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.

So…here’s a clip of Sen. McCarthy talking about communism. He was a…special…human being. Now you listen to this, and you can imagine that if a reporter were to use simple, reporting language, how the journalists would play right into the hands of McCarthy’s propaganda. It takes a true journalist…digging dipper into what is really going on, and using inference language to expose corruption and fulfill their responsibility as a watchdog and public servant.

I draw the line with judgement language. This type of reporting has not place in journalism. When you make judgments on the story you’re reporting, and give your opinion, you put yourself in the story, and that is not the purpose of journalism. We’re supposed to act as observers, not judges.

I would like to point out, however, that there is a difference between showing emotion in a story, and making judgments. I think emotion and empathy have a place in journalism and should be used with discretion, but are in many cases, vital to telling the story.  The book talks about Anderson Cooper (I know…Anderson Cooper…again. I’m beginning to really respect this man, actually.) and how he was criticized for his coverage of Katrina. I looked up the interview referenced in the book, and I have to say, I don’t completely disagree with the way he reported it. He gets a little too emotional towards the end, and he edges a little to close to judgement language, but I think the way he reports what’s going on really captures the emotion of the people, and enables the viewers to understand a piece of what the people in Louisiana were going through.

The Politician he’s talking to shows hardly any emotion at all. She is Senator Barbie…giving all the right “politician answers” and saying nothing but good things about how the government was handling things. Had Anderson just let her go on talking about how great things were, and how everyone was doing their best to fix it…we at home would have thought things were all fine and dandy, but Anderson calls her out and gives her a bit of a reality check. He gives the story the emotion it needs to come across with sensitivity and sympathy for what the people were suffering through. I really think it would have been irresponsible for him not to point out that things weren’t as picture perfect as the senator would have the people believe.

Now…for an example of when emotion, and worldviews become a detriment for a reporter and quickly turn into judgement reporting. This next clip makes my eyes bleed. Granted, the people the reporter interviews are not exactly representative of most Americans (and she makes sure to point that out), but she completely shuts them down when she interviews them, and speaks in an amazingly condescending tone…insinuating that these people are complete idiots and anything they have to say is not valid. Plus, she seems to go out of her way to find individuals professing extreme views…like the guy with the Obama/Hitler poster. She even goes as far as to say that it isn’t “family viewing”…as if there was violence or vulgar language.

This type of reporting is about as far from objectivity as you can get…and networks notice. I did a little research, and it seems that this reporter was not seen a whole lot after this newscast, and CNN dropped her contract when it came up for review. People value objectivity. I think they understand that there are times when reporter need to show emotion to get the feeling of a story across, like with Anderson Cooper, but they also realize when it is not necessary, and when objectivity has been compromised for the sake of proving a point or promoting an agenda.

We as reporters are who we are, as we discussed in class, but that doesn’t mean we should force our ideas on our audience to make them come to the same worldview as us. That’s not our job. If that’ the kind of thing you want to do…go work for Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olberman. They are awesome at that.

I don’t think we have to set aside who we are as people to be a journalist. For one thing, it isn’t possible, and other, it takes away our sincerity as reporters. We have to come across and genuine in order for our audience, and our sources to trust us…but we don’t have to force our ideas on them to appear genuine. Emotion is often important. Judgement is not. It’s as simple as that.


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