The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Reporters vs. Journalists 

I've mentioned in a couple of previous posts how I purposefully use the word journalist instead of the word reporter. If you were to ask the average person on the street, they would probably tell you that they are synonymous. Then again, if you watch Jay Leno, the average person on the street has a hard time telling you the name of the Vice President. But I digress. For a long time, people who worked for newspapers, television stations, etc. called themselves reporters, and I think they took great pride in that. But then, at some point in time, the word journalist became the more commonly used job title. Why is that?

For a long time I thought that it was really a response to the PC'ing of everyone's job title. It has always bothered me for instance that everyone likes to call themselves an Engineer. Garbage Collectors are really Refuse Disposal Engineers, Janitors are Sanitation Engineers, etc. I went to an Engineering school, and worked hard for my Engineering degree, so this phenomena erks me. So when I realized at one point that journalist tended to be the more commonly used job title, I just thought a bunch of people got together and decided that it sounded better, or more professional, than just a lolely 'ol reporter. But now I've come to a different viewpoint.

I think that journalist is actually a much more accurate description given what they now do. Search Google sometime for Journalist Job Descriptions. Its fascinating. What's even more fascinating is tossing in the word "interpret". Journalists interpret the news. Reporters simply report facts. I don't know why I never thought of it before. Its right there in the word. If you keep a journal, you don't just write down what happened, you write down your feelings about it, you interpret your day. Reporting is simply a telling of what happened. It now seems so clear to me.

But did the job title simply change one day... or did the job itself change? I read some time ago an Op-Ed piece in some major publication, by some major media person (I wish I remembered those specifics) about how he thought that people wanted journalists to not only tell people what happened, but what it means. The problem is, by doing so you color the story. Your own opinion can actually change the facts. Not only that, in your hurry to tell people what you think this all means, you might leave out facts. And that's where journalism rubs me wrong. You tell me what happened, accurately, completely, without bias, I'll figure out what it means for me, and my life. The fact that journalists call themselves that really tells us how they feel about their reader. They think that we're so dumb that we can't interpret events for ourselves. As blogging takes a stronger foothold in the internet, and in the public consciousness, I think that the journalists will find that they severely underestimated their readership. Good riddance.

Update: A Pew Study was just released regarding the attitudes of normal folks towards the news. VodkaPundit has all sorts of coverage here. Not surprisingly CNN is claiming victory because 24% of the people trust them, compared with the 14-16% that most other news services are trusted. What does that say about an organization when they're happy about less than 1/4 of the public trusting them?

Update: Monica White has commented:

I like his piece but would say that I come to slightly different conclusions, namely that there's room in a newspaper for both reporters and journalists. Both fact-deliverers and opinion-deliverers. It's when we have fact-deliverers trying to taint the facts with a hidden slant or opinion-deliverers being told they must be 'balanced' that we run into problems.

I do agree completely. There is a place for opinion writers (i.e. journalists). I do believe strongly though that those types of pieces are best found in the Opinion section of the paper. Too often I read opinion in the News section or Metro section. Go to any news portal website. Above the fold (in other words, in the first screen full) you'll often times see headlines about something terrible, or evil, then click and read the piece... full of opinion. I then realize that they linked me to an Op-Ed piece from the front page, and didn't label it as such in the headline. This really bothers me because a lot of people often just skim headlines. If I didn't click the link, I would never have known that the eye grabbing headline about something evil was really someone's opinion. So what it all boils down to is this. If its fact, say its fact. If its opinion, say it, clearly, where we can see it. After all, are your opinions so weak that they can't stand on their own, without the added legitimacy that comes from calling it "fact"?

See now, I've got a whole new post topic for later... how headlines can warp a story... later.


Amen :)

  Posted at June 12, 2004 6:41 AM by Blogger Monica White  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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