...So I was sitting at my desk at the office this past Monday morning, reading the previous week’s issue of the newspaper I work for to catch up on what had been happening at home while the family and I were away on a two-week vacation, when I came across a letter to the editor taking our publisher to task for his column about “Facebook journalism” that appeared in our July 11 issue.
The letter grabbed my attention for two reasons. First, I had both appreciated and agreed with everything Mr. Lokey had said in that column. In fact I recall telling him that it was one that I wished I had written myself, since I also have some pretty strong feelings on the matter.
I’ll be the first to concede that the letter writer made some valid points about modern journalism, particularly when it comes to television and the Internet. But it is equally true that a great many of us – particularly in the print media – still consider this to be a noble profession and care a great deal about the job we do and how we do it.
I am a big believer in the notion that getting it right is far more important than getting it first. Ideally we strive to do both. But if something has to be sacrificed I would much rather it be speed than accuracy. We’re not perfect here, have never claimed to be, and when we do make mistakes we own up to it and get the correct information out as quickly as possible. And we never quit working to keep our readers - our neighbors - as well informed as we possibly can.
THAT, to answer the letter writer’s question, is what I consider “responsible journalism.”
And despite the occasional accusation otherwise, I can tell you that I for one work very hard to keep any personal opinions and biases I have OUT of the news stories I write. Sure I have them, just like everyone else; but when I feel those opinions are worth sharing I save them for my column. The proper place for an opinion is in an opinion column, not in a news story. There are a number of so-called TV and Internet “journalists” these days who, either out of laziness or ignorance, do not make that distinction.
It hasn't made me rich, it hasn't made me famous. Sometimes it hasn’t made me all that popular. But being ethical has always been more important to me than any of those things.
The other reason the aforementioned letter caught my eye was because some of the comments it contained echoed remarks made during a conversation I had with a gentleman during my recent trip to Ohio. The individual in question, who I encountered in a motel lobby in the Toledo area, writes a daily “news blog” and was apparently taken to task by some readers for recently writing a piece which he had labeled as a news item when apparently it was nothing more than his personal opinions on whatever topic he was writing about.
After sharing his grievances about the response he had gotten he asked what I thought, and I answered truthfully that I thought his critics had a point. Whereupon he sneered, “What makes you an expert on journalism?”
I responded that I don’t claim to be an “expert” on much of anything. But I do like to think that nearly three decades of experience has given some inkling of what it means to be a journalist.
Although it may not mean a lot to some people, educationally speaking I do have the credentials: Olivet Nazarene University, Class of 1991, BA degree in journalism. (A Christian institution of higher learning, incidentally, thereby proving the ignorance of whatever buffoon first insinuated that the field of journalism is nothing more that some kind of Jewish, Muslim or Satanic plot).
Then there are my years of practical experience: Working for newspapers in Oklahoma and Illinois, where I've reported on everything from city council meetings, murder trials and violent storms to high school football games, veterans' activities and chili suppers. Teaching journalism to Boy Scouts at merit badge fairs, and presenting programs to high school and college classes. And, yes, there are the nearly 200 awards I’ve been lucky enough to win over the years – something I don’t brag about, since it isn't why I got into the business, but which I suppose is at least somewhat germane to the discussion since my knowledge, experience and integrity were being called into question.
Even more important than any awards I've been lucky enough to pick up along the way, however, is the respect I've earned not only from my peers, but from the residents of our community and from numerous public figures whose activities I've had to cover here in my hometown and elsewhere in this state - even those who don't particularly like it when I have to write about them. There are law enforcement officers and city and county elected officials here who have stated repeatedly - to me privately and to others while in my presence at public functions - that they would rather talk to me than any reporters from other newspapers in our area and especially our local TV reporters, because they know that - even if it is a story that might present them or their departments in a negative light - I can be counted on to present the story in as fair and factual a manner as possible.
That's a pretty big compliment for someone in this line of work, especially these days. It's also a tremendous responsibility which I take VERY seriously and work hard every single day to live up to. Which, based on the available evidence and the conversation I had with this particular individual, is apparently more than you can say for most of these so-called "journalist bloggers" these days.
So please don't question my knowledge of or experience in the field of REAL journalism, Mr. Full-Of-Himself Ohio Blogger, because you quite simply have no clue as to what you're talking about. Awards aside, I'll put my years of experience out there on the front lines of the local and state news scene against people like this person in Ohio – those who apparently spend their days just sitting at their computers spreading lies and gossip and innuendo and putting down those of us who care about this work we do – any day.
When young Mr. Ohio finds himself driving to the scene - or interviewing survivors of or people who have worked at the scene - of such horrific incidents as the Oklahoma City bombing or the tornado that wiped out the community of Tushka; when he’s standing there watching the mother he was just talking to collapse in soul-numbing grief as firefighters carry the lifeless body of her small son from the burnt remains of their home, or has to interview the daughter of a murdered college instructor who can’t understand how the legal system has allowed two of the three people charged walk away free after being declared incompetent to stand trial and the third get a plea-bargained lighter sentence; when he is threatened by family members of individuals convicted of serious crimes because they think it was the newspaper rather than the criminal himself who has ruined their lives, or has to face down belligerent city council members who don't feel the public has the right to know what goes on at their meetings; when he receives handwritten letters from two different state governors - one a Democrat, the other a Republican - complaining about his coverage of their administrations while at the same time expressing begrudging respect for the lack of bias contained in those stories; when he has spent weeks or months or even years tracking down information on a single story that improves actual public awareness on issues of importance, rather than simply develop an opinion and quickly shape his "articles" to fit such preconceived (and more often than not erroneous) notions and therefore add to public ignorance... THEN I'll consider him an actual journalist and show him the respect he so obviously craves but has yet to earn.
Until then he's just another guy with a keyboard, an Internet hookup, way too much time on his hands and an incredibly over-inflated sense of self-importance.
As far as I’m concerned we've got far too many of that particular breed of vainglorious dolt sitting around out there already.
And that’s exactly what I told him.
In : Opinion