Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Read all about it (revisited)

I was interviewing Ann Ormond (prez of the local Chamber of Commerce) today, and before we got started on the interview, we were talking about the blog.

This blog. Which she says she reads, so I'd better mind my p's and q's (that's me talking, not her).

But it was not the substance of our conversation that got me thinking, it was how easy it was to write the subsequent story without expressing (I hope) therein any of my personal opinions.

It really is not difficult to be objective when writing a newsy story because if you just stick to the facts, there is no way it will spin away from you (unless the subject is doing the spinning, of course, which is a whole other cup of tea).

But what are the facts?

In my earlier post about the WPA and the stadium at Newburyport High School, I included a paragraph from a story I had written for the Current.

Doing a Google search today, I concluded that most of the background I used for the piece must have come from the website of the group trying to raise money to restore the stadium - or rebuild it, as the case may be.

There was a dearth of information on line about the stadium or the WPA. So now readers come along and sort of challenge what it says on the Restore our Stadium website. Not that they're against the restoration (or whatever), they just don't get why it's a war memorial stadium, when it was built in 1938.

I'm not going to debate the merits of the plan again, I just wonder if I should have trusted so much what it said on the website, as my source for background. Of course, I was not told to write a story debunking the whole project.

Actually, I'm not sure I was told anything. I think it was one of those cases where I said, "Here's a story," and the editor said, "Thanks!"

On the other hand, newspaper reporters are paid so little (especially around here, I think) that there is little to encourage them to scrounge around verifying facts ad infinitum. I once figured out that for a story with an average of 500 words, calculating the time it took me to interview persons or persons, do research, and write the story - it turned out I was making about $8 an hour.

Anyway, does this mean that these days, it's easier for people to get their own spin on things, because they said this or that with authority on their website? I'm not including blogs, because blogs are inherently slanted towards the writers' points of view.

Or does having something you said with authority appear on the Internet leave you wide open to questions about that authority? Macy Swain addresses this in a post on her blog, Night Blind.

She is quite surprised at some of the reaction to her piece about the newspaper industry that was published in The Christian Science Monitor. I must say, I was quite surprised that someone snarked about her writing that she and her husband read to each other from the newspaper!

What couple doesn't do that?

Again (as I'm so fond of saying lately), I don't know the answers to these questions. If people are going to rely on someone else to be their news feed, they need to find someone they can trust, at least most of the time.

But, as Ann kindly noted, we the people who live here and know the players involved in things, are at least fairly reliable. Even when we disagree ... now fancy that.

If you put all us news-type bloggers into one place, you'd get every angle - not only from us, but from our extremely astute readers.

If that's not the whole story, I don't know what is.


Ari Herzog said...

Why do you differentiate between a blogger such as yourself who reports news versus a reporter employed by a news organization?

Ten years ago, five years ago, I'd buy the difference. Today, not a chance. You're a citizen journalist, if you will. Accept it. Embrace it. Harness it. And the traditional media will come knocking on your door, not to hire you but to collaborate with you.

Unfortunately, my recent correspondence with Daily News editor John Macone about such a collaboration was perceived as improper.

Gillian Swart said...

OK, I guess I'm saying I'm different. I have to switch gears between blogging and writing my stories.

Collaboration does not yield rent.

Improper? Is that the word he used?

Ari Herzog said...

That was my word. He said, "This is not something we are interested in."

bubba said...

Sorry Ari, but those of us in the general public perceive a large difference. While I agree that professional journalism is not what it once was, I still hold it to a different standard than bloggers - just as I don't confuse the guy on the next bar stool with a broadcast journalist.

Gillian Swart said...

Bubba, I agree.

But I'm curious - if you read a news story by me in a newspaper, would you hold it to a different standard than what I write on here, would you judge it by what I've written on here, and/or would you take it for what it was (as in, if you'd never read my blog)?

bubba said...


Yes, I would have higher expectations for your work that is published by the mainstream media - partly because I would expect your editor to hold you to higher journalistic standards. I would also consider what I've read and learned about you on your blog when reading a news story - just as people that people who know you better (friends, family, etc) view your writings through a different lens.

I view blogs as personal editorial pages. I think your time as a professional journalist makes your blog a little more balanced than most.

Gillian Swart said...

Thanks for the input, Bubba. This is a real concern of mine.

Ari Herzog said...

Bubba, if you seriously believe blogs are nothing more than "personal editorial pages," I wonder where you place every columnist who doubles as a blogger linked off the Drudge Report for starters.

Ari Herzog said...

To add to my last comment, Bubba, you may have heard of or visited blogs of Dave Barry, Thomas Sowell, and the Wall Street Journal.

All of those links are to blogs, each of which enables the ability to comment, not unlike Gillian's blog. So, where do you place Dave Barry and the WSJ? "Professional news columnists" or "bloggers?"

If you ask me, I'll ask you a question in return: "Why must you categorize and accept it for its value, not its label?"