Journalistic Standards? Where?

There are a lot of annoying aspects to the candidacy of one Donald J. Drumpf. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s the best thing to happen to America ever; the Republican Party is being exposed for the trash heap it’s become. nogopAll the angry fringe right wing groups have found a home and they’re burning it up. I may be wrong about Drumpf not winning the nomination; it appears I gave the GOP leadership a little too much credit. If he wins the nomination, you will see the lowest Republican turnout in modern history and it will be difficult for even the modern progressive “movement” to completely screw this election up.

However, as gleeful as I am about that aspect of the Drumpf phenomenon, many others really worry me. The greatest example is the redefinition of “journalism” that has happened. A “reporter” for Breitbart (I actually gagged upon typing the word “reporter” in association with that organization) was allegedly roughed up by a Drumpf goon last week, and the alleged event has resulted in elevating Breirbart’s peurile websites to what I feel is an esteemed status, “journalism.” For the record, I believe it could have happened as she said; Drumpf’s goons are certainly capable; but she writes for Breitbart; if she told me the sky was blue, I’d still look up.

When I was a high school senior, in 1975-1976, I was involved in a program in which I would head  to the offices of the Baltimore News-American every Thursday, where I would write copy and feature stories for a Sunday insert called “Young World.” It was the newspaper’s attempt to reach young readers. It was a lot of fun. I sucked as a typist (and still do), which irritated my editor (whose name was Jon Stewart), but I love to write and I worked my ass off at that job. Even with a small story like the one I did about a political forum I organized at my high school, I made phone calls, got plenty of quotes, and I made sure I could support everything that was in the article. THAT is journalism. That’s why I am very careful to not call this blog a journalistic enterprise. This blog is my opinion, backed up by facts. I do use journalistic standards, but it’s not like I conduct interviews and uncover stories as they happen. I lack the resources and ability to provide context to the news.

The News-American went out of business roughly ten years later, in 1986, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my fault. The point of telling that story isn’t to claim some sort of a journalism pedigree; in fact, it’s the opposite. I  learned a lot back then. I learned how to research a story, how to get all the facts together before I started writing, and by talking to other journalists, many of whom became well-known for great investigative stories, I learned enough about the profession to know that what many people call journalism is not actually journalism. I’d say perhaps 0.1% of all bloggers actually do something resembling journalism.

DrumpfFor example, the whole Greenwald/Snowden crap a few years back. Sorry, but if someone steals government documents and dumps them and you try to figure out what they might mean without talking to an expert is not journalism. Look closely at the stories about the Snowden documents; no one bothered to actually find out where the documents came from — were they in someone’s recycle bin or in a folder marked “to be deleted”?  If so, they would have a completely different meaning than if they were in, say, a specific project file. Some of the documents look like PowerPoint slides from vendors; doesn’t that represent a different context than if they actually came from a NSA project or initiative?

That’s what journalism does. Someone reports a story, but a journalist also provides the reader with context. Actual context, not just the reporter’s opinion of what something might mean. True journalists have a responsibility to their readers/viewers to report what happened and supply the context so that the reader can decide what that event means to them. Journalists have a responsibility to get the story right, and not say something that just puts someone in a bad light, even if they don’t like someone. That’s what makes an entity like Fox News so odious; they don’t care about the truth at all; they only care about repeating whatever it is that puts Republicans in a good light. They chose an audience and they cultivate it 24/7.

It’s the same with Breitbart and the myriad sites just like it. They are clickbait. Their goal is to make right wingers happy, not produce news. They don’t care about providing context for anything. I remember when Andrew Breitbart was still alive and he posted something about the Pigford farmers settlements and I posted something refuting the nonsense he had written. His response was to call me names and block me on Twitter. Again. Same with Glenn Greenwald. I have proven that most of what he writes is bullshit, and his response isn’t to rebut me with facts, but to block me on Twitter and only pull me out when I say something he doesn’t like.

If you’re going to call yourself a journalist or a reporter, then be one. Context isn’t just a convenience for the reader, it’s the key to journalism. Creating context is the most important task journalists perform; in fact, in this day and age, when an event happens and is immediately spread worldwide in minutes, it’s the only reason for their existence. Wikileaks doesn’t commit journalism by doing a document dump; others commit journalism when they take the time to analyze the documents and speak to people who know something about them and can add context. I mean, the existence of a document or an event is not in itself news. What makes something news is knowing why it exists and why it is important to know and understand it.

While I do agree that the word “journalist” can include a lot more than the relatively few people who work for major news organizations (I could be a journalist if I had more support and had the resources to actually do that), it also has to mean a lot more than simply Googling something and writing what you find or repeating someone else’s Tweets or Facebook posts. And being a journalist entails a lot more than sitting in a Brazilian apartment, having someone send you intelligence documents and speculating as to what they might mean yourself, even though you have zero intelligence background.

Breitbart reporterWe need to have higher standards than we seem to have these days when it comes to news and journalism. Journalism entails a lot more than someone sitting on their ass and bloviating about something they saw on the news. Breitbart is the functional equivalent of the proverbial room full of monkeys typing out whatever they want. Only, they’re not producing Shakespeare. These days, far too many self-described “journalists” these days, including many with loads of financial support, don’t care to commit resources or time into their endeavor because its more profitable to lie to you with regularity. Stop putting up with it. Do some research, and then, when you discover their BS, call them on it. But don’t just do it privately; publicly excoriate them, their editors and their publishers. It’s really important for the public to be able to rely on the news media; we need to take it back.

The constant coverage of Drumpf over serious candidates and the reluctance or inability of so-called “journalists” to go after “The Donald” for the things that he says and does is just the latest in a series of journalistic failures in recent years. Demand more.

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