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. 

The book talks about doing market research to find out what people need, but at the same time finding what they want. This is done by asking people what matters to them…what kind of issues they think about. Do they worry about whether their kids are safe at school, or do they want to know more about what is happening in the community? Whatever it is, we can find out what the public wants to hear…things that they need and would be useful to them without pandering to sensationalism.

The writer of this article tends to disagree with this notion…thinking that it’s a simplistic solution to the problem, and he makes some good points, but I strongly believe that people want more than entertainment and sports news, and they expect us to give it to them. It’s important that we play that role.

The last thing I kind of wanted to touch on is an interesting part of comprehensive journalism that I hadn’t really connected before, and that’s the idea of emotion in reporting. I talked a little bit about Anderson Cooper when we talked about professionals…and how he showed emotion with Katrina. The book gives the example of Walter Cronkite tearing up when he announced the assassination of Pres. Kennedy. Both of these events are very emotional subjects to be reporting on.

On the one hand, I completely believe in objectivity and professionalism in journalism, but I also think that sometimes, reports showing emotions is okay. With both of these examples, I believe the emotion shown adds to the reports. As journalists, we are the eyes and the ears of the people, taking them to places they cannot visit, and bringing them the news. Cooper and Cronkite were able to bring the emotion of these events into the homes of citizens to help them better understand what it felt like to be in that place where the news was happening. Seems like that makes it more comprehensive and more accurate, not less.

So, to sum up, here’s the clip of Walter Cronkite…when you watch it, look at how his emotion makes his reporting honest. He’s not forcing anything, and he’s not trying to hold it back either. I really respect that in a journalist. It’s pretty brave I think. (Tip: start at 5:00 for the most significant part)


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