How most reporters eventually lose their credibility

Since I have no intention of boring you with a 2,000 word post, what we’re gonna do is set up today’s main blog piece on why their coverage of the Kane County Sheriff’s self-inflicted $2.5 million budget deficit makes local reporters look like they’re completely clueless.

To prove that very point, we will, once again, turn to the great Chuck Klosterman and his excellent book, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs in which he uses subtle humor to explain this phenomenon in a way that I never could.

Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman

So without further ado, here’s Mr. Klosterman on reporters:

“Meanwhile, individual reporters – the drones who do all the heavy lifting – tend to be insane. Being a news reporter forces you to adopt a peculiar personality: You spend every moment of your life trying to eradicate emotion. Reporters overcompensate for every nonobjective feeling they’ve ever experienced; I once got into a serious discussion over whether or not the theft of a live fetus from the womb of a of a kidnapped pregnant woman could be publicly classified as a “tragedy.” What civilians in the conventional world need to realize is that journalists are not like you. They have higher ethics and less common sense. For example: Let’s say somebody was trying to pass a resolution that created stricter pedophilia laws. Most normal people would think to themselves, “Well, I’m against kids being molested and so is everybody I’ve ever met, so – obviously – if I was asked to write a story about this resolution, I’d make sure people understood it was a positive thing.” Reporters never think like this. A reporter would spend the next three hours trying to find an activist who’d give them a quote implying it was unconstitutional to stop people from performing oral sex on fie-year-old boys. Journalists aren’t trying to tell you their version of what’s right and what’s wrong, because anyone who’s been a reporter for five years forgets how to tell the difference.”

Mr. Klosterman continues:

“…let’s say [our reporter] leaves the office and swings by Stop-N-Go. While walking toward the counter with his beverage in hand, a crazed loner walks into the store and shoots the convenience store employee in the face, killing him instantly. The reporter watches this shooting happen. The crazed loner then begins screaming like a maniac, and two cops rush in an apprehend him. And as a consequence, he calls up his editor on a cell phone and volunteers to write story about the event. And he probably writes something like this…

RANDOM CITY, USA – The owner of a local Stop-N-Go was killed tonight in a brutal act of seemingly random violence. The alleged perpetrator was immediately taken into custody but firmly denies his involvement in the crime. “I never shot nobody.” Said the alleged gunman, who is also wanted for murder in seventeen other states.

Actually, I’m sort of exaggerating: I’m sure a copy editor would undoubtedly feel obligated to remove the word “brutal.” But by and large, this would be seen as a reasonable account of the events. This is why all reporters eventually go insane: Even if you see a guy shoot someone – in fact, even if a guy shoots you in the face and you watch the bullet come out of the chamber of the .38 he’s holding – the event needs to be described as an “alleged” crime, and that alleged criminal needs to allege that he had no part in anything that allegedly happened.”

And let me tell ya folks, that is about as perfect an explanation of any human dynamic you will ever see anywhere. It’s dead on! Though I do wish Chuck had made it more clear that it’s really the editors who do their damndest to inculcate and enforce this bizarre method of thinking.

Most reporters really do know what’s going on – at least they start off that way – but after just a few years of having to pay heed to a side of a story they know to be patently untrue, it begins to take its toll.

Then, one of two things happen. The reporter either avoids getting to the heart of a matter because they don’t want to have to print the “other side,” or the story becomes secondary to pitting the protagonists against each other.

In either case, the truth no longer matters.

And since most newspapers readers are generally intelligent and older moderates, the reporters, the editors, and the paper itself loses all credibility and people simply stop reading.

Don’t get me wrong! This leveling the playing field at all costs philosophy worked when print was the only game in town, but that hasn’t been the case for a long, long time. Even though Fox News regularly takes the art of “truth telling” to a new low, they’re raking in the cash because, as stilted as their “observations” are, they provide the kind of “insights” that the viewer might not have otherwise have gleaned.

There are reporters who can pull this kind of thing off without compromising their journalistic integrity, but it’s a really short list. The Tribune’s Rick Pearson, former Sun-Times reporter Dave McKinney, the Elgin Courier News’ Dave Gathman, and, on occasion, the Daily Herald’s Elena Ferarrin all do a great job getting to the heart of a story.

But despite the Dylan-esque floodwaters rising around them, managing editors refuse to veer from this trajectory because they will always do what they’ve always done because they’ve always done it! So, once again, the inescapable underlying truth is, most print media wounds are self-inflicted.

And now it’s on to our main story.

4 thoughts on “How most reporters eventually lose their credibility

  1. Pingback: There is no other side to this story! | The First Ward

  2. A take-off on how the WASHINGTON POST would cover it:

    “Giant meteor expected to destroy earth tomorrow,
    Women and children expected to be first to suffer.”

  3. Labels should also provide the title or registered number (RN
    or WPL) of the producer, importer, or different distributor.

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