the impression that the newspaper shares the opinion of the officials.
If Julius Caesar’s spokesperson publishes an official press release titled “Caesar lands in Great Britain for the greater good”, you should publish it under a more neutral headline, for example using a quote between brackets so as to show the statement belongs to Caesar and not the newspaper : Caesar claims to be landing in Great Britain “for the greater good”.
Rule n° 1 : keep your distance
The “journalistic attitude” is keeping your distance with regards to appearances, emotions, be they other people or yours. It’s trying to walk a mile in your reader’s shoes, wondering: is what I’m writing, what I want to say going to be properly understood?
If you have the smallest inkling of doubt, rewrite your copy.