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George Sylvie
George Sylvie

349. Reconsidering the editor-reporter relationship

How much thought is given to the relationship between journalists and their editors?

George Sylvie, an assistant professor of journalism with the University of Texas at Austin and author of Reshaping the News: Community, Engagement, and Editors, says that people forget that “journalism is, number one, based on relationships between individuals and grounds. The bedrock of that is trust. Too often, we take trust for granted, particularly in newsrooms.”

This applies not only between journalists and their audience – something discussed on this podcast at length a handful of times – but between the person doing the report and the one working to ensure the story is presented clearly and cleanly.

“I think editors, as former journalists themselves, tend to bend over backwards toward the autonomy of the reporter,” Sylvie says. “And with good reason – that person is closest to the story. They are the one who’s executing and arranging the facts in the best communicative manner possible.”

But is that done, sometimes, to the detriment of the story and the audience who will read or watch it?

“I think over time, particularly in the last generation, editors may have ceded too much authority or too much to the journalist’s discretion. I think that, as a result, we have stories that are written by journalists, essentially, for journalists and their sources and not for the general public. I think that’s why, particularly newspapers but also other media, are having some problems retaining some audience.”

He thinks there might be too great a focus on the person doing the researching and writing and not enough consideration given to the person reading or listening to the work and how the details will matter in the audience’s life.

Journalists aren’t reporting for politicians, he says; the audience is “people who pay taxes. We have to understand they’re more concerned about how this affects them.”


George Sylvie, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Reshaping the News: Community, Engagement, and Editors, joins producer Michael O’Connell to question whether editors are working with their journalists to ensure their final reporting best serves the audience instead of the writer or sources.

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Laura Hazard Owen, a deputy editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, joins producer Michael O’Connell to discuss her weekly column, where she’s been writing, about the spread and use of fake news and its implications in society, the role Facebook and Twitter play in its dissemination and whether Facebook’s pledge to open its records to research will shed any light on the secretive company’s policies and practices.

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