Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Memoirs of a Reporter

Evan Maxwell (JD Watson thanks!) at Patterico's Pontifications hearkens back to the innocent days when he thought being a journalist meant not taking sides. He describes his introduction to the world as it is.

I knew nothing of the conflict between the labor writer, Bernstein, and the young Latino, Del Olmo, but apparently it was common knowledge in the Los Angeles newsroom. The grounds for disagreement were manifold: the United Farm Workers organizing campaigns; border enforcement and human smuggling; labor costs and social welfare benefits. Harry thought like a traditional unionist and Frank was always eager to impart a Latino spin to Times coverage. That was, after all, his job, whether anybody publicly acknowledged it. The friction became open and acrimonious. Something had to be done.

Enter the naif, me.

The first I heard about the dispute was when my supervisor in Orange County came to me one Friday and said, “The boss is going to call you to offer you a job downtown, and I think you ought to know that you don’t really have a choice but to take it.” ...

In retrospect, I can now see that I was being placed between a couple of guys who were much more sophisticated political infighters than I ever hoped to be. In truth, I was not even really aware that there were political games to be played in newsrooms. ...

Like a good soldier, I took the job and spent much of the next three or four years catching flak from both sides and never really managing to stop the civil war. I was always more of a punching bag than I was a buffer, which is probably a sign of the depth of passions in the newsroom and in society. It wasn’t much fun because it was, from the get-go, a doomed experiment. The dispute in the 1970s was like it is today. It was political and there seemed to be but two sides. I was neither side. It wasn’t the journalist’s job to take sides, so far as I was concerned. I was hopelessly naive.


I'd guess Patterico's observation is true of a lot more places than newsrooms. And maybe it's OK in journalism, as long as the politics is all up front. Then the reader can discount or modify the "facts" he finds in the headlines, though you can forgive the average Joe for thinking that it's a helluva way to run a railroad.


Blogger jd watson said...

Umh, actually it was Evan Maxwell who is guest blogging, not Patterico.

4/18/2006 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger Meme chose said...

Energy is devoted to this kind of infighting, in any organization, in direct proportion to the extent that the organization has lost sight of it's mission to serve its customers. This is a large part of the reason why papers as we know them today have no future.

I'll be so happy when these MSM 'Titanics' fold up and sink, one after another. Guys like this will still be arguing with each other as they are shunted out onto the street.

4/18/2006 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

Governments whose goal are to rule through risk avoidance will only succeed in failing as a state.

Competition is healthy when it creates the motive forces of excellence and it is unhealthy when it leads to factionalism, the ‘us against them’ mentality that the Germans have so aptly captured in the word Shadenfreud (shäd n-froi d ) n. Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

We must also be a democracy of ideas; Some of the most intensely creative people are by nature egotistical, which is good because it is often the well from which inventiveness flows, but it must not be compulsive to the extent that such an individual might defend inferior ideas because it conflicts with their preconceived notions.

No one political point of view is sacred when its adherence would be to the detriment of the whole and it is therefore that we shall not cherish sacred cows.

Kill your darlings. It's a line from On Writing, part memoir, part instruction manual for the blossoming author. It's equally valid for designers and art directors or managers of the same. When it comes to writing novels Kill your darlings simply means you should edit out all of the passages you're keeping in just because you love them too much. And remember too that it is always easier to kill someone else’s darling than your own.

As a nation, we need to keep the goals of the team in mind. Our democracy of ideas will bubble up the best in creative solutions and the world will be ours because the advantage of a democracy is its technological agility and its ability to produce the right product at the right time at the right cost. The market place is a democracy of ideas as well and the best ideas embodied in the best solutions will draw the money and rewards that come to those who seek it.

Who are we at war with?

4/18/2006 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger Arthur Dent said...

Who are we at war with?


We are at war with ourselves.

[t]he [dis]advantage of a democracy is its [read the average citizens ability to ignore] technological agility [to assume the never ending chain of...] and its ability to produce the right product at the right time at the right cost [freedom and liberty, of course, are not to be considered products but rights granted).

I wonder if the 'right product at the right cost' for the free world will by default condemn our children to chaos, death and war.

I'm all with capitalism, free markets, the rule of law and private property rights. It seems to me that the 'right product at the right time' is stamped by far too many with 'UN American'.

/shut up on/

4/18/2006 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

Sure Arthur,
But what would Zaphod say?

I must admit that that little ditty came from a concept of mine trying to get people on the same page that I managed to stretch over another over-reaching concept. But you answered the question in a manner that I was seeking... we ARE at war with ourselves. Which I think underlines the point that tyrannies have a potent political advantage.

I find myself, am often conflicted between the attainment of reasonable political stasis and the more base desires to end it all with one big apocalyptic conflict. Voting is a messy affair and I look back nostalgically wondering if I'd of not lived a better life risking all by the strength of the sword; to live and die by it, and quit all this mucking about for ascendancy to the fittist we so blandly call democracy.

Some want to go along to get along and others want to get it all-over, lay dead, peaceful at last for eternity or bask in the comfort of righteous accomplishment.


4/18/2006 09:25:00 PM  
Blogger the mad fiddler said...

Just caught the C-Span broadcast yesterday (21 April) of the 05 April panel discussion sponsored by Texas Christian University, hosted by Bob Schieffer (a 1959 TCU graduate) on the current state and future of Journalism. Guests were: (1) Jill Abramson, managing editor of “The New York Times”; (2) Len Downie, executive editor of “The Washington Post”; (3) Judy Woodruff, former anchor of CNN’s “Inside Politics” and correspondent for “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer”; and (4) Larry Kramer, founder of Marketwatch.com and president of CBS Digital Media. The actual theme for the discussion was “The Changing Communications Landscape.”

Not surprisingly, although Larry Kramer underscored the revolution in instantaneity of web-based news available via cell phones and pocket-sized PDAs, Jill Abramson calmly, placidly, stolidly maintained that the New York Times continues to be the model and guiding light for contemporary journalism.

She utterly refused to acknowledge that the NYT is in a plummeting decline in readership and revenues, and characterized the decision to limit online access to their most popular opinion columnists to paying subscribers as a sort of benefit to paid subscribers of the printed paper. She dwelt at length on the notion that professional journalists have ethical standards, and do not traffic in rumor, innuendo, or (heavens forfend!) deliberate fabrications. She dismissed bloggers as offering nothing more than mere opinion, without any acknowledgment that individuals might have some expertise or perspective to support their views and analyses.

At least Len Downie seemed to flinch a little at her excesses. He indicated that his organization (Washington Post) is increasingly staffing itself with “experts” whose assignments and reporting are informed by their special competence.

But none of these worthies made the slightest reference to any of the journalistic misdeeds still reverberating through the minds of alienated consumers, and refused to acknowledge the decades of conspicuous anti-conservative partisanship of the press. They spoke of consumer dissatisfaction, but only as if it were simply an unfortunate misunderstanding of the noble and selfless journalists just doing their jobs. If only the consumers understood how compassionate and earnest journalists really truly are...

The discussion might better have been titled “I don’t See Any Icebergs.” It did little to give me hope of any self-imposed reform among the alleged professionals.

p.s. If you visit the TCU Alumni Newsletter website (http://www.alumni.tcu.edu/newsletter/312006/31200614.htm) you’ll see a wonderfully ironic illustration, probably a composite made with Photoshop. It depicts what seems to be a cell phone with a largish view screen showing the front page of the “TCU Daily Skiff” — the university’s long-established printed daily newspaper — with a portrait of Bob Schieffer under the masthead.

4/22/2006 07:26:00 AM  

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