Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Unable To Save Themselves

In a piece at American Thinker Gary Larson sounds the death knell for "mainstream" journalism. While the body is still technically twitching, his pre-mortem autopsy finds the primary cause of death to be the demise of credible, objective reporting:

Why am I not totally surprised? Inbred journalism majors only reproduce what their inbred professors fed them. For a lover of even-handed journalism, and an ex-practitioner like myself, the outlook is bleak. Time was, in my days in newspapering, street-smart blue-collar kids without fancy degrees entered the field if they could write intelligently and honestly. Not rocket science, just tell the @#$%& truth. The pay was not terrific; reporting was a relatively easy field to enter.

Blue-collar kids worked their way to editor slots. They were not out to "save the [post-Watergate] world." These cubs just reported what happened, and who said what, without inventing stuff. "Go back," I was told by my crusty old city editor in my formative twenties, "to find out what the other side thinks of this proposal." Fairness was supreme to the guy--for all sides of the issue. (I had not a clue as to his political persuasion. I came to respect this more and more as time went on.)

As a Journalism school graduate I emerged with the quaint, rather new notion, that "interpretative journalism" (a term found in the very name of our 1960's textbook) was Gospel. Context was king. It was the pathway to "acing" the public affairs course. Inserting "frame of reference" into our stories was a must. I was graded down without "context" gratuitously offered.

When I entered the profession, my wise old city editor (a high school graduate) quickly disabused me of the notion of "context." "Leave the interpretation to the editorial side," he'd say.

Today the field is rife with highly educated reporters. Fresh from their university indoctrination, they are out to save the world...or save something.

For the last forty years or so, reporters who have behaved as if their mission was save the world and "make a difference" have done much to discredit journalism and contributed to the apparently irreversible decline of many of the field's leading institutions. It might be too late in the game to get back to the days of journalists simply trying to tell us what happened, but for those of us who still hanker for hard core news it would be a welcome shift. One that could maybe even salvage what's left of the industry.

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