Monday, March 16, 2009

Journaltopia - if only ...

Stephen Hume has another column in today's Vancouver Sun, decrying the "semi-literate bloggers" and rhapsodizing about the crucial role editors play in keeping a reporter honest. The idea is that the "new media" don't have editors, and so practically anyone with a computer and an internet connection can write practically whatever they want to, promulgating untruth and potentially dangerous points of view. Editors, Stephen writes, help a reporter from correcting spelling and grammar to challenging factual assertions to make sure the truth gets out.

Now, Stephen's right about some of the bloggers out there. I've stumbled upon Aryan Nations poison and ignorant diatribes from all kinds of fringe elements. But that's not the case 100% of the time, and for Stephen to write about bloggers without acknowledging that some of us actually have a measurable IQ is actually suppressing a key fact in his story. I would hardly call Prof. John Stackhouse "semi-literate", and while I may not agree with everything written by Stephen Rees or Paul Hillsdon or other bloggers, their comments are usually well thought out and well expressed. And if I think they're full of navel lint, I can send them comments of my own and offer perspective. As I've written before, if one tries to "straighten out" a "professional" journalist, one is often treated with disdain as if we were presumptuous beyond all measure by suggesting they weren't doing their job right.

But to Stephen's point today about editors and their value in producing stories, that's definitely the ideal, but it's not the reality. When editors allow their own bias or "newsroom philosophy" to factor into the equation, they're just as impossible to deal with as the reporters. I noted in a previous entry, I've experienced editors with a blatant bias, or who have failed to call a reporter to account when we've complained that key facts were left out of stories. With so many newsrooms espousing the philosophy that "good news is no news", a positive story that might actually be in the public interest is often ignored, in favor of some juicy "ordinary citizen" one-off complaint.

So while the function of the editor, in theory, is to ensure reporters are on the right track, the practice is far removed from that. The whole system of "professional journalism" needs a makeover, starting perhaps with a good, hard look at the lofty notion of the profession itself, followed by some discussion of the question of why the "new media" have become such a threat.

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