Friday, April 11, 2008

"New" Journalism

Disclaimer: I do not usually comment on my own industry (the media) or the trends therein, but this is something that has been on my mind lately. If you'd rather not hear me rant a little bit about the media and the trends of new journalism...feel free to stop reading here. Otherwise, welcome aboard.

Let me start out by giving you a little background.

Just last weekend I edited a friend's senior paper, which dealt with the relationship between the blogosphere and the news media. Oftentimes, bloggers act as whistleblowers when they see something that is not legitimate in a news story, or the act as "citizen journalists" that comment on the events they deem worthy to cover. I won't get into my views about bloggers acting as journalists (that could be lengthy and mostly unnecessary), but I will comment on something that I noticed just now in a headline news story.

Increasingly, I have noticed the voice and opinion of reporters in news stories. In essence, this trend of "new journalism" or "civic journalism" occurs when a reporter submits his or her opinion into a story or spins things in a way they see fit, but that may not be fair. Sure, it's been going on for years in the way media authorities have chosen to tell stories or what stories they have chosen to cover...but lately it has filtered down even into the newsroom, all the way down to the work of staff writers. In other words, the traditional journalistic value of objectivity is trumped by the view of the reporter.

At first I thought this trend was mostly constrained to local or smaller papers that are not as professional, but today I read something on CNN's site that made me raise an eyebrow. I noticed it in a story about a mother who learned that a few years ago that her son was planning a Columbine-style attack at his high school. She acted quickly and got him help, very possibly preventing another horrible school shooting. It is not the story itself that I take issue with, but the way the reporter sets it up.

In telling about how this young man wanted to kill his high school classmates, the reporter wrote: "It would be a fitting payback to his high school classmates who Richard says relentlessly bullied him."

Excuse me? First of all, that is opinion. And second of all, a fitting payback?

I don't really know what to do with this trend, since I must admit that I too have allowed my voice to work its way into a story. However, I make it a point to take my opinion out of my stories and to qualify other opinions in the stories with at least one or two sources. It is a very fine line to walk, and there are multiple issues I could delve into here...but I will refrain for the sake of keeping this to the point.


Travis mentioned that this writer may just need an editor, which is very may have been a simple mistake where the writer failed to attribute the idea to the source. Nonetheless, the issues of new journalism remain in the industry.

Any thoughts? Or did I just lose all 3 of my dedicated readers with my little disclaimer at the top?


Blogger tmamone said...

Nope, I'm still here!

The author of that article could really use an editor! If s/he were to write, "He believed it would be a fitting payback for being bullied" or something like that, I think that would be okay. The author is clearly stating what the boy thought. But that sentace does make it sound like the author is saying it would be a fitting payback. Not good!

Have you ever checked out It's a pretty interesting blog about how mainstream press covers religion.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

You didn't lose me. I agree completely...those two words alone turned this story into an editorial and put a major dent in the writer's credibility, as far as I'm concerned. Even if I did agree that it would be a "fitting payback" (which is a SICK thing to say, that's not the point because like you said, we have no right to inject our opinion into the news. It's easy to make that mistake sometimes, but still inexcusable.
What do you think of how NPR reports news? They are blatantly opinionated sometimes in their online stories.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Travis: Good point! I added something to the end of my entry to note that very thing. And no, I have not checked out Perhaps I shall!

Megan: How did I know you'd be faithful to comment? :) Hooray! I don't read NPR online (or listen to it for that matter) so I couldn't give you a good answer. Thanks for jumping in though!

1:29 PM  
Blogger FancyPants said...

Hi Rachel. I'm late in commenting here, but just wanted to say that I enjoyed reading this post. Really interesting! You have such a great job!

10:55 AM  
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