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.

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