M. Alex Johnson – Journalist at Large

An analog journalist in a digital world

By the way, it’s ‘Barack’

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Many academic journalism observers argue that the “objectivity” model of U.S. journalism is outdated or, worse, destructive. Disclose your point of view, they argue, so the reader or the viewer can assess whether you’re being fair. They’ve managed to persuade some actual journalists.

One of them, apparently, is Neal Barton of KETK-TV of Tyler, Texas. KETK is one of the few remaining broadcast stations that observe the tradition of delivering an on-air editorial.

Usually, such editorials are delivered by the station manager or the community director. Neal Barton is the news director at KETK — by title, at least, the head of all news gathering.

That is, the journalism side.

Mr. Barton thoroughly embraces the modern show-me-yours ethic. In an editorial earlier this month, he wrote:

The mainstream media is preparing to throw daggers at anyone who who dares to take on their candidate, Barak Obama.

The media created the president and does not take kindly to anyone who tries to tear him down, read, or ask any tough, embarrassing questions about anything. …

Even left-leaning sports and political writer from New York Mike Lupica recently said the press is liberal and the right has to deal with it.

In my case, I just want a candidate than can add and subtract and see that negative numbers are a bad thing when it comes to spending my money.

(You can read the entire editorial here.)

I agree with the observation that objectivity is a phantom. Every thinking human being has beliefs and biases.

I disagree with the notion that that gives us an excuse to abandon trying to be non-partisan.

There’s an expectation among our customers — I hope, in any event — that those of us who present ourselves as “reporters” and “news” people at least strive to give them one clean shot at the basic facts (as we can best determine them at any given time) before the persuaders seize on them.

That’s why I don’t discuss my political views in any forum. That’s why I believe in trying to reflect as many viewpoints as I can in my reported features. If you can suss out my own views, it’s because I did a bad job, not because the idea of “straight journalism” is some fiction.

Certainly, it’s good for journalists to disclose whether they have conflicts of interest — even otherwise-innocent appearances of them. For example, this one: I work for NBC News, and KETK is an NBC affiliate.  I thought a good, long while about not posting this because of how it might look to criticize another part of the sprawling NBC News enterprise.

I thought about it even longer because some of you will conclude that I’m politically liberal because it’s in reaction to a politically conservative editorial. That’s inevitable, I suppose. It may or may not be true. I’m not saying. (Deal with it, professors.)

I promise you this: I would have written the same criticism of Mr. Barton’s editorial had it targeted “conservative” journalists who are allegedly in the tank for John Boehner. My objection isn’t necessarily to the content of the editorial. My objection is that it was presented by someone with the title “news director.”

I know it’s more and more old-fashioned, but I still believe there’s a difference between being a reporter and being an advocate. And I believe there should be one.

That it’s harder to be a reporter isn’t justification for not trying.

Written by Alex

July 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Journalism

Tagged with , ,

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