Monday, January 12, 2009

Middletown Eye on WNPR's Where We Live

The topic was "the future of newspapers," and our little newsblog was mentioned, not always kindly (though John Dankosky seems to have a slight affection for us.) The entire show is worth a listen, and we don't get mentioned until it's nearly over. I wonder, is a "trained" journalist like a trained sea lion?


archdiva said...

As a journalism school graduate, I can say that yes, a trained journalist is *very* much like a trained sea lion! :)

Vijay Pinch said...

Another fine show by John Dankosky, well worth a listen. The 'plug' for the Eye is at about minute 40 when Dankosky reads a facebook comment from our own Ed McKeon. He then asks one of his guests, Marcia Chambers of the Branford Eagle (an online newspaper) to comment on the phenomenon of citizen journalism. She generally thinks it's a great thing, but cautions that most of these folks aren't 'trained journalists' -- which prompted, no doubt, Ed's comment about 'trained seals'.

(Or perhaps Ed's comment was prompted by an earlier segment in the show, when Dankosky played a tape of Lennie Grimaldi, a journalist and former aide to Joe Ganim, decrying the chumminess that prevailed between the press and the political elite back when Ganim was running Bridgeport. That was also a good show by Dankosky, 'Corrupticut'.)

When pressed by Dankosky about what 'trained journalist' means, Chambers had a tough time conjuring an answer. But eventually she settled on knowing how to get the facts, check them, and put them into an objective story. The other guest on the show, Paul Janensch, Professor of Journalism at Quinnipiac University and former journalist and newspaper editor, had many less kind things to say about 'citizen journalists'. Mostly he feels that newsbloggers are 'bloviators', whose 'reporting' is little better than the uninformed opinions that can be heard in your local bar or on cable television. And his definition of a 'trained journalist'? Well 'it's not physics or higher math'. Mostly it is 'common sense': knowing how to get facts, check them, and put them in a story, taking care to put the most important information first. Hmm. I remember learning this when I did a brief stint as a radio news reporter at U.Va. back in the 1970s. The lesson took exactly one minute, and it was taught by my 'boss' at the station, a third-year student who was in a rush to get to class. Janensch is right: it is not physics or higher math. Seems to me it doesn't take much to be a 'trained journalist.'

To be fair, I do think that there is a need for professional journalism as opposed to volunteer journalism. (I find the contrast between 'trained' and 'citizen' journalist to be a false one. Aren't 'trained journalists' also citizens?) For one thing, professional journalists often -- even usually, though certainly not always -- work for editors and publishers who are willing to constitute a firewall against the forces out there that would wish to influence the tenor of a story or seek to prevent controversy and investigative reporting. Volunteer journalists don't have that protection, nor do they (usually) have the luxury of time to do deep investigative reporting. They also have jobs, and need to constantly be careful about offending their employers. As a result, you won't find much exposure of corruption in high places in newsblogs like the Middletown Eye. Unfortunately, given the 'chumminess' that often prevails between reporters and politicians (and, we might add, powerful lobbyists), we haven't found it much in the professional news media either.

What you do get in newsblogs is a different point of view from the 'mainstream media'. It may not always be correct, but at least it is there -- and the point of the 'comments' section is that the facts can be corrected if they are plainly wrong. In the case of the Eye, you also get basic details about what goes on in town and, most importantly, what happens at important city meetings. The traditional news sources -- the professional journalists -- have, for the most part, given up covering these town meetings.

There is much more to be said about all this from a longer-term historical point of view, particularly with an eye to how newspapers evolved in the first place, how they were funded, how they constituted part of a public sphere. The public sphere has changed with the rise of the internet, as has private funding of the news. The business model is still a viable one, but there needs to be some kind of adaptation. An early guest on the show, who was on the phone (and who was difficult to follow as a result), made the point that the future of journalism is more local news. I hope he's right. We need it, desperately.

jd said...

Ed - It's John Dankosky. Thanks for continuing this conversation online. I'd love to get into the idea of the "trained journalist" with you on a future show. Great job keeping us up to date on Middletown. My reporter, Lucy Nalpathanchil (who lives there) reads the "Eye" all the time!