Today I would like to afford readers a glimpse into the moderately addled brain of a 34-year newspaper man.
I guess the fact that I have been working at one or another daily newspaper for that long automatically outs me as what a Gen Y’er would refer to as “old school.”
Nonetheless, it seems to me there are certain things – when it comes to journalism, at least – that must withstand the test of time.
So I guess I don’t really care about how much stuff is flying around the Internet and how people think they need to know every last detail of every last thing that happens.
In my little corner of the journalism world, certain things are relevant and certain things aren’t.
And if I don’t see something as relevant, we’re not going to report it.
A good example of this occurred a few years back when an executive at a local company – let’s call it Acme – got arrested.
We ran a story with the guy’s name, address, the facts surrounding the case, the charges he faced, all the normal stuff. But we didn’t report that he was an Acme executive.
Elsewhere, the headlines screamed “Acme Executive Arrested In ...” So I got a couple of calls criticizing me for not mentioning the guy’s employer. It had to be some sort of cover up. I explained that, yes, we were aware of where this person worked, but it was irrelevant to the story. His crime had nothing to do with his employment or his employer.
The fact that this person was an Acme exec was simply a salacious detail with no relevance to the story.
If the guy worked on the Acme assembly line, I wouldn’t have heard a thing about it. No one would have cared.
Do we routinely seek out the occupations of people who commit crimes? Of course not. Who cares if a plumber gets arrested for DUI? It’s not relevant. Who cares if a fast-food worker gets caught with marijuana?
But, apparently, in the ever-present quest to drag down those who have done well for themselves, if somebody makes six figures, their occupation suddenly becomes relevant.
Now, this is not to say that someone’s occupation is never relevant. If an accountant gets busted for embezzlement, that’s relevant. If an employee steals from an employer, occupation is relevant. If a youth pastor molests a child, it’s relevant.
It’s also relevant if the person is paid by tax dollars and is charged with serving members of the public. I have always held those folks to a slightly higher standard. That means if you’re a teacher and you get arrested, you are going to be identified as a teacher. Not so much if you work in the bus garage, unless you were stealing bus parts.
Same with cops, firemen, elected officials, etc.
Now, having said all that I must admit that, of course, there will always be gray areas. And once in a while something might slip by us. But generally, it’s really pretty simple. We strive to report only things that are relevant to the story.
We don’t necessarily print every detail we know about every story. Sometimes, things just don’t really need to be reported.
That’s something that I see as having changed over the years. More and more, I see things published that really have no relevance to the story. It seems as if the writer is just trying to publish every fact available whether it has any relevance or not.
Over time, I think this has the effect of eroding credibility. I think this is a big part of why journalism today struggles with credibility issues.
Another thing that I’ve seen change over the years – which also erodes credibility – is the amount of opinion I see in news stories.
These days, writers editorialize all the time.
They insert their own opinion or endorsement in the article. Unless you are quoting someone, there should be no opinion in a news article.
Reporters shouldn’t make assumptions about politics or push one agenda or another.
Reporters shouldn’t analyse the causes and effects of the issues they cover.
If you think something is a certain way, find somebody to say that’s the way it is and quote them. And then find somebody who thinks the opposite and quote them.
The art of getting both sides of a story seems to have gone the way of disco music.
Check this out. This is the lead of a recent Associated Press “news” story:
DENVER (AP) – More than two years ago, Colorado was at the leading edge of the societal shift on same-sex marriage, when its moderate, conflict-adverse Democratic governor called a special legislative session that shamed Republicans for holding up a civil unions bill. It was a rare example of Democrats going on the offensive on the issue.
This is not some rarity. This is pretty much the way “news” is reported these days.
(I just want to say here for the sake of clarity that if something is labeled opinion, all my pontificating about editorializing is out the window. I am only refering to news stories.)
We strive to keep opinion and speculation out of our news stories here at the T-U. Does this mean it never creeps in? Or that we don’t screw up once in a while? Of course not.
We try to keep news stories relevant, and free of writers’ opinions. It’s a worthy goal.
Anything less is truly troubling to me. But then again, I’m old school.