Reflections On “JournoList” And Journalism

I’ve been saddened by the recent stories about the JournoList on-line listserv, which allowed a number of prominent reporters and writers to share information and viewpoints.  Although JournoList was intended to be a private listserv, some of the exchanges have been leaked to the press.  One led to the resignation of a Washington Post blogger who was to cover the conservative movement.  More recently, leaked JournoList exchanges deal with helping the Obama campaign deal with the issues raised by the comments of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and other topics.  (I always hate to see messages that are intended to be private made public, but that is the unfortunate reality of the modern world.  No one should put anything in an email that they would not be comfortable seeing disseminated to the world at large.)

The sad thing about the JournoList stories is that they confirm that journalists have lost their way.  When I studied at The Ohio State University School of Journalism in the late 1970s, our professors emphasized objectivity, multiple sourcing, and fact-checking above all else.  Those were the hallmarks of a competent professional journalist, and we all strove to achieve them.  My professors would be appalled at the thought of journalists getting together to help politicians, or anyone else.  Indeed, we were taught to have a healthy skepticism for everything we were told — hence the multiple sourcing rule — and hard-bitten, cynical reporters typically had contempt for all politicians because a skeptical review of their statements often revealed half-truths and omissions.

Journalism has changed a lot since those days.  At some point the decision was made to write stories from a “viewpoint,” rather than trying to set forth objective facts and let the reader draw her own conclusions.  Once objectivity was cast aside and “perspective” was introduced, journalism has seemed to lose its moorings.  Now, you see reporters on TV, trying to be personalities, doing nothing other than regurgitating the conventional wisdom and then offering speculation about what might happen.  Very little actual newsgathering seems to be done any more.

It makes me wonder — what actually is taught in journalism schools these days?

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