Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Truth Well Told

More from

I am not a journalist--that is, not a reporter, editor or photographer--but I worked in a newsroom for many years and sat in on hundreds of morning news meetings, as well as every other kind of meeting a newsroom generates. Over the years, I had thousands of interactions with the people producing the daily paper.Reporters and editors let bias into news stories all the time. They vehemently deny it because they truly believe it doesn't happen. But they look at everything through a lens formed in the sixties and handed down almost unmodified by anything that's happened since.

On certain subjects like the environment, or race, or big business vs. the little guy, or gay rights, the issues are always perfectly clear. White hats and black hats are firmly fitted onto the heads of stock characters, and here we go.The story is framed in the morning meeting or in the project proposal before a single fact is reported, and by God, that's the way it's going to be written. If the reporting doesn't support the premise, we can make it seem to with the headline, the art, burying or blurring the inconvenient facts, and a hundred other ways. We know we're right, even if we can't quite find the facts to prove it.

For example: You've pitched a big project on lead in drinking water in a poor minority community, maybe on a tip from your environmental-lawyer-longtime-source and buddy. A lot of scarce resources will be spent on testing water and blood samples, etc., but this could be a Pulitzer entry.

It's going to be a front-page multi-part series, with two or three open pages inside the first day, huge graphics and lots of photos of "victims." We'll have the greedy capitalist who owns the small water system, the dilatory and incompetent regulators, and the poor residents who only now realize, thanks to our crusading reporter, that they have been poisoned.

It turns out that the lead levels in the blood samples are below what's considered dangerous. Okay then, we'll compare them to the national AVERAGE, a completely meaningless number. But now we've got our graphics, we've got poor black folks with mysterious ailments, a learning-disabled kid to feature, and an "embattled" (a loaded word if there ever was one) state agency. Run the series. Promote the hell out of it and order fifty extra copies for contest entries. I could go on about how intelligent reporters can still be appallingly ignorant on subjects like science and history, and the arrogance that keeps them from admitting it.

You can't write a balanced story if you have no idea there could be another side. And on how advocates for the apple-pie causes we (doesn't everybody?) support aren't subjected to the same skepticism we apply to politicians and corporate spokespeople.

And there's the conviction, expressed in our touch-feely editors' retreats, that the paper's role is to "lead" and "teach," and if the community protests, it's because they're "resistant to change". Translation: I'm trying to tell you how to be just like me and you won't listen. I loved working at the paper. There's no other job where you get to be around so many smart, funny people every day. But I'm a total cynic when it comes to the way news is gathered and reported, and I consume no journalism without my Skeptometer dialed to High.

There are A LOT of journos on the site bitching about how little they are paid. One said she started at $22k right out of college and hasn't made much more since then (5 years later).

Pity, that.

This poster cracks these self-important wankos right atwixed the eyes with a little Econ 101:

I'm a non-journalist who will try to explain why most of you feel--and are--poorly paid:

You are a commodity.Commodities are price-driven. ANY unionized job--by definition--is a commodity.

If you do not DIRECTLY contribute to some P&L, and/or easily replaceable, you will be paid...just enough.

Applies to teachers too.

1 comment: