Is our current conception of journalism based largely on an historical accident?
Monthly Archives: February 2010
Ah, objectivity. The much-debated, often maligned, supposed holy grail of journalism. Are reporters objective?
My answer: No.
My other answer: Who cares?
What does objectivity mean, anyway? Merriam-Webster’s definition is rather long, but I’d guess this one is most relevant for journalists:
3 a : expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations
That sounds reasonable, as far as it goes. But, as Atlanta Progressive News notes, “most people’s basic understanding of objectivity is: balancing the sides.” The problem with that, as the author goes on to imply, is that there are frequently many, many sides to the same story. Often, not all of those sides are equally valid.
Put another way, there are not two sides to every story. There are more than two sides to most stories. Some stories only have one valid side. Some stories have many sides, and none that stand out as more valid than the others. It is the job of a reporter to judge between all of them – and not, might I add, to automatically give them all equal weight. Continue reading
We should give AOL credit. On paper, a company that mainly trafficked in maddening dial-up symphonies and is included in business school textbooks as one half of the worst merger in the modern era should in 2010 be a footnote in the well-rounded journalist’s quickcard of notable fallen giants.
Yet the company is, relatively speaking, enjoying a successful transition into the content game, hiring and poaching web writers over the past year, subtly rebranding, and generally scrapping to stay relevant.
And, apparently, it won’t be just the writers doing the writing.
Steve Janis is Senior Reporter and Content Director for the Baltimore-based website Investigative Voice. Investigative Voice is exactly what the name implies – a home for classic, gumshoe-style investigative reporting that leaves no stone unturned. Janis was previously a reporter for the Baltimore Examiner, but he made the website, which he was planning while working for the Examiner, his main job when the paper folded in 2009.
Janis uncovers stories that would probably not see the light of day were it not for his site. He spends every day on the streets of Baltimore, talking to people, meeting sources, and uses his eyes and ears – a ‘reporter’ in the truest sense. Investigative Voice has done slice-of-life dispatches from some of the city’s worst neighborhoods, investigated a forgery that resulted in the firing of a city employee, and reported extensively on the resignation of Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon. The site also occasionally ventures outside Charm City, reporting on an unusual spate of red-baiting in an Upstate New York Congressional election.
Janis’ story – urban, gritty, East Coast – provides a an excellent visual counterpoint to that of M.E. Sprengelmeyer. He is another pioneer who is refusing to take the industry’s transformation sitting down, taking what is meaningful about journalism and pushing it into a new era. His platform may have changed, but his voice has not.
NYU professor Jay Rosen on the changing nature of journalism.
M.E. Sprengelmeyer is the creative and practical force behind the Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. A former Washington correspondent for the Rocky Mountain News, he lost his job when the paper closed in February 2009. From there, he turned his attention to a rather different, yet, vitally important pursuit: Ensuring that the 2,744 residents of Guadalupe County have a trusted, reliable local news source.
He will be a central character in “Fit to Print” for several reasons. The primary reason is that during this time of shrinking newsrooms, he has taken it upon himself to pursue civic-minded journalism. And that’s no abstraction. Sprengelmeyer writes, edits, photographs and even delivers his newspapers. He drives nearly 90 miles each week on the back roads of rural New Mexico at 3 AM picking up copies of the Communicator, which has a circulation of 2,000, from his printing press. He covers the whole town, from city council meetings to local business. He works with a minimal budget and is partial to scribbling page layouts on paper plates.
While his misfortune as a laid-off reporter is important to his story, our focus is on his relentless defense of thorough local news during the most challenging time for newspapers in history. His struggle is a microcosm of many of the issues facing newspapers: the income has slowed to a trickle, the staff is cut to the bone, and reporters are scrambling to do more with less.
Sprengelmeyer does it because journalism is what he knows and loves. Period. His story is a quixotic journey into one man’s pursuit to breathe life into a newspaper in an era when most publishers are fleeing the industry. Add to this the visually arresting backdrop he finds himself in: A sleepy southwest town on the the Llano Estacado or “staked plains” of eastern New Mexico and west Texas. Sprengelmeyer’s story is compelling personally, socially and visually.