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Thursday, July 31, 2008

When someone else says it

Reader-submitted question: Isn't it better journalism when everyone is allowed to say whatever they want instead of the editor reporting his/her choice of comments?


Journalism is much more than simply repeating what people say. It requires careful consideration of all facts, going beyond "he said/she said". (This is also known as "On the other hand, Mr. Hitler says..." style.)

Allowing everyone to say what they want is not journalism at all. It is the equivalent of broadcasting a town-hall meeting. There's certainly a place for that, and some people actually prefer it because it's unfiltered and therefore more accurate. But it's not journalism.

Journalists have an obligation to present facts. This is tough when you're simply republishing the unfiltered opinions of people who refuse to provide their real names. In fact, one of the unofficial rules of journalism is that even anonymous sources have to give their names to the reporter and editor. Most comment boards completely ignore this rule.

Journalists also have an obligation to weigh opinions. That doesn't mean that they decide who's telling the truth in every situation, but it does mean that people shouldn't be able to dominate a news story by being exceptionally stupid or annoying.

I understand why people find comment boards interesting, and I applaud Canadian media organizations for trying to include their readers. I hope that in time, they will figure out how to maintain proper ethical standards in their online coverage.

Thanks for your question.


Mongoose said...

Wow, my comment sure sounds stupid as rephrased by you. LOL

Did you see the NewsNorth article on the guy who lost his foot in a workplace injury? It read something like this:

"The rigging broke and the bridge fell and pinned him. 'The rigging broke and the bridge fell and pinned me,' he said."

They actually used his exact words to describe the event, followed by, a quote of him describing the event in those exact words. So apparently some times journalism is about repeating what people say. Over and over. :)

Anyway, I get your point that it's not "journalism", but I still think that what dumb obnoxious people have to say is relevant information; considering especially that dumb obnoxious people appear to be the majority. :)

Megan said...

Nah, you don't sound stupid at all. Maybe I didn't do a great job of summarising it. I try to be faithful to the original questions and phrasing, but sometimes they're hard to condense.

You make a good point: idiots' opinions are relevant in a roundabout sort of way.

But please don't take Name of Paper Withheld as the definition of journalism. :)

Karen said...

My favorite macabre piece of editing juxtaposition by Name of Paper Withheld was about 12, 13 years ago. An adventurer had died out in the middle of nowhere with his dog team. When his remains were found, his skull was missing. Name of Paper Withheld ran this story across the entire top of the page, splashed over 5 columns - and then slightly below that, but still requiring the dead guy's text to flow around it, was an unrelated picture box featuring a a photo from a dress-up event, where, you guessed it, someone came as the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. At first, I put it down to an editing mistake, but the following Monday, Name of Paper Withheld's regional sibling ran the same story and the same photo, in the identical layout.