Thursday, June 20, 2013

Whatever happened to just journalism?


I tend to tell people I’m a writer — as opposed to calling myself a journalist. There are a few reasons for this but it primarily comes from me not viewing myself in any grandiose manner that would qualify me as a journalist. I just write things I think in this column and write things I know in the stories I occasionally write.

The other day I read a column by Jeff Jarvis — most recognizable, I’d imagine as a TV critic for TV guide — in which he states that all journalism is advocacy.

“The choices we make about what to cover and how we cover it and what the public needs to know are acts of advocacy on the public’s behalf,” Jarvis said.

I tend to agree to a degree but I think that Jarvis over-simplified matters. And I’d also state that calling something “advocacy” leads me to believe that the writer (or editor or producer or whatever) had a bias going into the story. To me the word “advocacy” is tainted from the beginning.

I suppose you could say that members of the media — I also refer to myself in this way from time to time — are supposed to be advocating for the truth. I also imagine that many do.

George Orwell, the author of “1984” and “Animal Farm” said that “Journalism is printing what others don't want printed. Everything else is public relations.”

He’s got a good point, too. As cynical as he was, he must have considered himself a journalist at some point in his life. But he was most certainly an advocate for the way he thought things should be.

I think a lot of the “news” people on television (and radio) are not journalists at all. They’re not even really news people. They’re talking heads. Or worse, they’re hacks pushing a political point of view under the guise of being journalists.

What’s wrong with “just the facts ma’am?” Why must the people in charge of disseminating information choose to be so selective with what they report? What they dig up? And what they hide?

Obviously there is a finite amount of space in a newspaper or time in a TV or radio broadcast, so there are going to be things left on the proverbial cutting room floor. However, I fear that too much of what’s cut is what should run. And too much of what runs should never have been published.

That is why this field of mine — media or journalism or whatever you want to call is — was told last year that only 40 percent of people trust us a great deal or a fair amount while 60 percent of people don’t trust us at all.

Maybe we should stop advocating and start reporting.

And I’ll just keep writing.

Scott Leffler has worked in the local media for over a dozen years. He has a degree in journalism. And another in Political Science. But in the end he’s just a writer with two beautiful daughters. Follow his tweets @scottleffler.