Published on June 29th, 2017 | by Thompson0
Journalistic integrity starts with intent
Until “journalists” intend to provide objective journalism, there will be none. And while objectivity is an impossibility, there’s a lot of value in making it known that objectivity is not your goal or even your pursuit. It’s exactly why the word “opinion” appears at the beginning of so many of my headlines. I’m not going to hide the fact I’m attempting to persuade you, and I hope that you find value in that, because it’s not the case everywhere.
We all have our preferred news sources. For Conservatives, Fox News brings them what they want to hear. For Liberals, MSNBC provides their take on the news. I am no different. I have my sources. None of them are televised, but I have no intention of misleading you to believe you’re reading the news when you read some of my writing, and if more news sources did the same, “journalism” might still exist.
You feel it every moment you read a news story, especially online. You start reading because a headline drew your attention. That’s how we read newspapers. It’s the same formula newspapers have been using for nearly 400 years: draw them in with a headline, and write a lede that makes them read further, until they’re convinced to buy the paper. I’d say nothing’s changed, but the intent of “journalists” has changed.
I have a deep love for the work of The Atlantic. They do fantastic investigative journalism, which is hard to come by these days, but even I come across Atlantic articles that bother me as a journalist because nowhere in the article or on the webpage does it say “opinion” or “editorial.” Yet, in the first or second paragraph the author is describing a personal experience as if it’s fact. Well, I’ve experienced plenty, but I’d hope you’d consider the validity of your adviser before you accept or dismiss any advice. You’re not really reading until you read rhetorically, and that means questioning the very words written and those who wrote them.
There are “journalists” out there looking to write that piece that gets them Associated Press attention. I’ve written plenty of pieces of which I’m proud and none have drawn the eye of editors from my favorite publications. The best thing I’ve written was 450 words on how increasing funding for drug counseling would be more effective than expanding the jail given the methamphetamine problem in Eastern Montana and recidivism rates of drug addicts being incarcerated. I think it ran on page six, and it was some of the most objective work I’ve done. The jail expansion didn’t get enough votes that year, and that’s not even the success I was seeking. My intent was to convey a complex idea about methamphetamine use and how it was being inadequately and improperly treated in the area. I have no idea if my article on page six had any effect on the election, but I received great pleasure knowing that I had written something with the strict intent to inform in the most objective manner possible, despite my political leanings.
I guess that means if I was good enough for The Atlantic I’d be writing for The Atlantic. But editors at The Atlantic should be leading the charge when it comes to the presentation of journalism. Instead they expect people to know what to expect from their publication, which means their work isn’t subject to the same objective standards that newspapers still require.
I can confirm. Your local newspaper is still the most accurate and helpful news source you’ll find. The people putting that information together live in your community and are affected by the same information. You’re not going to get a more honest and objective attempt at journalism than you will from your local newspaper. The hardest job I had was attempting objective journalism for a community completely unlike me — and I did that for almost five years.
You can watch all the television you want, but the information of highest quality and most objectivity is being provided by your local newspaper and National Public Radio station. The people in these professions don’t just have an obligation to provide the most objective news, they have a passion to do so. If you think this is a glamorous life, I can tell you it’s not. It takes a team of writers and a slew of interns to write an investigative piece on anything. And most of these people do it for the love of the game, not the money, because there is no money. There are fast food workers who make more than journalists.
So how can you tell if the information you’ve found is worth a damn? The first thing to do is consider the source. Most “journalists” providing content for a publication available strictly online are simply “content coordinators” or worse yet, “copywriters.” I am one of these content coordinators, and while I have five years of experience in the newspaper industry, being a journalist is just too hard. I took the easy way out that actually pays, and while I regret not seeing my name in print every few days and being held to a higher journalistic standard, I get to go to work everyday, or not go to work everyday and just work where I am, and write about what I want. I’ve been seeking a job that doesn’t feel like a job my whole life, and I’m lucky enough to have found it.
That doesn’t mean you can’t find honest information online. I’m trying to provide it and prove it exists. An author’s presentation of information will tell you a lot about the author. For instance, I make it clear I’m writing an opinion in the first word of my headline. Is your online source doing the same? If it’s not, how long before the author refers to herself or uses first-person narration? The use of “my” or “I” does not indicate an attempt at objectivity. They’re not even trying to be objective, but they might not be as obvious about it as I am.
I like to pursue objectivity on occasion. It’s a fantastic challenge for a writer, perhaps the best challenge (although I’ve just started writing children’s book, and they’re a lot harder than you’d think). But I realize everyone in the world doesn’t want to read my opinions. If they did this piece would be syndicated and published in every major paper in the country. But if just one reader happens to find something informative and helpful in my writing, I’ve done my job. That’s what journalists are supposed to be — helpful. We are public servants. When there was an oil spill near the source for drinking water in my town, it was our job at the newspaper to get the word out about the quality of the drinking water as soon as possible. That information couldn’t wait for the next edition of the paper, but we and the radio journalists had to let people know if they could drink the water. That’s why we’re here.
That’s right, I said we. I called myself a content coordinator, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still aspire for the impossibility of objectivity. I told you I got out of newspapers because it was too hard. I’m a Socialist that reads The Militant, a newspaper that reports labor strikes around the world that never air on Fox News or MSNBC. I also grew up in Eastern Montana, and lived and worked there as a journalist for years before growing tired of failing — failing to reach people and failing to inform.
My only goal in life has been to help people through words. When people ask me what I want to do with my life — what my legacy will be — the answer for years has been, “To be read.” I knew I was pretty good at this writing thing at a young age. I was lucky not to waste my time attempting something for which I wasn’t suited. “But you spent five years in pursuit of objectivity and failed” you might say. But failure in journalism is a lot like failure in baseball. I’ve written hundreds of articles, ranging from local (teachers’ union/school district contract negotiations), national (temporary halt on the XL Pipeline running through the land of one of our county commissioners), to sports (the 2015-16 Region XIII NJCAA men’s basketball runners-up at a school that might run out of funding and not exist). And now I’m writing about writing because I investigated what we’re now calling “fake news” and what I called “Gonzo rhetoric” back when I was completing my Master’s degree. The way information is being presented these days is hardly honest. Journalistic integrity has been sacrificed by journalists to be first to market, as if providing information is a business. It used to be a service, and now the federal government wants to get rid of some of those services, or just not inform the public publicly. Trump’s budget would cut all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which got $445 million of the $4 trillion budget last fiscal year.
You don’t have to like NPR or read a newspaper to appreciate what I’m trying to convey. I mean hell, I’m calling myself on my own bullshit here. I’m a journalist turned content coordinator. Just because I can string together words in a way that persuades you to read on doesn’t give me the right to mislead you. And even if I attempt to mislead you, you are in the position of power. You can resist. Just simply ask yourself: “Is this an opinion or fact? Can I trust this author? Does she have my interests in mind?” Chances are if you’re watching television, the only interests they have in mind are those of their shareholders. The value of information means very little in television news. I’ve been in the industry, and they’d rather run videos of puppies rolling in poop than inform. Shit gets better ratings. You can change all that.
This was originally published at GCNLive.com.