The Guest Comment in this issue raises some interesting issues about print journalism in the corporate and cyber era.
Celeste White, a professional writer who has read her hometown paper for decades, laments the loss of a cherished columnist and the new direction E.W. Scripps has charted for the venerable Record Searchlight. Redding readers echo the concerns of others throughout Northern California—from The Sacramento Bee to the San Francisco Chronicle to merged MediaNews properties—who see cuts in the newsroom translate into fewer, and less enterprising, local stories in the newspaper.
That’s a continuing concern of the News & Review, too—something we explored in depth a year ago at this time in the “Greedy Vultures” cover story. Papers of record have an important place in the media mix. Unabashedly, we are proud of what we do and our weekly’s role in the community, yet we’re humble enough to know we lack the daily’s wherewithal.
What prompted fresh thought was Ms. White’s view of reporting. “People now think that if you don’t give equal weight to two opposing points of view that you’re not being ‘fair,’ “ she writes. “Is the most important role of journalism in a democracy to appear even-handed? Or is it to expose untruths and cover-ups … that threaten our democracy?"Indeed, a free society cannot survive without someone to keep people informed and leaders honest. That’s why the First Amendment is vital to the public interest, and why we came down hard on Rep. Wally Herger for not supporting the protection of reporters who use confidential sources. (As noted in our Nov. 1 editorial, Herger voted no on the Free Flow of Information Act, which passed 398-21.)
That responsibility carries with it … responsibility.
Responsible reporting makes a distinction between first-hand accounts and subsequent information gathering. Events witnessed by a journalist—bombs in Baghdad, squabbles in the Senate—need no corroboration. But when a journalist reports a story that relies on the narrative of others, assuming omniscience is risky.
Journalism schools preach objectivity. I prefer the words neutrality and, yes, fairness. Either way, I believe news stories should present the facts and how germane individuals interpret them—whether that’s two sides, three sides or even an octagon.
Editors and writers have multiple ways to convey personal truths: analysis pieces, columns, editorials, even blogs. Hyperlinks and editor’s notes let readers know when these options have been employed.
At the end of the day, people will believe what they want to believe. Most can smell B.S., even without having it rubbed in their faces. Moreover, nothing erodes a loyal reader’s trust as severely as a hubristic story, presumably “objective,” that proves faulty or false.
Ms. White is right: Advocacy does belong in journalism. I just make sure I’m confident about the direction when I take a one-way road.