Journalism 101

While surfing a few Mac blogs today — lots to talk about, with the iPhone launch measured in hours — I came upon the start of a debate (@ Bynkii) over the penchant for some bloggers to call themselves citizen journalists.

As if!

So very few are, and Bynkii’s John Welch doesn’t mince words. But one reader took him to task, agreeing that while most bloggers are sorely lacking, others like Glenn Greenwald and Digby at Hullabaloo deserve our respect.

A journalism student disagreed. His argument:

Sorry, but Glenn Greenwald would have been flunked by any of my journalism professors, unless he were writing for the editorial page. For that matter, most of the ones I recognized out of your list would have been flunked – as would any of the people at Fox News, so the ‘official’ press doesn’t exactly get off scott-free either.

real journalist, I was always taught, does their best to report the news without bias or favor. Glenn Greenwald comes up with a lot of interesting tidbits, if they’re true. The problem is that too often he comes across as having an ax to grind, which doesn’t exactly help the case he’s trying to make. And he often uses highly emotionally-charged language, which sets off all kinds of warning bells in my head. That’s the kind of writing that belongs in an editorial, not a news story.

Some websites do make an effort to report neutrally and avoid slanted language, and I generally do respect them as journalistic entities. I also call them ‘news sites’ rather than blogs. Macintouch is one of them most of the time, though occasionally the editorial comments seem to be taking a side instead of just reporting.

Bloody hell! I couldn’t resist climbing on my soapbox. My response:

If your journalism profs would fail Greenwald, then they shouldn’t be teaching journalism. He’s a journalist and an editorialist. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

You are correct. He doesn’t report without bias, so no one would should mistake him for an reporter. He’s an editorialist who combines opinion with thorough research and annotation.

I’d also disagree with the proposition that all journalism is supposed to be unbiased and fair. In practice, journalism is never unbiased. One can only hope for fairness. If the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Wetumpka (Alabama) Herald all send reporters to cover a Whitehouse speech by Dick Cheney*, the stories won’t look anything alike. Why not? If they’re all trying to be fair and unbiased, shouldn’t the stories be (at least somewhat) similar? No. Each reporter has a different understanding, based on what they believe, what their audience wants to read, and a hundred other factors.

In the old days, no one spoke about an unbiased media. Papers were known for being conservative, or liberal, and people read them with that understanding. I think that’s the proper way to think about the media.

I actually think it’s funny, in some ways, that your journalism profs emphasize reporting news without slant or bias. Watching from Canada, I think the US media are so obviously biased and so obviously slanted that I can’t believe any journalism school in the US teaches anything like fairness in reportage. It just isn’t common US media practice.

I’m sorry for sounding so strident. I think Greenwald — and several others mentioned above — are fine writers and journalists. Everyone at Fox News, on the other hand, would fail Journalism 101 But not for being biased. For being stupid. I mean, really. Bill O’Reilly has never lets facts get in the way of his opinion. And editorialists are supposed to at least consider the facts.

The real difference between blogs and traditional newspapers is that with newspapers, editors stand between the writer and publication. The editing process, and back and forth in a traditional newsroom, usually makes for better writing. The best bloggers often have editors (like Greenwald, I imagine), or they’re so talented they can overcome this limitation.

::::climbing down::::

I’d love to know where this guy goes to school.