This addendum was inspired by some back-and-forth I had with a gentleman over a story I wrote for this week’s paper, a story of a sensitive and controversial nature (pick up Friday’s Mashpee edition…you’ll be able to spot the article to which I refer with ease). Things were said — more accurately, accusations were lobbed my way — that indicated an ignorance of just how my job worked and a firm belief in some of the hoary old cliches that continue to haunt my profession.
I would like to dispel those misconceptions now, misconceptions such as:
Otters love reporters
So not true. They hate us. Hate us with the fiery passion of a thousand blazing suns. Just ask Myron, the Reporter-Hating Otter:
Look at his hate! It’s so cute! Yes it is! Yes it is such cute hate!
Our decisions are guided entirely by what “the competition” is doing
Generally speaking, all newspapers in a given coverage area report on the same stuff, and of course each is going to do its best to give readers the superior story, but this is not to say a reporter’s train of thought is, “Say, Newspaper X wrote a story on Event Y — so should I!” Nor are we going to drop everything if someone calls with a tip and pokes us with, “Well, your competition is doing a story about it!”
Papers have different standards for what is “newsworthy” and what isn’t; Newspaper X might hear that the board of selectmen had a weekend kegger and go, “What a story! Board Bombed at Beer Blitz!”, then proceed to write a story that questions the character of these selectmen who dare to drink to excess. Newspaper Y might look at the same story and say, “A bunch of selectmen got together for drinks. Big whoop. Were they discussing town business? No? So who cares?”
Advertisers are our overlords
I love this one. Many times I have heard people chiding us in the newsroom for “failing” to do anything about the Scandalous Event At Local Business because we’re afraid of cheesing off said business and losing their precious ad revenue. As a wise woman once said to me, “We’re not in this business to make friends.” Life happens everywhere, including at places that help us pay our bills, and when push comes to shove, we have a greater obligation to inform and educate the geneal public.
We have agendas
Alas, this is sometimes true. Fox News, for example, has a clear agenda: automatically gainsay whatever any Democrat anywhere says or does, even if there is legitmiate merit to it. They’re certainly not alone; media outlets big and small, print or electronic, have agendas (or, at least, very specific axes to grind). But any reporter with any sense of journalistic integrity follows a deceptively simple credo: gather all the information and present it in a balanced, even-handed, and neutral manner.
There are several more benign reasons why this does not always happen, and they mostly fall into the general category of “We couldn’t get that information.” Sometimes all it takes is one person out of a dozen failing to return a phone call and a reporter loses out on one crucial piece of datum that would have changed the entire complexion of his story. Maybe he didn’t even know this person might have that info. Sometimes, in the hurly-burly of trying to meet deadlines, we inadvertantly omit information.
And hey, let’s be honest, sometimes our subconscious is at work without our knowing it. While a journalist might have no professional opinion, he does have one, and it can influence his efforts even when the conscious brain is trying to stay centered.
We’re scared to cover tough stories
A reporter that writes only happy fluffy stories is called a “publicist.”
We write about a wide variety of unhappy, unsettling, and uncomfortable stories, everything from “Person Dies Tragically” to “Town Manager Assaults Bus Full Of Nuns” to “Mom Of Six Busted With Mountain Of Cocaine So Large Cops Had To Search It For Yetis And Sherpas.” This often requires us to place awkward phone calls to people who would just as soon the entire world come down with selective amnesia. Or die in flames, one of the two. People who can’t make those calls wash out of this biz pretty quickly.
The media doesn’t tell the truth; they alter stories to make them more sensational
Truth is a relative measure. Example: a man and a woman get into a domestic squabble and the police show up. For the man, the “truth” is that his wife started the fight and he was trying to defend himself. For the woman, the “truth” is just the opposite: he was the aggressor, she the victim. If I as the reporter write that the woman was the victim, then as far as the man is concerned, I am a lying sack. I did not tell the truth. I twisted the “facts” to make the woman look more sympathetic and make him look like an abusive scumbag.
Besides that, “lying” by reporters has another, more technical term: “Juicy libel lawsuit.”
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.