Bennett Model’s superficiality

Also contributing to the Bennett Model’s superficiality is that reporters wait for events to occur rather than seeking them out. Waiting for a company to unveil its safety records can be a long wait. An important story that needs telling far too often goes untold because of the pressure to report stories with short deadlines, and unfortunately, superficially.

Dullness According to the Bennett Model, a reporter’s job was to report the facts without opinion or bias, and focus on objectivity, which meant that at times appeal and interest were sacrificed. The facts-only style of reporting could be somewhat bland, or as journalism scholar Dan Gillmor stated, culling a point-of-view out of news coverage had resulted in writing “some of the dullest prose on the planet.”

Missed Trends The massive migration of African Americans out of the American South was one of the 20th century’s most important and also unreported stories. The migration was historic and transforming, particularly in light of the reasons for the migration, but even after decades, the migration was not reducible to an easily identifiable event. Operating with the Bennett Model’s focus on events, the story of social injustice among the new generations of Northern African Americans went untold because reporting on nuanced themes of racial oppression was complex and could not be reported without evaluation and a certain amount of conjecture. For decades, outrage in response to racial discrimination and oppression simmered somewhere outside the media’s radar—until the 1960s, that is, when urban race riots erupted, resulting in high death tolls and destruction. The riots, of course, were impossible to miss. The riots were events, and they were reported. But the riots themselves represented years of journalistic failure, and many reporters were reluctant to dig deep and report in an in-depth manner for fear of losing their objectivity.

What if reporters had seen beyond the superficiality of the Bennett Model and caught the social changes triggered by the African American migration? What if reporters had examined the implications of the migration earlier? Had the nation been informed of what was going on, there may have been opportunities to create public policy solutions to right the wrongs and ease tensions before the riots erupted.

Unasked Questions An upshot of the Bennett Model was a slant toward authorities in news coverage. In covering a robbery, for example, reporters would go to police for information. Police officers were accessible, which meant that reporters could get a story together more quickly. But why not also interview witnesses? Why not victims? Interviewing more people would mean a broader-based story. When there’s an arrest, why not try to interview the accused or the family, friends, and acquaintances of the accused for a balance, in-depth story that included more perspectives than solely the police and judicial sources? In short, the deadline pressure on reporters for fresh stories with a detached, neutral tone encouraged authority-centric coverage that was often one-sided and superficial.

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