Who are you most like?

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Who are you most like?
SEPTEMBER 25, 2012
Are you a journalist, monitor, or auditor? Or do you embody qualities of all three?
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The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil [1] lays out some inspirational principles for journalists:
Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
Its first loyalty is to citizens.
Its essence is a discipline of verification.
Its practitioners must maintain independence from those they cover.
It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
It must keep the news comprehensive and in proportion.
Its practitioners have an obligation to exercise their personal conscience.
Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news.
Do you see your higher self in that list, working for the good of the public, striving to be interesting? I did. And then I started thinking about how auditors do not, and cannot, follow those principles.
In September 2012, a newscaster excited his audience with the news that an anti-American activist had died by breathing the smoke generated when he burned our flag. The newsman’s viewing public cheered and hurrahed. There was a slight problem with his story though. Upon investigation, another journalist discovered that the story wasn’t true. It had been completely fabricated.
I can’t imagine an auditor getting in hot water for a similar incident because we are so evidence focused. Our standards demand evidence before we publish.
Journalists also are supposed to get evidence, but they do not follow professional codified standards that demand it. That is one of the reasons, say Kovach and Rosensteil,that we end up with so many opinionated screamers on TV news programs. Some journalists simply take the day’s stories, which hopefully another newscaster supports with evidence, and weave the pieces together to create drama and tension. In other words, journalists don’t have the money or will to do a thorough investigation, so they go for drama and entertainment instead.
Monitors might also bypass standards. Monitors in my audiences say things like, “We are following the Yellow Book in spirit.” When I first heard that, I thought monitors were lazy: complying with the easy standards and conveniently blowing off the more complex ones.
But later I realized that is an appropriate stance for monitors to take, as the Yellow Book is written for auditors, not monitors. Monitors have a hard time following the planning standards in the Yellow Book because they often don’t conduct project-specific risk assessments.
Also, monitors work on behalf of management to check nearly every compliance item. They don’t get to pick and choose their audit subjects and objectives, as auditors do.
So what defines an auditor? An auditor is someone who is willing to take a subject matter, filter it for what is interesting to his/her users (which may or may not be defined as the public), create finite objectives, and conclude or opine against those objectives using solid evidence.
Check out this matrix:
Journalist Monitor Auditor
Loose standards No standards Follow professional standards
Work on behalf of the public Work on behalf of management Work for those in charge of governance, public
Go to where the story is Check every compliance item and control Perform formal risk assessment to choose subject matter
Interest driven Interest driven Objective driven
Expose and inform Assess and help Assess and report
Independent Not independent Independent
Report conditions & compelling effects Report conditions, seldom effects Report conditions, cause, and effects

Auditors are somewhere between monitors and journalists. Unlike journalists, we are concerned with more than just finding interesting stories. But, we don’t verify that every t is crossed, as monitors do.
And among the three groups, auditors are the only ones following a solid set of standards that guide our work. These standards might slow us down, but they keep us from reporting lies.
Information sharing is more immediate
I wonder whether we will need to take on some more of the qualities of journalism in order to survive. With transparency of information and the constant sharing of facts (or lies) over the internet, will our intense, lengthy process be our downfall? Will decision makers be willing to wait six or more months for us to conclude on an audit project?
Journalists used to spend months on their stories, too. Investigative journalism is expensive and the corporations that own the news outlets are no longer willing to pay. The public seems satisfied with bits and pieces of stories, and bits and pieces aren’t expensive to generate.
Like journalists, auditors are evaluated through the lens of profitability. Some auditors spend agood chunk of their time justifying their existence by calculating cost savings when the risk is a financial one. But, what complicates the issue more is that not every risk is about money.
I see the pressure building as I visit various audit shops. They struggle to be relevant as well as standard based. Auditors have to fight to get additional resources and are often hamstrung and unable to fulfill their mission because management doesn’t support their efforts.
Would we be more interesting and useful to our audience if we moved from jumbo projects to short bursts of information in shorter formats? Could we still satisfy our standards, but strictly limit the scope and report more quickly?
They don’t understand
I hear auditors say, “They just don’t understand what we do!” Since we all know that the only person you can change in a situation is yourself, this might mean we need to deliver something these folks want and need.
It might also mean that we need do a better job by communicating our worth and our methods. If “they” still mistake you for a monitor who checks under every rock and stops to be helpful and improve their processes, or if “they” expect your reports to be sensational and opinionated, then you won’t ever make them happy. Either you must help them adjust their expectations or suffer the resulting lack of support and resources.
[1] Kovach, Bill and Rosensteil, Tom. Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.
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