Are Journalists Exempt From Civility?

Reading with interest an article in the NYT, entitled "Rough Treatment of Journalists in the Trump Era," reminded me of how agressively some members of the media feel entitled to act. Having taken a few journalisim courses, worked in more than one television newsroom and observed first hand on many occasions (in the Big Apple of all places) a media scrum which can only be kindly described as militantly chaotic, I can project another possibility behind the headlines. Indeed, there are many in news who feel they are doing God's work and so with rightiousness feel justified in doing whatever it takes to 'get the story'. Unfortunately few if any journalists are working for the Divine, despite how they feel.


In fact, since my days in the periphery of news, our society has become more politically polarized and news gathering's become more competitive and aggressive. Blame it on politics, the 24 hour news cycle, dropping subscription rates or whatever. It's a fact. Now, it's rare to find a news outlet (or a reporter) that doesn't push a point of view in ways both blatent and subtle. Long gone is the standard of objective truth, although it is often still given lip service. Maybe we can blame Geraldo Rivera for Advocacy Journalism, but 'crusading reporters' have been around forever. It's just that they were once balanced out by outlets which tried to be evenhanded. No doubt I'm of the old school. Since none of us can claim to have an exclusive franchise on the truth or wisdom (I'll admit I come very close) it would be better for our society if reporters and the outlets they serve didn't take the attiude of avenging angels entitled to do or say whatever they feel necessary. And make no mistake, whether you like your news progressive or conservative, left or right, democratic or republican, the reporters representing your favorite news outlet are often guilty of being overly agressive.

My point is that there are always two sides to a story and because the 'Rough Treatment of Journalists' is a self-serving story it is more propaganda than reportage. Is it biased? Just look at the rest of the headline: ...'In  The Trump Era.' I guarantee you that reporters have not become less or more agressive than they were under Obama, Bush, Clinton etc. Or that people targeted by the press have become any more resentful of press tactics -- or any less. But now, the New York Times feels obligated to not only conclude it is the atmosphere created by Trump which is responsible for violence against reporters but that the reporters are victims! Oh, those poor reporters! Just doing their jobs! Journalists are guardians of our freedom! Woe is the world because those we disagree with are evil!  Wouldn't it be nice if some of that were true?

I pity the average person who is ever unfortunate enough to become the interest in a hot news story. To say they will be attacked by the media is an understatement. I've seen it. Few of us ever see it because we get the story from the point of view of the reporter. We don't see the banks of cameras, people poking, yelling, making fools of themselves and the incivility of the whole thing. Frankly it's hard to understand how any public figure puts up with it, even with the assistance of PR people or Press Secretaries. But that's the way it is. And frankly, that's the way it was! The difference? Well, now no one follows the old journalistic adage of 'Don't make the story about you.' And now there's less neutral attitude and more advocacy. Less fact reporting and more 'Gotcha' journalism.  Hey, it sells papers and gets ratings. 

Watch out for people and press that are so sure they are correct, the rules don't apply to them! What are the rules? In this case, Honesty, truth and civility.



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Wednesday, 22 May 2019