Wednesday, November 18, 2009
A point of view but fair. It could be the organically evolved creed of this three year exploration of citizen journalism.
Long have I held the view that media as a whole is shackled by the unattainable goal of "objective reporting". (Having said that, before the furies of old world media descend, there is still a need for objective journalism, but it is part of the equation, not the whole.) The concept is now warped by 24-hour news cycles with powers-that-be seeking the modern day version of a live apartment fire. Readers and viewers, with some arrogance, spout the endless mantra of "just report the facts and let us decide" then scurry as quickly as possible to the latest report of a blonde girl snatched up by a crazed fanatics who force acts of debasement found only in the deepest recesses of the psychotic soul. We bathe ourselves in filth, then complain the news givers never provide cleansing water.
Objective reporting has its place but so does non-objective reporting and how we deal with the consequences of injecting the first person will determine if the form can be elevated or is relegated to an eternal mud wrestle with the Nancy Graces.
In my own world of first person reporting, I certainly do not hide my perspective but in order to maintain fairness, I've stood by three basic rules:
2. Quote accurately
3. Give the other side a chance to respond
To the professional journalist, these are as familiar as shoes and socks. In our world, we still have a ways to go.
Monday, the admittedly biased Atlanta Progressive News released a "story" with "community reaction" to its previous story which reported mayoral candidate Kasim Reed's work as an attorney with Holland & Knight defending Cracker Barrel in a wage dispute case. APN noted Cracker Barrel's previous history of involvement in racial discrimination cases and noted the NAACP filed an amicus brief in the wage case. The tenuous connections of race to a non-racial issue caused lawyer blogger Going Through The Motions to brutally dissect APN's research and assertions.
APN's Matthew Cardinale defends his piece claiming that "we made it very clear that the Cracker Barrel case had to do with a wage dispute". He also noted the article clearly points to a separate race discrimination case. Although, he never clearly states it, Cardinale clearly claims the article was fair.
But was it? Let's apply my three rules.
1. Research - Shoddy at best. Obfuscating at worse. After giving great detail in the wage case, including the arguably irrelevant facts of Cracker Barrel's history of involvement in racial discrimination cases and the involvement of the NAACP, Cardinale points to a single case of alledged racial discrimination against a real estate firm. No details on the allegations or the conclusion. In the follow up article, once again quotes regarding Cracker Barrel are extensive, but no specifics about the second case. Perhaps, because there were no specifics.
2. Quote accurately - The whole of the quotes are in the follow up community reaction piece. We assume they are accurate since no one disputes them. Which leads us to...
3. When confronted with the lack of response from the Reed camp, Cardinale stated, "I've been doing this (APN) now for 4 years and usually have a good idea of when a PR department is going to respond, and when they aren't. So, I just didn't want to waste my time, nor my readers' time." Zero effort was made at giving the other side an opportunity to respond.
You might give a pass on the first - although it can certainly be viewed as selective research used to color the sky a particular shade of blue. There isn't much problem with the second. But the third - that sin is so dire it should never pass. A commenter claiming to be a journalist laid out the real world consequences of such a transgression, "I'd more than likely be fired. Maybe if I'm lucky I'd just be docked a week's pay".
I'm not bold enough to say my rules should apply to all. To each their own and let the readers decide what to believe and what is fair.
But if you can't follow these basic rules, then you should never get close to using the "j" word. And you're really quite a peacock if you attach some hopped up, unearned title like "News Editor" to your name.