Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Today's MOZEN: The Journalist

F LoBuono

People simply don't get what it means to be a journalist.

The most common misconception about the profession is that you have to be TOTALLY non-biased in order to be a good one. This is certainly true - in theory. In practice, it is a completely different thing. In fact, it's partially your job to be.

Allow me to explain.

A journalist is trained to report what he or she SEES as part of the story. That's why they send us to BREAKING news stories! The public counts on us to ACTIVELY REPORT what is happening at the scene. So, right off the bat, you have an individuals' impression of exactly what it is that we are witnessing. A good journalist then mixes that observation with facts - if we can (and MUST) - that we garner from the scene itself. These facts are gleaned from other eyewitness accounts as well as interviews with officials and experts with relevance to the story. And, the reporter does not do this alone. They are supported by a host of others who include photographersproducers, writers, editors, and researchers, all dedicated to using their skills in telling a truthful story.

It's up to all of us to piece together an accurate, informed story based on what we may have witnessed, as well using the other parameters mentioned above. But, make no mistake about it, interpretation of what is happening, based on experience - actual and archival - as well as research and corroboration of the facts are what make for an accurate news story. Still, because the story is created by humans it will always carry with it the impressions of the crew, i.e. bias. This must be considered. However,, it does NOT mean that the story is false or inaccurate. It is only when someone on that crew interjects a PERSONAL bias into the story that it becomes so. That is, they have allowed their personal convictions to influence their independent observations.  And, it's up to every person on that news team to exercise all of their skills in the profession to assure that this does not happen. And, within the range of human expression, it is possible to separate the two.

Let me illustrate my point with some personal experience.

In the days after President Trump's inauguration, there was a good deal of controversy as to the number of people who actually attended - especially in comparison to those who attended President Obama's second inauguration four years before. President Trump himself claimed his to be the best attended of all time and produced some photos to back up his claim. Some news outlets supported this claim. However, MANY others disputed this and presented their evidence (mostly photos and traffic statistics) to support their claim.

Well, I can REPORT this: I was at both inaugurations and this is what I observed - there was no comparison between the two. Although President Trump's affair was by no means empty, the size of the crowd paled in comparison to Mr. Obama's. Period. I had a unique vantage point for both which allowed me excellent access to the events. And, I KNOW what I saw and experienced. Furthermore, the official photos from the National Park Service and AP (charged with documenting the event) clearly showed the difference. Plus, further studies that included traffic patterns around the city of Washington confirmed Mr. Obama's much larger crowd. It's my JOB to REPORT that.

So, I can tell my story, TRUTHFULLY, based on what I OBSERVED, confirmed by the statistics made available by various officials sources. There is only the bias of what it may all ultimately mean. However, at no time were my PERSONAL convictions considered within this observation. This is Reporting.

THIS is how news stories are told. They are ALWAYS going to maintain a human component - otherwise, robots should do the reporting! But, that's why it's a PROFESSION. Journalists must be trained in the art of keen observation and how to weave that with pertinent facts and other information, while at the same time avoiding personal/political leanings. There can be no agenda, personal or political, beyond observing and reporting the truth allowed to enter into your reporting. And, THAT is why the trust between journalist and the public is a sacred pact. The journalist must do everything within his/her power to create and maintain that trust. So, it's important for the public to know the source of the news and that it's a legitimate news provider that knows and practices these important principals. Sources that have an ax to grind (i.e strong political leanings either too far right OR left) are not to be trusted when reporting breaking news. Expressions of viewpoints based on current affairs lie within a different realm.

And, this is another key factor for the public to consider when deciding what (and, whom) to believe.

An important distinction must be made between reporting and editorializing. And, I think that it is possible for the good journalist to do both - as long as a strong line is drawn between the two.

Again, I will use my personal experiences drawn from covering both inaugurations mentioned in a previous paragraph. I reported EXACTLY what I witnessed, as I OBSERVED it to be. In a sense, it was simply a matter of numbers. This is REPORTING: I observed this. Experts said that to confirm, etc. After the fact (and, this term can be used most literally), I used those observations and the subsequent controversies created by the Trump administration to form MY interpretation of what the significance of it all might mean. This is my informed opinion, a.k.a. an EDITORIAL. YOU, then, make up your OWN minds. I always make clear the difference between the two - in my own mind, as well as publicly.

It is not only possible to accomplish the two, in my humble opinion, it is essential that a good journalist does both, at least to a degree. In fact, it's our job. In the end, people will, and should, make up their own minds based on a variety of reliable sources and opinions, hopefully, mine being one.

1 comment:

  1. I think you are very fair in reporting the facts as well as your own feelings or shuld I saw opinions.