Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Read between the lines

In my world we talk a lot about journalism ethics, and how the craft of journalism is changing; some might argue that good journalism is dying. Why? Well, because many people write well enough to establish some credibility with readers, and these people now generate audiences for themselves even though they know nothing about the tenets of good journalistic practice. Anyone with a computer and Internet service can pretend to tell you what he or she thinks is true. But these new media stars don't think about fairness. They don't care about libel laws. They don't much care for facts, really. And they surely don't tell all sides of stories. They write the sexy parts (which attract the readers) -- or the parts they want us to hear (mainly their own voices). And because most people don't understand the difference between writers who are educated, ethical journalists and pundits with an ax to grind, from Ann Coulter to Coleen Rowley to Jon Stewart, most of us suffer as a result. We just don't learn the truth about issues because we end up listening to the wrong sources. Informing ourselves used to be fairly easy: read a couple or three good newspapers, watch a national newscast, and you could be pretty good to go. Throw in National Public Radio and Bill Moyers, mix well and boom! You could watch an issue and feel fairly confident that you could figure out what was really going on. No more. Now it's really tough to separate the wheat from the chaff. There's just too much out there to choose from, and you really have to read and listen carefully, or you'll fall victim to the stupidity -- yes, stupidity -- that's now passing for journalism in this country.

Let me put it this way: Just because someone has a smart mouth, an applauding audience or a series of clever sentences doesn't make him or her worthy of our respect. Think for yourself, but do your homework.