29 June 2010

Should I Laugh? Is it Funny?

"Reporters with bylines at non-ideological journalistic outfits, like the (Washington) Post and other old-fashioned newspapers, will only be able to cover ideological politics if they can amputate their own political opinions." Article.

Excuse me a minute (non-ideological! Ha ha ha haaaa! *snort*). Um, ok. I'm back.

The article concerns itself with a WP journalist who wrote mean stuff in his off hours under his real name. He suggested, amongst his other sage ramblings, that Matt Drudge go kill himself. Just think of the oppression this poor reporter is under. I know the people in Pakistan are just weeping for him. Oppression like this is akin to telling a restaurant critic not to blog under his real name that Mario's Restaurant should burn and Mario the chef murdered because he didn't like the polka-dot mushrooms they served there last week.

I can't believe this is even an issue. Do you think that the Washington Post neglects to sit down with prospective journalists to lay out the ground rules in some fashion? I was employed briefly by a small daily newspaper as the reporter for the whole town (think "Evil Mayberry"). Yet even in this teeny-tiny burg, the editor made sure to have a talk with me about attempting to be objective in my stories, not attending local political rallies unless I'm assigned to cover them, and not writing PR for companies on the side for pay and popping what amounts to a free ad into the newspaper. That sort of thing. She made it clear before I even said "hello" to the mayor what was expected of me.

I know that no one is truly "objective," and that the myth of an "objective" reporter is just that. But you can sure try. It's an ideal, sort of like the "godly man" is an ideal in Christendom, okay? What you are supposed to do is give careful thought to the questions you ask (Do they reek of disdain and provoke the interviewee?) and the way you construct a news story (Do you leave out the facts selectively to slant coverage?). I think one of the greatest compliments I received was a thank-you from someone who supported a side of an issue I absolutely loathed. She said that I told "them" off in my news article. Really, though... all I did was present the salient quotes from each side and let my editor edit the article and print it her way. Then the readers decide what to make of it. No way I was going to tell her I thought "her side" was absolutely nuts.

I know reporters can sit down and discuss sources and whatnot "off the record," but this JournoList seems a fair bit beyond that. This is hardly a meeting between a few reporters, coordinating information on a breaking story. This crossed the line of what is expected of a professional.

Now, mind you, if you're not TRYING to be "objective?" If you're up-front about being a left-wing, or right-wing, or whatever kind of person and you're just the same loudmouth wherever you go, just have at it and good luck to you. Imagine Nancy Pelosi running her own newspaper and doing her own interviews and you know what I mean. As a "source" or a reader, you know what you're getting into.

But if you're pretending to be objective, and you're working for a newspaper that is trying to be objective, and you go off and act like that, I don't see where the company is producing a "chilling effect" at all. It is protecting its interests. It wants the next reporter it hires to be trusted by sources, and it wants to keep its ad revenues and its readers.

Am I missing a key element in this debate? I'm not going to pretend that working at some third-rate daily for a little while clues me in to any deep mysteries of the journalism trade. What do you think about this?

2 comments:

  1. I'm sorry--I couldn't get past the line about the Post being a non-idealogical outfit. Ha!Ha!Ha! That is funny!

    I think the whole world has become too obssessed with personal opinions. I think that reporters have a responsibility, unless specifically asked to write a personal piece, to keep their opinions to themselves. But, I also think that every "news" source should do away with comment sections, because I think public opionion has gotten WAY out of control. I read a simple little article about how baby Duggar has finally gone home and there was literally 3 pages of comments from mean spirited lunatics on the evils of large families.

    Freedom of any kind usually only applies when it agrees with our already formed opinions--at least that seems to be what passes for freedom these days.

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  2. Sure, news reporters have a professional obligation to be objective...but I think we all know that, these days, "expressing one's individuality" and such threatens to outweigh silly little things like professional responsibility. Everyone has an opinion, and, especially in my generation, steadfastly believes that sharing one's opinion is a charitable service.

    Personally, I blame all the "self esteem" classes and the whole "trophies for everyone!"

    NPR tends to be good about being objective, as does the Wall St. Journal.

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Non-troll comments always welcome! :)