NOT WALL STREET: Let’s start with journalism school. I often invoke journalism school because I went to one. On my own dime. As an adult. Planting trees and shrubs for a living. What they failed to inform me was that journalism school was an idealistic reflection of a bygone era that would have no resemblance whatsoever to the industry in which I would seek employ. And that I would start out making less than I earned digging holes with a shovel. And so yes, I am bitter, but that’s also my natural disposition.
Contrary to popular belief and substantial evidence otherwise, journalism majors are generally very smart people, yours truly notwithstanding. My school required at least one other major or two minors in addition to journalism. That’s because journalists have to comprehend everything they encounter and boil it down to 500 or fewer words. “Welcome to the Grass Valley Union. Please give us an update on the county’s failed municipal bond. Don’t expect overtime.” However, the beauty of journalism, practiced traditionally, is the opportunity to learn from experts. I doubt that bond attorneys would have jumped at the chance to answer my calls when I was a farm wife.
But I digress, like I do after 5:30 a.m. phone calls with remarkably optimistic engineers who believe I will eventually grasp what they are saying. It must be like when the rest of us are talking to a dog.
So journalism school, yes. There’s this thing about objectivity, and the diligent guardianship thereof. Consequently, though one is driving an oil-burning Ford F-150 and dividing ketchup packets for soup, one must not accept the dazzling array of gifts and electronics and sandwiches one is offered. OK, fine. One is not so materialistic in the first place, so one will live.
But one is also not supposed to act on or express political or personal opinions. Seriously. They taught us that. There was even an open-ended question as to whether we should vote, as if journalism were a felony. The main point was to constantly monitor our objectivity. E.g., It’s probably OK to vote if I’m writing obits. Not so much if I’ve got the White House beat.
The problem, however, with self-monitoring is that the capacity for rationalization varies wildly among individuals. I think every person alive has stepped over the line of integrity. Some may recognize it and discover it’s not worth the violation of their conscience. Others may justify and bury it; others still may feel pretty smart for “getting by” with something. That’s just the spectrum of human nature.
That’s why lines are drawn, and why it’s important for journalists and readers to identify the difference between reporting and opinion. I know I dance on both sides of that line quite a bit. I would argue that the Internet is quite a different animal to feed, but that would be a cop out. Sometimes I just can’t help but throw my two cents in, and trust that it’s obvious.
Not that anyone appreciates that or cares. My apologies in that respect. Sometimes its a coping mechanism, as I imagine it was for Jamie Wilson, the KPTV-TV Fox 12 reporter traversing the innertubes this week for telling Occupy Portland protesters, “I am one of you,” while the cameras rolled.
“I have student loans, I can’t get out of debt, I have a ridiculously high-priced college education, and my real-world job has not given me the salary to pay it off. I became a young homeowner, because it was a dream, and now my home has tanked in value, and I’m still behind on the mortgage . . . I feel your pain.”
I haven’t come across anything about how Jamie’s news director reacted to her rant, which is now posted on YouTube. I was entertained and informed. Cable networks have made a killing in opinion journalism with so-called “talking heads” who are paid exorbitant salaries. Maybe there’s a place in local news for the “candid reporter.”
Few businesses are as opaque as news organizations. Maybe there’s a place for transparency alongside objectivity. I know I’d like to hear what news people are really thinking. I already have a handle on the weather.
~ Deborah D. McAdams
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