Sunday, December 13, 2009

Journalism 101 (v2.0)

It appears the rules for journalism in Connecticut have changed quite a bit recently. In the "old days" (meaning, just a few years ago) reporters were tasked with reporting a story. Things like the classic "Five W's" were important, consisting of "Who", "What", "Where", "When", and...I forget the last one. But then, I'm not a professional journalist by any stretch; I'm simply a lowly amateur blogger. If I'd gone to journalism school I'd probably know that last one.

(BTW that last bit was just a simple writing contrivance; anyone who possesses even a slight familiarity with The Google doesn't really "not know" anything that simple.)

But now the line between simple, honest journalism and the personal opinions of the journalist has become so blurred that it's almost indistinguishable. Just about every reporter has a blog in their paper, making them de facto pundits and opinion spinners rather than traditional journalists. They've somehow morphed into critics or commentators.

Which absolutely does have a place somewhere, but when it comes from the actual journalists who are tasked with reporting the facts in as unbiased a way possible, it tends to make me feel uncomfortable with their ability to remain neutral.

Recently I've written about how some journalists label the people they cover according to their personal opinions. The "Greenwich millionaire" thing is one example of that. In fact, I was sent a link to the Courant blog where Tom Foley was referred to as a "Greenwich millionaire" by Rick Green in his blog. It almost seems the phrase was used as a pejorative to the "former ambassador to Ireland", as he's often called, because he wouldn't answer questions after his announcement. It appears to be an intentional dig at the guy.

Then we have Ken Dixon over at the Connecticut Post offhandedly saying that anyone with a bright idea like "hang the lawmakers" should all come to the Capitol on Monday and let their legislators know it. Thomas Hooker over at MLN has more.

While I appreciate the attempt at humor with which it was written, I have to question the wisdom of even making a statement like that in the present highly-charged political atmosphere. Do we need to see journalists actively encouraging the anti-government factions, such as the teabaggers, to potentially disrupt a public hearing? We all know those guys are an excitable bunch, and they need very little encouragement as it is to go (using a clinical term) "nuts".

While the legend of completely unbiased media from years ago is obviously a myth, at least there was something of a divide between reporting and opinion. Journalists made the attempt in most cases to present the facts as they are and let the readers draw their own conclusions. Nowadays, in this atmosphere of near total lack of accountability or responsibility, it seems that journalists are allowed and even encouraged by their papers to become part of the story, either by spinning their own reporting or writing an opinion piece in their blogs.

A particularly egregious example of a reporter doing this still annoys me. In 2006 during the senate debate between Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont. BTW, there was another guy there too, but nobody seems to ever mention Alan Schlesinger anymore, even though he was the Republican nominee for senate. I'll bet the reporting changes this time around!

Anyway, WTNH reporter Mark Davis was on the panel, and he inserted himself into the debate with an overly dramatic flourish when asking a question of Lamont about his campaign mailers. Watch this very brief clip:

This sort of activity by a reporter ultimately demeans the longstanding tradition of unbiased journalism that once existed. At least, it once existed to a significantly greater extent than it does today. While I doubt we'll ever be able to back up from the current muddy terrain we're slogging through, there's always the hope that at least by us calling them out, we may see some little effort at improvement.


oldswede said...

A journalism professor I studied with for a couple of courses on my way to an English BA explained to us once that the 'tradition' of unbiased reporting goes back only to the invention of the telegraph.
Once news stories could be transmitted long distances over the telegraph, wire services sprang up. In order to maximize their market, reporting had to be done in the most neutral possible way. A story had to be acceptably reported for all regions of the country. The goal of journalistic objectivity was to help sell the wire service articles to the most newspapers, not to inform the readers and it is a relatively new development. Don't be surprised to find that it is also a shallow one.

West Haven Bob said...

Going even further back to the roots of our Republic, there were NO unbiased newspapers...they were all printed by the political parties to present their "spin" on the issues.

I'd say we've taken this idea to its illogical extreme: now that there's a virtual monopoly on print and TV/Radio media for any given area, the veneer of impartiality thinly veils the owners' political biases.

Tracy Simmons said...

Hi Bob. I'm a professional journalist, and I definitely have my flaws. But because I too, was so frustrated with non-objective reporting in the news room, I left the paper I was at, and started my own! Well, I left for a couple of reasons, but anyway, hopefully my site ( can inspire reporters to take themselves out of the story!

Elvis P. lakezoarian said...

Lesson A:

Never Assume That The Major Media's Goal Is To Inform...

It is likely no accident that major media happens to shape nearly every aspect of society.

Modern media is a powerful tool for management of resources - human resources.