COMMENTARY: Senior Officials

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We like to teach our journalism students their primary tool is not electronic equipment, but the English language. And we also like to teach them that accuracy is their most important consideration. Unfortunately, putting these two together, language and accuracy, has produced some unusual news stories the past week.



For example, what exactly is a "senior official" national news outlets are always taking about? And why haven't there been any stories or infographics or video feeds showing us, the public, what reporters mean when they use the phrase "senior official."

For a world-spanning organization that preaches transparency I'd sure like to see some transparency in how this kind of editorial decision is made. And are there different lists of "senior officials"? Is a senior official on CNN also a senior official in The New York Times.


Certainly I understand the need for confidential sources, so this chart probably won't contain any names. But surely there is more than one senior official, so how about just a list of who is considered a senior official, so we, the public, can better understand the stories we're seeing and hearing.

But here is a problem: if a source a reporter routinely uses is not on the "senior" list, that could be a real blow to their ego. And maybe they will decide not a be a source any more because now they are only a "junior official." Or, even worse, just a "government official," the lowest of the low.

I have seen all sorts of organization charts for the White House, so it wouldn't take too much work for a reporter to simply draw a line or put in an asterisk to show what level counts as senior official, junior official and, well, minor official.

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm going to admit I am not the official, senior, junior or minor, who leaked The New York Times memo last week.

I'm Larry Burriss.

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Dr. Larry Burris, Middle Tennessee State University, MTSU, Murfreesboro news
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