Friday, July 20, 2007

JOURNALISM IS...Unlike what I wrote yesterday, maybe journalism really is intended to be nothing more than telling a story.

Penelope Trunk writes for the Huffington Post that "It Doesn't Matter that Journalists Misquote Everyone"
Journalists who think they are telling "the truth" don't understand the truth. We each have our own truth. When you leave out details, you might leave out what is unimportant to you but very important to someone else, and things start feeling untrue to the person who wishes you included something else.
The problem with such a relativistic approach is that
  • It means that the truth doesn't matter.
  • It implies that the only difference between a journalist and a blogger is that the journalist gets paid.
  • Journalists don't seem to buy what Trunk is selling.
Yet, if you look at some of the online definitions for journalism, Trunk does have a point
jour·nal·ism: writing that reflects superficial thought and research [check], a popular slant [check], and hurried composition [check], conceived of as exemplifying topical newspaper or popular magazine writing as distinguished from scholarly writing.
I guess that's the point--unlike scholarship, we don't expect journalists to collect all the facts and verify them. These days, we read the papers and listen to the 6 o'clock news for 'informational entertainment.' careful what you wish for.

But then again, you get the die hard definitions as well. The kind you felt you got from Walter Cronkite:
The style of writing characteristic of material in newspapers and magazines, consisting of direct presentation of facts or occurrences with little attempt at analysis or interpretation.
"Little attempt at analysis or interpretation"--Gee, who writes or reports like that anymore?

Bottom line, you can argue with Trunk all you want--my problem with her post is that she considers the lack of fact and truth in the journalism people are reading and listening to every day is a good thing.

UPDATE: Check out Penelope's response in the comments and add your 2 cents as well.

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Unknown said...

I appreciate the thought you’ve put into the idea of what makes good journalism. Of course, I think about this a lot and am always happy to read a fresh opinion.

That said, here is what it’s like to be a reporter. I interview someone and they tell me a long story about their product line and how much it means to them. I use one quote from his hour-long interview and that quote is “the product was finished ten weeks late,” and then I write a story about how he delivers everything late. The person who was talking with me feels misquoted because this was totally not the point of his story, not the point of our call, he didn’t mean to tell me that information anyway, and it seems totally out of context to him that I’m quoting only that.

But I get to tell whatever story I want. Every piece of news is a story. There is no news without a story because the only way we can attach meaning to an event is with a story line. If I write the story about the product line that the executive wanted, then first of all, he is the reporter, not me, but also, it’s my job to find stories readers will like. I can’t do that if I am telling the stories people I interview want to have told.


Daled Amos said...

But your example is a 'product line' and you keep referring to 'stories'.

I don't know if you followed the link to my previous post on this, but:

What about the Duke lacrosse scandal that was so badly botched by the media--and excused with:

It was about race. Nifong's motivations clearly were rooted in his need to win black votes. There were tensions between town and gown, that part was true. The narrative was properly about race, sex and class... We went a beat too fast in assuming that a rape took place... We just got the facts wrong. The narrative was right, but the facts were wrong.

How about the reporting on Hurricane Katrina. In the full interview, the media guy gushes on the wonderful job the media did--until Hewitt lists the numerous errors they committed which exacerbated the panic. The response:

The kind of reporting that journalists have to do during this time is revisionist. You have to keep telling the story until you get it right...We got some facts wrong and that's important. But don't lose sight of the fact that in the end they were in fact telling a story about a tragedy unfolding in both of those places that was horrible by any measure.

This of course is without getting into reporting in the Middle East--in Iraq and Israel. What about Pallywood? What about Reutergate? According to you, does there even exist such a thing as "media bias"?