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Posts Tagged ‘objectivity’

Tim McGuire coverJournalists don’t tell our own stories often enough.

I practiced the journalism of neutrality and objectivity for most of my reporting and editing career. I became aware that my humanity helped me identify with the people I interviewed and persuade them to tell me important and intimate stories. But the stories were always about someone else.

I learned when Mimi was a columnist (and wrote about our lives frequently, to the readers’ appreciation) and relearned as a blogger that journalists have our own stories to tell, and I believe we should tell them more often.

So here’s my buried lead: Tim McGuire, a longtime editor and now a journalism professor, tells a powerful personal story in his memoir, “Some People Even Take Them Home.” Tim edited a lot of big stories in his career (the Minneapolis Star Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 1990, when he was managing editor). But I doubt that he did anything more important than sharing the story of his physical disability (which he denied for years), his son’s mental disability and their “journey for acceptance.” (more…)

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Tom Kent, linked from his Twitter avatar

called yesterday for detailed practical advice on making ethical decisions in today’s journalism. After I posted, I emailed the people I mentioned in the post, inviting them to respond. This is the response from Associated Press Standards Editor Tom Kent, who is leading an ethics initiative of the Online News Association:

Steve, you raise some excellent points about where we stand in the ethics conversation. Sometimes, as you suggest, we’re a little too philosophique, thinking big thoughts without the concrete examples that would make them immediately useful. Meanwhile, we’re trying to write ethical codes for a profession that’s in the process of splitting into some distinctly different philosophies.

However much we agree on certain unifying concepts (tell the truth, don’t plagiarize, don’t take money to skew your stories), after that we start to differ widely. You referred to the contrast between those who think it’s fine to write from a certain political point of view (as long as you’re transparent about it) and those who favor an updated version of objectivity and neutrality (find my defense of that here). There are disparate points on view on many other questions. (more…)

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Journalism isn’t narcissism, as Hamilton Nolan noted correctly in his Gawker headline. But as Nolan elaborated, I heard an old theme that I think has misguided lots of journalists. Journalism also isn’t machinery. Journalism is practiced by humans, and journalists and journalism professors who deny their humanity diminish their journalism.

Nolan found fault with a New York Times piece by Susan Shapiro, an author and journalism professor he dismissed as “teaching a gimmick: the confessional as attention-grabber.”

Shapiro encourages her feature-writing students to “shed vanity and pretension and relive an embarrassing moment that makes them look silly, fearful, fragile or naked.” Nolan counters that journalism students instead need to be taught to write other people’s stories:

Your friends, and neighbors, and community members, and people across town, and across your country, and across the world far and wide are all brimming with stories to tell. Stories of love, and war, and crime, and peril, and redemption. The average inmate at your local jail probably has a far more interesting life story than Susan Shapiro or you or I do, no matter how many of our ex-boyfriends and girlfriends we call for comment. All of the compelling stories you could ever hope to be offered are already freely available. All you have to do is to look outside of yourself, and listen, and write them down.

I believe both journalists are right. Journalists need to tell the important untold stories of their communities. Most journalism should be outward-looking. But personal insight can and often should be part of the process of listening and writing down other people’s stories. (more…)

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Death tends to bring out a tendency by journalists to exaggerate.

If you had asked NFL fans last week to list the players from the decades of the 1990s and 2000s who were “icons” or “legends,” they would have named Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Jerry Rice, Reggie White, Ray Lewis, Barry Sanders and a few others. I don’t think many would have named Junior Seau.

He was a star and a probable Hall of Famer, but I didn’t think of him as an icon or legend, and I don’t think most fans did. But his suicide made him both in the front-page headline of USA Today (I stayed in a hotel last night, so it was delivered to my door).

I should add that I would have no criticism of the use of either term by the San Diego media. He clearly was iconic there, with Dan Fouts probably one of the two greatest Charger players ever. But not nationally. It’s not a big deal, just an indication that journalism isn’t as objective as we sometimes portray it. Journalism is practiced by humans, and we react with human emotion, surprise and exaggeration sometimes. (more…)

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An email (slightly edited) from a Digital First Media journalist last week raised a couple questions I hear frequently relating to social media:

I asked an important question at a staff meeting today, and the city editor suggested I e-mail you. It has to do with tweeting and/or posting opinions.

As a reporter (I know, you like the term journo), it is ingrained in me not to reflect my opinions. Last weekend, I scanned Twitter off and on and found many news outlets tweeting about the Occupy Oakland protest going on. A TV van was damaged, a flag burned at City Hall, etc.

My first impulse was to tweet my personal gut response: that I didn’t understand protests and flag burning in my generation and I don’t now. I also wanted to tweet that once Occupy got violent, that ended the argument for me.

But I had misgivings about whether I should post any kind of opinion at all, so I refrained.

So, is there a guideline about this? I thought about asking via Twitter, but obviously that wouldn’t work. (more…)

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Journalism values are not timeless and etched in stone. Values have changed through the years and the digital-first journalist recognizes that they are changing today.

In some ways, a digital-first journalist shares the values of traditional journalism but may pursue them in different ways. In other ways, we pursue values that we think are more appropriate for the networked world we work in today.

We won’t entirely agree on values. Where we share values, we may vary in priority and practice. Digital-first leaders trust our journalists and the editors leading our newsrooms to make smart, ethical decisions. So don’t view this as a narrow template into which we must squeeze our journalism or as unanimously held views. These are some thoughts on values that guide journalists — how they are changing and how they endure. I share these views to stimulate discussion about digital-first values because I believe we value candid and vigorous discussion about journalism and journalism values.

I am examining and explaining digital-first journalism in a series of blog posts this week. I started yesterday with a discussion of how digital-first journalists work. Today I address the values that guide digital-first journalists: (more…)

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