Saturday, 14 February 2009

Journalism: a bone to pick...

I came up with the title of this entry with complete innocence, that is, lacking any "bone" pun in mind. It's simply that I have, for a long time, had a problem with the profession of news reporting. There are too many aspects of this line of work that get under my skin.

The first is probably the biggest: their claim to honest. When you hear someone in the profession talk about the purpose of journalism, the speech is full of words like honesty, accuracy, truth, unbiased, objective... They claim to find the facts and try to transmit them unadulterated to the people as best they can. I'll be the last one to claim that this is an easy job, but not only to they seem to avoid achieving their goals, but they fail extravagantly. When thinking of individuals that you would trust with information, I think that most people would put reporters dead last. This may be unfair to many who call themselves journalists, but generalizations come from somewhere and I don't find too many news reports brimming with the restraint and cold rationality I would expect from someone merely delivering the facts.

I have to reveal a small bias of my own. I am a librarian and I got my masters degree in library and information science from the University of Western Ontario. At this institution, the schools of librarianship and journalism are in the same faculty: the Faculty of Information and Media Studies. While there, I thought that this was an appropriate connection. Librarians (and archivists) collect, preserve and provide passive access to to information, and journalists, theoretically, actively discovery and disseminate information. How idealistic I was. The more I experienced the clash of the two schools, and the more I compared the actual output and practice of the two professions, the more I was disappointed. I'm not sure who's job it is to push information out to the masses but it's not reporters. Even the best of them are picking and choosing the most "interesting" pieces of "information" to push, and by that I unfortunately mean that it's only the most fantastic and entertaining news stories that make it to air. That's like an animal rights activist saving only the cutest and the cuddliest. Easier? Yes. Honest? I'm afraid not.

One particular bias has bubbled into my brain recently. I don't think I ever noticed before how much journalists are reporting on journalism itself. There seems to be an overabundance in the number of times that they are reporting on how freedom of the press is being trampled somewhere. I have no numbers to back me up - anyone want to take up this study? - so it's only a gut feeling based on my own limited experience but it only makes sense. What group of people wouldn't find themselves and their plight excessively interesting? But journalists claim to be above that.

Now I've been using the term "professional" to describe journalists out of a certain amount of courtesy and lack of other good labels but actually, not all journalists see themselves that way. Many wouldn't call themselves "professional" in the way I'm using it, and I've even heard them say that they don't really care for the "integrity" of the occupation. By this I mean that unlike other professions, anyone can pick up a pen and notepad and call themselves a journalist. For an occupation proud of their high standards of accuracy and trustworthiness, I'm not sure how they could ensure anything like that without also controlling who's allowed to wear the hat.

I'm sure there are some journalists/reporters out there who have something to say about all of this... Well? Have at me!

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