Saturday, February 28, 2015

Journalistic Integrity...

So, yeah, I spend my days copy editing a daily newspaper. I've been there a little over a year and I like it a whole lot less than I did when I started. Sure, the commute is a hassle, the wicked weather that often is Upstate New York in the winter and my different every day schedule that reads more like a retail one are all trying, but those are minor annoyances compared to what make sitting behind the copy desk so arduous. What really, really makes me want to scream on a daily basis is the journalistic standards we don't uphold.

I knew I'd never get rich in journalism, but I got two degrees in it anyway and made it my livelihood. I managed to keep roof over head as a single parent for years when my son was in grade school by taking pictures for, writing in or editing for somebody's publication for years. Often, that involved working a few freelance gigs on the side (like I said, this field is not about the big, fat paychecks), but bringing stories to the masses via staffing or stringing for a newspaper, ezine or print magazine was always a part of the mix. It's not just what I do but who I am.

Sometimes, my side gigs involved teaching college students this fine art. From darkroom fixer-to-water ratios to the wonders of the AP Stylebook and media literacy, I've spent lots of time behind a podium giving instruction. Suffice to say my instructors taught me well and I've done my best to pass that onto the students in which I've given instruction over the last 25 years.

But what I'm seeing on a regular at my copy desk now often flies in the face of one of the most basic tenants of journalism: fair and balanced coverage. See, like justice, journalism is also supposed to be blind and present the information as is.

The publication I now edit has a basic rule about coverage: all fires, major police busts, or anything that involves loss of life, even if it is 60 miles away and on the very outskirts of our coverage area, is to be covered always. Unfortunately, good news that happens in those same areas is often not even mentioned, which creates a huge problem: if you only report bad news about a particular area, you run the risk of totally slanting the coverage and your "fair and balanced" coverage goes right out of the window.

Think about it: if you live in a rural area and all you ever hear about the neighboring cities is bad news, what does that do to you perception of the place? Exactly. It's uneven at best and ethically unsound at worst - yet it's regularly encouraged by management, so much so that no one really even bats an eye about it much.

It hurts to see things we are supposed to stand for ignored, it really does.

As nice as it is to be gainfully employed - as I've grown quite accustomed to eating on a regular basis - I travel to a windowless office daily to do something that goes against most journalistic principles I have. That's a horrible place to be, y'know?

It will make an interesting "what not to do" example for my students someday, though...

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