Thursday, August 28, 2008

Harry Potter...and the plight of the journalist

As a journalist in the 21st century, it’s important to remember not to fall behind; one day you are the producer for a television news station, and the next you are searching the classified ads for a job (like all of the journalists who are my father’s patients.) Journalists face unique and often archaic challenge of dealing with ethical and personal dilemmas beyond their control.

One of the biggest challenges faced by journalists is avoiding the temptation to take the shortcut. When writing that story, posting that blog, or even just on the street interviewing an unreceptive source, there is great temptation (no pun intended) to take the easy way out. Making up the quote or story seems like a situation you can get away with, and your editor will never find out if you are careful…or will they?

Just ask Jayson Blair.

The Pulitzer-prize winning journalists fabricated numerous stories for the most reputable newspaper in the country—The New York Times. He worked for the New York Times for years thinking he could get away with it, until one day his editors caught him, and the rest was history (and him too).

Along the same lines, producing sensationalistic material isn’t much better. Overdramatizing and exaggerating a story for readers is a cheap and dirty. Keeping your focus on sensationalistic material becomes very frivolous and drives away readers and intellectuals looking to focus on the more serious issues.

Not everything in the world needs to be a la Perez Hilton—it’s possible to have readers interested in serious issues, from the Olympics to the election.

Everything boils down to how do we keep readers and viewers interested in serious news? Do we need to dumb it down, or keep it in our jargon?

We should do both—dumb down the content, but keep the nuts and bolts there, the hard facts. People need to be kept in the know.

Whether we are doing so though is up to you.

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