Who is a Journalist? [Take 2]

10 Apr

I’ve been looking over what I wrote at the beginning of the semester, and I have to say, I’m not sure that I’ve changed my opinion all that much. I still think that there are certain things that set journalists apart from every day bloggers, or “citizen journalists”, but I’m also coming to the conclusion that there is a real place for the citizen journalist role in journalism.

There are so many new forums where individuals can go on, publish their thoughts, record their experiences, and really be a part of the journalistic experience. I think there are stories that we never would have seen if it weren’t for social media and this idea of “citizen journalism”. You look at Egypt, for example, and the huge role that citizens played in getting the news out to the world of what was happening within. There are things that came from those citizens that we would not have seen otherwise, and I think because of that, there is a real need for that type of information in the journalistic process.

However, I think the difference between journalists and “citizen journalists” is the standard they are held to.  Nowadays, anyone can start up a blog and call themselves a journalist, but that’s not true journalism, and there are things that accredited journalists do that citizens journalists cannot. They have access to more information, and are better able and more inclined to objectively approach a news story that an everyday blogger.

The fact of the matter is, blogs don’t make the news. They take the news they find in newspapers, on TV, or other “core-news” websites, and either regurgitate what they’ve read, or use that news to voice their opinions. That’s not journalism. That’s free loading. While their opinions are valid, and it’s good when discussions are sparked from the news, I don’t think  it meets that standard that a journalist should hold themselves to. Continue reading


Engagement and Relevance

3 Apr

“Journalism is storytelling with a purpose. That purpose is to provide people with information they need to understand the world…[and] to make it meaningful, relevant and engaging.” -Elements of Journalism pg. 189

I’m going to start off by saying, that I have some pretty strong opinions on this topic, so just brace yourself for that. This issue of engagement and relevance in journalism has been seriously misconstrued in the media lately, and it has been seriously ticking me off. Should we make important issues interesting and keep our audience engaged so that they will actually listen? Yes. I mean after all, we are, in essence, storytellers. It makes sense that we should be engaging audiences through the stories of the people, the community, the government and so on, but it doesn’t mean we have to pander to the public and become something we are not. We are not entertainers. We are journalists. There is absolutely a way to make important news engaging and interesting without it becoming sensational, yellow journalism. Generally, if it doesn’t look or feel like journalism, it probably isn’t.

Take this lovely example from KSL that I had the misfortune to come across last week on the evening news. I won’t set it up too much…I’ll just allow you to watch it and perhaps your eyes will bleed like mine did. I’ll just say that it’s supposed to be a story on teacher’s impact on the legislature, but what it actually ends up being is something that doesn’t even resemble news.

Click here to watch the video.

You guys…what does “The Voice” have to do with teacher’s lobbying for more money in classrooms?? Sure, you can spin it all you want and say…well it works because the teachers have a “voice” with lawmakers. Right. But one of them has to do with policy and the other is a SINGING competition. I was apalled by this newscast. It takes what is actually an important issue that is revlevant to a lot of people and turns it into a marketing spot for NBC…of which KSL is a subsidiary station. My very favorite part is at 1:34 when they actually crop the reporter into an episode of “The Voice” and pretend like they’re still giving the news. I mean really, that’s something Jay Leno would do.

I definitely think a line was crossed here. Not only did they shamelessly advertise for NBC on the news, but they failed the public and the people they were covering. They made the story a bit of a joke and completely overshadowed the importance of the story…a story that affects children across the state and would be a great concern to parents, teachers, church leaders (etc.).  I’m not arguing that we need to be bland in our reporting. I just think we need to understand that to be engaging does not mean we need to “tabloidicize” ourselves. Continue reading

Comprehensive & Proportional

2 Apr

“Journalism is our modern cartography. It creates a map for citizens to navigate society.”

Alright. So I’m a little confused about what exactly we are supposed to blog about since the reading assignments are all jumbled…so I’ve decided to stick to the topics addressed in chapter 9 of “Elements of Journalism” as it is entitled “Comprehensive and Proportional”. Hope that’s alright with everyone.

I thought this chapter was interesting in the way it linked back to accuracy. All the topics we’ve covered so far kind of intermingle…and I really like the example the book gave of journalists acting like cartographers, like in the quote I put at the top. It talks about how journalists who devote more time to sensational, or superficial news (celebrities…) are not only bad journalists, but bad businessmen. While it’s true that sensationalism and entertainment get really high ratings, at some point, the viewers have to get sick of entertainment in the news. What sets the news apart from other entertainment shows is…well, the news–the hard-hitting, investigative journalism that gives the news its good name. If they lose that, they lose their edge in the market, and they will fail.

I found a speech given more than a decade ago by one of the authors of our book, Bill Kovach. It’s a pretty inspiring speech, but a bit discouraging at the same time. I often look at the new today (especially local) and shake my head because it has become all about marketing, and less and less about journalistic principles. You can read all of his speech here, but I really liked this quote. He says,

“Recent polls in the United States which show a public increasingly frustrated and alienated by “the news media” have made this point with depressing force.… The reason for this loss of confidence in the press…is that the public can no longer distinguish between a journalist attempting to produce a disinterested, balanced presentation from a self-serving political line or tabloid sleaze.”

The public wants real news. They expect it. When we pander to the numbers, or the money, we fail them, and they lose interest. The question was raised in class about whether journalists should give the public what they want or what they need. I can say without hesitation and with complete conviction that it should be what they need. However, I don’t think the two are necessarily opposites. I think the people want news that they need, if that makes any sense.  Continue reading

Journalism and Religion

26 Mar

“Both religion and journalism are disciplines that purport to seek the truth, albeit often in different realms. In that sense, journalists and religious scholars are on similar missions”

This is one of the trickiest topics we’ve yet to face. As a religious person…and an aspiring journalist, I believe that a good journalist can be religious, cover religious topics, and still be fair and objective in their reporting…even when covering religions that differ from their own.

There’s an interesting book out written by former LA Times journalist William Lobdell called  “Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America—and Found Unexpected Peace“. (The Link will take you to the google books preview if you want to have a look at what he has to say). After being assigned to the religious beat, Lobdell, an evangelical christian, reported on hundreds of stories. He witnessed a lot of hypocrisy in many religions, investigated religious institutions that were corrupt, and saw the decline of morals. As this evidence piled up, he started to fear that God didn’t exist. Doubts and questions plagued him until his faith collapsed.

His story has some pretty compelling arguments that would suggest that perhaps a journalists can report on religion and remain faithful to his or her own religion. But then, I found this article on Nieman Reports (a website I highly recommend) that directly discussed Lobdell’s book. Basically, the author of this article says that Lobdell went about his religious reporting in the wrong way. He believed his job on the religion beat was a calling from God and he set out on a mission to “shape religious coverage at one of the nation’s largest media outlets.”

The problem here is that Lobdell didn’t separate his religion from his reporting. He wanted to cover religion through his own religious lens, and that creates a problem. I don’t think that a journalist needs to disassociate themselves from their religion, but they should be able to report without bias that may come with their own religion. It is possible to write a story fairly and accurately about a religion that is not your own as long you go in with an open mind, and the realization that their views are different than yours, not necessarily bad, just different.  Continue reading

Journalism as a Public Forum

26 Mar

“Journalism must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise”

Alright, so this has actually become one of my very favorite topics we’ve covered so far. This class has made me a crusader for journalism, and this topic kind of helps me do that. It’s interesting how it ties in with what we’ve talked about already. But I kind of what to start out by talking a little bit about truth and how it is essential to setting up a public forum as journalists.

Basically, we have to be guardians and protectors of truth, because in today’s society, journalists seem to be the only ones who truly value the truth. That’s not to say everyone else in the media is dishonest, it’s just that sometimes, the truth is hard to hear, or not as spectacular as a talk-show host’s outrageous opinion. But since we’re in the business of news, and not entertainment, our first obligation is to give the truth. If we are to provide a public forum for criticism and compromise, we had better make sure that we have all our facts straight.

I found this clip on Youtube, and while, yes, it is silly, and albeit, a bit disturbing, I think it illustrates some important points. It’s from the Guardian (an English online newspaper), and it’s using the story of the Three Little Pigs to show how they provide a public forum.

Something that’s changed in the last few years (something that this video illustrated beautifully)  is the way the public forum works. There are far more outlets now for the public to voice their opinions, and get involved in the forum. In the video, after the three little pigs were prosecuted, a lot of people were upset, and they voiced those opinions, and apparently, in this world, their outcry sparked reform in the government. That’s our job, when it all boils down to it. We provide the information that people need to be self-governing. We give them the truth, and allow them to act on it. As journalists, we’re not supposed to go lobbying the government, because that is the job of the people we serve. We provide the forum, and they discuss and make changes.  Continue reading

Watchdog Journalism

19 Mar

“Journalists must serve as an independent monitor of power.”

The role of a journalist as a watchdog is, I think the single most important role we play. This nation was founded on government suspicion and fear of abusive power. We fought for a free country, and to be a free, self-governing people. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the very first right listed in the bill of rights, it mentions the people’s right to a freedom of the press. Journalism, and a free press is the driving force behind our democratic-republic. It is a force against corruption, and a protector of our free, self-governing society. We have a duty to uphold the constitution, and encourage honesty and transparency in our government.

I stumbled upon a rather brilliant website, that many of you may have seen before. It’s the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard’s website. They have hundreds of articles on the importance of journalism, and what we as journalists must do to fulfill our watchdog role. This one’s from 1998, but I find it’s still very relevant.

Click Here to read it.

I really like this article because it talks about, first, the importance of watchdog journalism, but also the way we as journalists should conduct ourselves. It ties in really well with chapter 10.  I don’t know if I’ve stressed how important I think watchdog journalism…or not…just to be clear…I find it VERY important. However, that doesn’t mean that we should lose sight of who we are as journalists, nor does it give us the right to trample on other people’s lives. We have an important role, we are an important part of this country, as because of that, I think we should show dignity and pride in ourselves and our work. We aren’t paparazzi. We aren’t criminals. I believe there are ways to do investigative reporting that are A: legal, and B: dignified.

The article says,

“…we should have the strength of our own convictions to disassociate ourselves wherever we can from crude, discourteous behavior whether by packs of elbowing news people lying in wait for Monica Lewinsky, or by shouting, snarling participants in a television encounter posing as news commentators.”

Being a watchdog isn’t “gotcha” journalism, or getting the most sensational news at any cost. It’s getting the truth. It’s making sure the government is telling us the whole truth. It’s raising questions were questions should be raised, and it’s having the courage to tell the story even when it may upset your advertisers, or embarrass the government. Continue reading

The Journalist as an Ideologue

13 Mar

“The reporter’s emotions should not color his or her pursuit of the best obtainable version of the truth…rather, those emotions should provide the reporter with added ‘fire in the belly’ which forces him or her to get as many facts as possible.”

So, I must admit, I’ve been having a bit of trouble finding things to cover with this topic, as I feel I’ve already touched on a lot of what was covered in this section of the book…but I’ll do my best not to repeat myself.

The main thing I wanted to focus on was the type of reporting language mentioned in the book…that is the language of reports, inferences and judgments…and just kind of discuss where I see the merit in some of them, and where I don’t. When I first read those, my mind instantly rushed to the conclusion that reporting language is the right choice for journalists, as I’m a strong believer in objectivity…I even voted for reporting language on the poll during class, but the author’s description of reporting language is…well…dry. He seems to imply that a report using strictly reporting language would be like reading a technical manual. That this type of language would require a reporter to simply transcribe the event they witnessed with no fair cuts, observations or excitement.

As I read on, I realized that inference language appeared to be more like what I thought reporting language should represent. The author gives the example of a report of a town council meeting in which the reporter not only reported what was discussed at the meeting, but the atmosphere and actions taken there. I feel like this type of reporting is more truthful than reporting using reporting language. A reporter could could repeat word for word what happened, and still not convey what really went on. I’ll bring up McCarthy again here…by using reporting language and just repeating what McCarthy said, many journalists were actually working against the public interest. There should be some investigating and observation of what’s going on, or else we’re not being objective. We’re just record players. The book says our job is to cover what happens as well as how it happened. Continue reading