Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: THAT'S A LIE!!! I KNOW YOU DID IT!!11!!!
There are two things I cling to:
- Journalism is a noble profession.
- Smoking pot for years will not turn you into a paranoid freak.
One of the editors of Name of Paper Withheld is leaving his job and going to work for a local diamond mine. This has brought about a flurry of talk about the "dark side", and I think I've had just about enough of it.
Perhaps someone could explain to me which of these jobs is closer to the dark side:
- Providing factual information to the public.
- Writing stories that mix facts with misunderstanding, speculation and rumour, passing all four off as facts and ignoring any facts that don't fit with what you think the story must be.
Hmmm. Maybe I am coming a bit unglued myself.
I understand the pressures journalists work under. First, they need a story. Never underestimate this. Journalism is a tough business, and reporters are expected to file stories every day, whether there is anything happening or not. That old joke about the slow news day is real: a desperate reporter will start asking questions about the weirdest things if there is no actual news. (What? When it's smoky outside, people should stay inside if the smoke bothers them? Hold the front page, we've got a scoop!)
Second, they need a story. Yes, this sounds like the same thing as the last paragraph, but I promise that I have not completely lost my mind. A true story is not just something to fill a hole at the top of the hour. A true story has a beginning, middle, and end. It has characters and some type of action. CBC is totally on the "story" bandwagon, and their reporters will tell you that they tell stories for a living. (This is very important to them.) Other reporters will call it a "piece", but the idea is the same. A really good story includes some sort of struggle. This is why the news is full of crime: it is not because crime is unusual, but because it falls neatly into the "story" format, complete with characters and a beginning, middle and end. Best of all, there is no pesky research for a reporter to do: the details are spoon-fed by the prosecutor.
Third, the story needs to be understandable. This is where I usually start to get annoyed. You see, most issues are not black and white. Usually there is a lot of gray, with some red and blue thrown in for good measure. However, this does not make a good story or an understandable story. Watch the local news and you will almost never see anything like this: There is no typical client. Many have complicated needs, and we can't help them with all of their problems. In fact, unless they take responsibility for changing their lives, we can hardly help them at all. (Funny, I don't think that's hard to understand at all.) Complicating details are left out, and others are summarized into something that is understandable but not quite true. I call this "more punchy, less true" journalism. In fact, if you call an editor to complain about this, he will argue that a) it really is true or b) nobody would ever understand the difference.
Fourth, the characters need to fit into one of about six different journalism stereotypes:
- The harried small-business owner
- The ne'er-do-well
- The angel
- The expert
- The uncaring authorities (usually but not always the government)
- The maverick
Journalists, of course, will never admit to any of this. They are usually convinced that they can explain complicated issues better than those so-called "experts". Knowledge isn't power, it's suffocating! In fifteen minutes, a journalist can learn everything he needs to know about an issue to be able to explain it to people.
Right. And I'm the one on the dark side.