Archive | March, 2012

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

Independence in Journalism

12 Mar

“Journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover”

I’m going to start right out by saying, that there were a lot of things in this chapter of the book that I didn’t particularly agree with. Not sure if that’s allowed, as it is the textbook for this class, but I just have some different feelings on journalism I suppose.

The authors make the statement that “being impartial or neutral is not a core principle of journalism”, stating further that impartiality was never what was mean by objectivity. This statement seems a bit like a contradiction in my mind.  How are we to be objective viewers of history if we do not give the news without bias, or impartially? Objectivity, to me, is the search for truth, and truth has no room for bias.

I used the example of McCarthyism in one of my previous posts…how many use it as an example of how impartiality or objectivity can fail the public interest. The failure in the McCarthy case was with the journalists failing to find the truth. They reported the news “truthfully”, sure. I mean, what they reported was what McCarthy said, but what he was saying wasn’t true, and no one bothered to check his facts. When they finally did expose him, they used facts to take down his argument. They reported it not necessarily because they disagreed with his political views, but because it was their duty to expose corruption and be a watchdog for the government. These journalists were independent of any one political party in this report. They simply told the truth…without bias…or being partial to the left or the right.

Because I believe in this type of objectivity, I have a really hard time viewing editorialists as journalists. Here, is another place where I disagree with the authors. They assert that editorialsts are rooted in dedication to accuracy, verification, public interest and a desire to inform like all other journalists. My experience with editorials have led me to believe otherwise, and made me, admittedly, a bit of a “news snob”.  This is an examples that stands out in my mind particularly, some of you may have read it. It’s an op-ed piece from the New York Times on…of course…Mormons.

Click here to read it…but be warned, it may cause blood to shoot of your eyes.  Continue reading

Journalism of Verification

6 Mar

“The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification.”

So…the way I see it…and I will once again emphasize this…objectivity is the overall goal for journalists, and I will fight every one of you on this because that’s truly what I believe. Because I believe so strongly in objectivity as a journalist, I strongly believe in verifying sources.

The whole purpose of objectivity is to get to the truth, or at least the best truth available if you will. This is found through verification. You can find all kinds of stats and articles backing up a certain side of an issue if you look for it. There are entire websites and organizations devoted to exposing the “truth” that 9/11 was inside-job conspiracy. That doesn’t mean that as journalists, we should report on this side of the story to be fair, because it turns out, not all sources are created equal. Sure you can read all about these crazy conspiracy theories online, and there may be some that you even find sense in, but until you can find a verifiable and credible source, you have no story.
(Side note: found that picture above on a website…has some other that are kind of funny. Just for fun, but sadly, there is some truth to a few of them. Here’s the link.)

This may mean, from time to time, that the stories you have to cover are less than glamorous. The news isn’t always sexy, and not every story is going to win you a Pulitzer prize, but the fact of the matter is…the news isn’t for the journalists. Sure, it’s our profession, and it pays the bills, but journalism is for the people, and we have a duty to make sure the information we put out there is solid, legitimate and verifiable.  Continue reading

Professional Journalism

5 Mar

“World views are…a means of protection from confusion, an ability to focus on what we think is important…and a way of defining what we see…But a world view is not a bias, and it’s not a prejudice.”

As is very clear from my two previous posts, I am a firm believer in the ability of journalists to be objective in their reporting. I not only think we have the ability to be objective, but the obligation to be. A lot of what is discussed in chapters 2 and 3 of “The Mind of a Journalist” has to do with objectivity and professionalism.

The book describes what they term as a worldview. Basically, it means that all journalists come into the field with their own views of the world, their own political preferences, and their own values. Clearly, not all journalists are going to think exactly the same way. I don’t think objectivity calls for a journalists to put aside their values at all.  If I do, however, think it requires a journalist to be open-minded about the issue and do everything within their power to present both sides of a story.

Sometimes we may go into a story with the goal of being objective, and with full intent of being open-minded. We may find that the story has two sides, but one side has their facts wrong. Objectivity does not mean that we must present both sides as both sides see it, and just leave the viewer to decide which is wrong or which is right.

People who believe objectivity is an unrealistic goal, often use the example of of McCarthyism and how the media tended to just report what McCarthy said without contesting it. They see this as a failure of objectivity. I would contend that it was a failure of journalists to apply objectivity–that because stories were not assigned to investigate the inconsistencies in McCarthy’s accusations, that objectivity was never put into practice. It could be that the journalists let their own fear of communism get in the way of what should have been real reporting. It wasn’t until Edward Murrow finally exposed the truth that objectivity was restored to the media. If we know the truth in a story, the objective thing would be to present that truth as fact, like Murrow did.

Here’s a clip from Good Night, and Good Luck–one of my all-time favorite movies. This is Edward Murrow exposing the truth about McCarthy and kind of explaining how the whole country has been so scared of communism, that even the media has been afraid to expose the truth.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Objectivity is not unattainable. Yes, we all have our own worldviews, but any failure to be objective is not because it is an unreachable goal, but rather that we have not reached high enough to attain it.  Continue reading