Sunday, August 21, 2005

EU Rota has a good response to the New York Times' editor Bill Keller's letter to the Times condemning Judge Richard Posner's essay looking at the state of the media today.

Here's a sampling of EU Rota's critique with Keller's words in italics.
I've witnessed in my 35 years in newspapers:

- the idealism of reporters who think they can make the world better. Personally I do not want to read/watch/listen to any reporter trying to "make the world better." The job of a reporter is to report the facts of a story and the entire context of a story. It is precisely the "idealism" of those reporters, mainly in the MSM, which is leading to declining readership/viewers. Reporters who wish to make the world a better place might do well to join the Red Cross, a UN relief agency, or some other organization designed to do just that. Save your idealism, report the story.

- the quest for peer recognition. Why not let the work of your reporters speak for itself? As in sports or other endeavours "the quest for peer recognition" can and does lead to cutting corners and bending the rules for an advantage. This does not happen to all but it will in some. Is it all about awards? No names needed.
Go read the rest. It is spot on. Once journalists decide that journalism is the profession they should enter in order to make the world a better place, they become advocates instead of reporters of events. Sure there are some things that almost everyone can agree on like reporting on a massacre in Darfur. But too often the reporting becomes simply a cry for the government to step in and fix some problem, preferably by spending more money. Most problems are too complex to get at all the permutations of various policy proposals in the space of a single newspaper article. But so rarely do journalists have the space, time, or perhaps even the inclination to explore what is causing a problem and what the effects, intended and otherwise might be for suggested solutions.

Take an example from my field: education. People complain that teachers are leaving the field. Polticians and teachers say that the solution is to increase teacher salaries. Well, I'm all for that. But what if that isn't the real cause of teachers retiring from the profession? What if it aggravation with administrators, nasty children, work overload, poor discipline procedures, nonsupportive parents, or any of a host of factors that could lead to loss of job satisfaction? If you increase the salaries and don't address the other problems, you haven't solved the problem. And you've taken money from a whole host of other areas to do so. How are journalists to find out what the real problem is? That's tough. I don't know. I've talked to many teachers who have decided to do something else and the reasons are many and varied. Sometimes the money was an issue, but often it wasn't. Teachers know what the salary is going in. It's the other stuff that can surprise them.

I don't mean to argue against raising teacher salaries; I'm just trying to point out that problems are complex and journalists who are trying to "make the world better" often latch on to the simplistic sounding solutions. They then step out of their roles as reporters of stories and have taken on the politician's or policy analyst's role instead. And since so many of these solutions involve increased government involvement in a problem, this means that journalists who want to "make the world better" will lean to the liberal position on such questions. It's not some vast media plot, but just an example of a certain ideological position being more in alignment with the perception of what the job should be. I'm with EU Rota: go join some charitable organization instead of the media if that is your goal.