Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Impartiality in Journalism (my opinion)

I was asked if I thought an unprovoked violent early morning attack be reported from a neutral position by the media covering it. My answer? In short, YES!!

In long form, the reason I answer in his way is that it is the duty of the journalist to present the information they are reporting on as neutrally and as factually as possible, whether it is on paper, on TV or on the web. This allows the public to make their own decisions on how to react.

Too many news reporters, papers, stations, sites, etc. lose sight of that in the name of gaining readers and viewers. Or if they are for some reason endorsing one political candidate over another. Too many viewers blindly follow one source of news over another without stopping to see if there are other views and facts based on that same headline. That is what some politicians, executives, and other people are banking on.

As some of you may know, I recently started working for a small newspaper. Thankfully my editor has the same philosophy I do. Have I had to write about something I had a strong opinion on? Yes. Was I impartial in my writing? I hope so, because I certainly tried to do so. Do I do my best to present both sides of the story? YES!

One thing I've learned in the short time I've been working there is if you are known for impartiality and fairness in your writing, ESPECIALLY in a small town paper, cops, officials and politicians of all sides are more inclined to return your calls and talk to you.

Don't even get me started on shoddy fact checking and knowingly reporting based on the wrong information!

This post was triggered by a Twitter conversation based on the Occupy Oakland police raids. Depending on what point of view you are looking at it from, either the cops are absolute brutes or the protesters are a bunch of ne'er do wells, who needed to be routed from the space they were occupying (to lump them all together into two camps).

Somebody from the 'police were brutes' camp challenged my reply in defense of KTVU's doing a good job of being impartial in presenting the news, and my reply took 3 tweets. Then I decided it would be better to reply in really long form as a blog.

So there you have it. I may be 'new' to news writing, but damned if I'm going to become a sensationalistic dweeb just because I want to gain a few more readers for the paper or see my byline above the cut all the time.

The Twitter conversation (names changed)

Writer 1: "Protesters Clash With Police After ‘Occupy Oakland’ Camp Raided" (link attached in post)

Writer 2: They headline it as Protesters clash rather than "Protesters Attacked by OPD.." Go Fascist Media go. *smh

Me: (to both) To be fair, KTVU's morning news gave it pretty unbiased and neutral coverage.

Writer 2: (in reply to me) not if they led with that biased headline. Clash sounds like both sides running at each other. This was pure #OPD attack.

Writer 2: (again in reply to me) if KTVU was not appalled at police attacking protesters, some in wheelchairs, then it was not neutral, it downplayed the scene

Me: I respectfully disagree. They did their jobs. It is their duty to be impartial when presenting news, no matter how appalling.

Writer 1: (to me and writer 2) Should a unprovoked violent early morning attack be reported from a neutral position?

Me: (to both) Honestly? YES! It is the duty of the journalist to present news as fact as impartially as possible. more...

Me: (to both) even if what they are reporting is personally appalling. Unfortunately too much sensationalism is used to (more)

Me: (to both) sway the public's opinion for sake of reader- or viewership, or political reasons.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Journalism: A Weighty Responsibility

I never in a million years thought I'd end up as a journalist.

Hell, that's not even what I went to school for. My degree is in graphic design. Yet here I am, assistant editor for a small newspaper. I'm media now in a way I never thought I would be.

That can be a heady power to some. Being able to dictate somebody else's life with the click of the keyboard. But I see the responsibility it holds too.

In recent weeks I've had to cover some of the community campaigns for members of the school board. I interviewed all four of the candidates. All of them are really good people. In a way I am relieved  do not live in the town that they are running in because I'd hate to vote 'against' any of them. I can see where each of them have an energy that would lend itself well to that particular school board.

At the same time I can only hope that the articles I wrote about them portrayed them to be the wonderful people they are, so the people of that community can decide for themselves, and not think they are being swayed by the way I wrote about them. I have no favorites. Hell if it were up to me I'd put two more chairs in the board and have all four of them up there.

Even covering something so mundane, yet somewhat scary as a pigeon infestation on the roof of a high school, shutting down a couple buildings because of the concern for the dust from pigeon droppings getting into the HVAC unit... I don't want to make the school board look bad. Yet I had to hound these people to get the information out of them for an article. I can only hope the article was seen by the readers in a light that was in no way condemning of the way they handled it. Personally I thought they did the right thing, but I have to remain neutral. That is the duty of the press, after all.

I think that's the problem these days with the media. There is a lack of neutrality. It's an abuse of power, if you look at it. Media is a strong tool for swaying the minds of others. Look at advertising! Propaganda! Marketing! In those aspects, sure, it's a great thing to be biased towards the 'product' you are pushing, but news? No. It needs to remain neutral. Just the facts, ma'am. The journalist's opinions have no place in hard news. If you want your opinions aired, save it for the opinions column. Otherwise, just the facts.

I can think of one certain sports news 'journalist' who seems to have taken a dislike to a certain NASCAR driver. She has made it a point over the past couple months to write some articles about this driver that are on the verge of defamation. But given the network she writes for, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Still, what she writes is better suited to something like the National Enquirer, Weekly World News, or some other cage liner rag, not legitimate news.

In a perfect world, all journalists would be more concerned with their name being attached to something that is legitimate, well written and truthful, not sensationalist and scatalogical, just because it gets the Jerry Springer mindset's jaws a-flappin'.

Bah, I think too much.