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Sunday, December 09, 2007

I will fight for a way to make up for the mess that I've been leaving

Reader-submitted question: When reporters run for office, do you think they do a disservice to the individuals who have trusted their reporting in the past?

Interesting question. You've hit on something that is a rather sensitive debate in journalism circles. It comes down to this: If a reporter wants to change jobs, does it affect his or her credibility?

Some people would say it does. It's very common for a beat reporter to decide that he or she wants to work in one of the industries he or she has been covering. For example, a courts-n-cops reporter might want to become a lawyer. Although this is horrifying for the person's editor, it isn't quite as much of a betrayal as the ultimate slap in the face: the reporter who goes into PR. Don't feel sorry for me: I'm past it by now. Mourn for my readers who are considering this career change.

You see, reporters are part of the counterculture. They stick it to The Man. They are the true subversives. Any other job is beneath them. A true reporter would NEVER become a nurse or a lawyer or a teacher or, God forbid, a flack. Those jobs are all for people who've been co-opted by the conformists. Anyone who even expresses the slightest bit of interest in this type of work immediately loses all of his credibility. He's no longer pure, man! He's a sell-out!

I am joking, but only a little, and only by adding exclamation points. This is actually what some journalists think. If a colleague announces that he is leaving the news business to work for, say, the local school, all of his stories about education will be scrutinized for possible bias. Anyone who's trying to get a new job would avoid criticising a potential employer, right? What stories have gone unreported while salary negotiations were going on? Put someone on that right away!

Other journalists believe it's OK to change jobs. I feel this way, but as I'm no longer a reporter, my opinion doesn't mean much to the true subversives. I think that most of the people in this group have seen others make the switch without compromising their integrity. In my personal experience, they tend to be easier to work with because they come to the job with less anger.

Running for office is much less common, but follows a similar pattern. While reporters are supposed to keep personal opinions out of their work, the political world is all about personal opinions. It's hard to switch that off, and close to impossible for readers or viewers to accept a former politician as a journalist. However, I don't think it does a disservice to the readers when a reporter runs for office. If he is successful, good for him. He probably won't be able to go back to his old job, so he'd better be good at the new one.

Thanks for your question.


Karen said...

I would pump my fist in the air, but my switch over to law has left me tired.