Friday, March 24, 2006

Can You Attack the Notion of Teaching Tomorrow? I'm Awfully Tired.

Seriously, I'm pooped. I've got one more late night of defending/ explaining the idea of journalism, and then you've got to move to Jerry's field. Or, maybe, say, politics.

In any case, the entire premise of this thing is so inherently flawed, I'm honestly not being facetious when I say I don't know where to begin. Look, the very definition of one person viewing an event and telling others about it leads to the concept of a "point of view." Your examples are strange beyond belief. The stories of you traveling to work aren't different perspectives; they're different actions and thus worthy of their own articles (minus the opinion words like "carelessly" or "needlessly," as we'll discuss later). But, yes, you sojourning to work and bumping into a friend in the Metro is equally as legit a story as you traveling to work and arriving 10 minutes late. The issue for the reporter in charge of writing about your commute is the question of which is more significant -- the friend or the tardiness. Different reporters can emphasize and pick at different aspects of one news story. This is being human and why we don't have one Press Agency, like the Chinese, giving one perspective on the day's events. To use a better example of points of view (and I'm not totally sure why we're discussing such a pedestrian issue here), imagine the New York Times Co. bought the naming rights to Yankee Stadium. The Washington Post mainbar would report the news as fact; Sports Illustrated would report the impact to the game, the Wall Street Journal might emphasize the impact to NYT stock, your oft-read Editor and Publisher would absolutely write a piece on the newspaper's ability to objectively cover the team, and so on.

But more than that unequivocal variation, independent reporters within the same field can respond to the news, well, independently. Maybe the Post reporter's sources discussed how much money was spent, and so the reporter categorizes the amount as "higher than expected" or something. But maybe the LA Times, through interviewing and personal experience on the beat, sees the sale as a profound shift in George Steinbrenner ideology and focuses on the Yankees organization. And still maybe the Chicago Tribune guy's sources are whispering in his ear that this is a sign the NYT is desperate for advertising and thus goes in that direction. The difference between this reality of people having many perspectives and your bizarro walking-to-work discriptions lies in your adverbs. None of these reporters would use the words "needlessly" or "rudely" or "mistakenly" in discussing the sale. Hence: the difference between news analysis and injecting opinion. Remember the original source for this Writing 101 conversation? Briefly stated, the reporter clearly stays within the definition of providing analysis and only allowing expert sources to pass judgment. But if she had called Bush's rhetorical strategy "bizarre," as a source does, that would have crossed the line into injecting opinion. We clear?

Reporters are human beings, which is why we enjoy reading the newspaper. Otherwise we'd just read the ticker on the bottom of cable news channels. Analysis, while oftentimes different from our own, illuminates issues and elucidates us to notions we may not have otherwise had about a common topic. However imperfect the reporting process may be, I'd hope that we've learned that an inquisitive, analytical press is a powerful check against destructive forces in our communties and our nation. In an effort to bend over backwards to be "fair and impartial," our nation's reporters can perform a disservice by acting as unwitting cheerleaders and rubber-stampers. Frankly, I would like to see more analysis, not less. The news media too often treats political figures with almost-regal reverence, no matter how few clothes the emperor in question may be wearing on a given day.

A journalism professor I once had wrote on his Web site the following quote, attributed to Ralph Emerson McGill, former newspaper publisher and Pulitzer Prize winner: "Objectivity is a phantom. In chasing it, we have dulled our stories. We too often made them frightfully boring, plodding unfoldings of events, in which the words ... were strung together like mud balls when they might as well have been pearls." Indeed, to remove all depth and color from our newspapers, because of an unfair expectation of a Puritan avoidance of personality, would result in feckless slop -- and worse, America would possess a less vigilant press and a dimmer light cast on the most critical of issues.


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