Posted tagged ‘objectivity’

The Status of Modern-Day Newspapers

March 15, 2010

It has just occurred to me that I have not blogged anything in what seems like years. I guess that’s the danger of creating a blog that tries to be deep, longer-form, and not a messy set of stream-of-consciousness ramblings. My life has been immensely busy these days, but that is no excuse for not writing.

I have accepted the fact that my readership has dwindled down to nothing. That’s okay. I never really intended this blog to become anything else except for a vehicle for me to showcase my writing. I even got an internship opportunity (which I later resigned from after only a few weeks aboard) because the boss read my blog and was intrigued by what I can do. So that is proof that blogs can be a valuable tool for getting jobs. Unless, of course, your blog is just a glorified daily diary.

What upsets me about the status of today’s journalist is how much we are reducing our profession to just that. Writing whatever comes off the top of our heads and disregarding any respect for fairness, objectivity, and verifiable truth. Consider newspapers who publish the works of “community members” so that readers can read what their next door neighbors have to say. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but consider the subject matter many of these columnists choose to write about:

Shopping choices, opinions about pop culture, their own personal struggles, and their own observations about life and the world around them. There is nothing, like I have said before, wrong about these topics, but is this really the best use of precious publishing space?

These are topics any of us can write about. We don’t have to do any extensive research or thinking to come up with these articles. The News Tribune, the largest newspaper in Tacoma, has a guest columnist who hasn’t even graduated from high school yet. What about people like me, who have a four year degree in journalism? I guess we’re being left out because we’re not “personal” enough.

Today’s editors seem to think people want to read about personal stories more than faceless writers writing about boring stuff like politics and news. If newspapers are supposed to educate, why are we instead trying to entertain them? What enlightenment are we going to achieve by reading about a high school girl’s struggle to apply for colleges? I’m sorry honey, but we’ve all been there. You are not the first person who has stressed over college hunting. Why is her story more important than a journalist embedded in Afghanistan or reporters reporting from the devastation in Haiti and Chile? It makes no sense.

I sound bitter because I am. Television journalism is a whole other monster that I will not even get into. But there is something to be said for professional integrity. I will not go as far as to suggest that editors like those at The News Tribune have sold out, but it does make you wonder if following the “me first” trend in today’s society is healthy for our profession.

Call me old school, but just because you have been published in a newspaper does not automatically make you a journalist. A journalist strives to report other people’s stories, not your own.

But maybe that is what’s missing in today’s journalism. We feel that our opinions are so valuable that being an “objective reporter” would do nothing but diminish our creativity. God gave us opinions, so why shouldn’t we express them, right?

Wrong. A journalist is a different kind of breed. A true journalist should be able to separate personal biases from the story. A true journalist asks credible sources for information, not consult with their own skewed worldview. And when it comes to sources, make sure the sources are knowledgeable and fair in their own right. Try consulting with multiple sources who might come from different perspectives.

Why is this happening? The vilification of the “MSM” (the Mainstream Media) definitely plays a part. Society has some how been convinced that our main sources of news are corrupted for a variety of reasons (sold out to corporate interests, sold out to liberal/conservative focus groups, glosses over real news, relies on celebrity coverage/sensationalism to gain an audience, etc.).

This belief encourages people to turn to alternative sources of news, sources that usually come from a specific ideological/cultural background. We will read “underground” publications because their reporting style is edgier and less bogged down in corporate deadlines and a “rich white man’s point of view.” This is partially why people think anyone can become a journalist. All you need is an idea and a computer. And who doesn’t have those at their disposal?

The solution to this problem is for journalists and editors to return to their roots and become the newspaper reporters they were back in the day. Talking heads on television do not count as reporters. We need more journalists who genuinely want to teach the public, not just entertain them. Let movies and television shows entertain us. We should read a newspaper to learn about what is happening in our world, not what my next door neighbor does in his or her spare time.

Who should lead the charge? I have no clue. This is a collective problem that will require collective action. I should note that the fact that I’m writing this on a blog is irony that is not lost on me.

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