Tuesday, September 16, 2008

When Reporters Become Mere Journalists

"Journalism is an activity, not a profession"
Adrian Wooldridge
This quote is a keeper:
We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn’t mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides ‘equally’ accountable when the facts don’t warrant that.
This quote comes from Time Magazine’s Mark Halperin, who said this back in 2004--when he was the political director of ABC News in the months leading up to the election. It's an interesting viewpoint--pity that we do not have the advantage of Halperin's explanation about when the media should and should not hold both sides equally accountable on an issue.

It reflects the kind of arbitrariness that an increasing number of people seem to see in today's media, as indicated by shrinking circulations.

It also reminds me of the enormous failure of the media in reporting the aftermath of Katrina, with false stories about horrible things that went on at the convention center and the Superdome--including lurid stories of mass murders, rapes and beatings that never happened.

On the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
, Keith Woods--former newspaper reporter and editor at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and currently dean of the faculty at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in Florida--defends the media's emotionalism and multiple cases of mis-reporting Katrina this way:
Well, remember that we thought 5,000 people died in the twin towers in New York originally — more than 5,000. We thought the White House had been attacked in the early reporting of that story. 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.[emphasis added]
One can only imagine the kinds of excuses that will be made--if any--for the constant flow of mis-reporting about Sarah Palin. After all, elections are important: and you have to keep telling the story until you get it right.

This kind of makes we wistful for the common sense of Lieutenant General Honore:
Don't get stuck on stupid, reporters. We are moving forward. And don't confuse the people please. You are part of the public message. So help us get the message straight. And if you don't understand, maybe you'll confuse it to the people. That's why we like follow-up questions.
The difference of course is that Lieutenant General Honore was specifically addressing people he considered to be 'reporters'--people who report just on what is happening without adding their emotions and feelings. But today we are surrounded by journalists, a term defined by the Random House Dictionary this way:
writing that reflects superficial thought and research, a popular slant, and hurried composition, conceived of as exemplifying topical newspaper or popular magazine writing as distinguished from scholarly writing: He calls himself a historian, but his books are mere journalism.
Yeah, that sounds right.
No wonder the media is considered more and more irrelevant--today journalism really is nothing more than an activity, without the standards that one associates with a real profession.

[Hat tip: John Podhoretz]

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