To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

New Observercast

How Did Journalism Sink To This Level?

on

Journalism is under siege, from the White House on down to the local level. It’s bad enough when any story with which someone disagrees is branded as “fake news.” This slur has been used so often in the past three years that’s it’s common vernacular now. And it appears that, like Chinese water torture, we’re going downhill inch by inch.

Please read this story about the Wisconsin county official who suggests that any journalist[s] who cover the release of a regional water quality study should be forewarned: The county’s news release that summarizes the findings must be published in its entirety, without any alterations [read: editing] or the reporter risks prosecution.

I have no idea what state statute would empower this supercilious would-be tyrant to jail a journalist for doing his/her job, but I do know what the First Amendment to the United States Constitution says: this SOB has no such legal authority.

And if that weren’t bad enough, The Daily Northwestern – the school paper at Northwestern University in Illinois, home of the Medill School of Journalism – apologized for covering a public event. Reason ran the following column about that travesty.

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke on campus Nov. 5 at a Northwestern College Republicans event. The Daily Northwestern sent one reporter to cover Sessions’ speech and another to cover the students protesting his invitation to speak on campus.

“One area of our reporting that harmed many students was our photo coverage of the event,” the editorial states. “Some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter account retraumatizing and invasive. Those photos have since been taken down … We feel that covering traumatic events requires a different response than many other stories.”

What traumatic event? It was a public speech and a public protest! If those students don’t want to be “traumatized” they shouldn’t be protesting in public.

Similarly, student activists at Harvard have demanded that The Harvard Crimson stop quoting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in stories about pro-immigration rallies. In other words, some Harvard students don’t want to be exposed to comments/ideas with which they disagree. And here I thought one purpose of a college education was to broaden one’s horizons.

Back to the Daily Northwestern editorial: “Some students also voiced concern about the methods that Daily staffers used to reach out to them. Some of our staff members who were covering the event used Northwestern’s directory to obtain phone numbers for students beforehand and texted them to ask if they’d be willing to be interviewed. We recognize being contacted like this is an invasion of privacy … ”

What?! Since when is that an “invasion of privacy”? How many of you journalists have, at one time or another, placed a “cold” call to a potential news source? That’s part of doing our job. We get information from a potential source’s friends or acquaintances or co-workers, from Facebook and from LinkedIn, from Google, from wherever we can find it. We contact those people and ask whether they’d mind answering a few questions. If they say yes, wonderful. If they say no, we thank them for their time and hang up. It’s as simple as that.

That is not an invasion of privacy. An invasion of privacy would be if we printed that person’s name, address and phone number in the paper, along with his/her photo, and announced that he/she wouldn’t talk to us. A simple phone call is not an invasion of privacy.

When did this train run off the rails?! And what, if anything, can be done to get it back on track?

Previous articleThe Exodus
Next articleThe Non-Whistleblower
Mike W. Ray
Mike W. Ray
Mike W. Ray spent 45 years as a journalist on newspapers in Oklahoma and Texas, two years in public relations with Southwestern Bell Telephone, plus 19 years as a media director at the Oklahoma House of Representatives.