Inside the newsroom

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This is a really interesting read:

I’m not a FOX basher or a fan. I think Bill O’Reilly is frequently wrong and his on-air personality is often obnoxious. This breakdown of the host’s day – written by a supposed insider – would seem to confirm that his off-air personality isn’t that different. What’s interesting, though, is that while the rules of journalistic integrity are bent, according to this description, it’s clear that O’Reilly’s success is due, at least in part, to his passion for producing exactly the product he wants.

Anyway, it’s an interesting look behind the scenes at a news organization.

A diverse range of political views are represented by the newsroom here at ADN and the Cititzen. I won’t name names, but we have a pretty varied bunch.

I consider classic liberalism to be the best descriptor of my own views, although I shy from fully embracing that or any label for my beliefs. One of the reporters is a straight-up Conservative. Another is a bit left of centre. Still another seems to be harder to peg down – never quite sure where he’ll come in on an issue. And the last, while politically centrist, I’d describe as a small-c, PC-style conservative generally.

I’ll leave it to you to decide who is who, but it makes for some fun conversations. One reporter will staunchly defend the record of a much-scorned American president, while another expresses disdain for the former commander-in-chief. One journalist thinks conservatism means personal liberty, while another supports strong centralized power. The writer at one desk will scoff at the tempest in a teapot being made over Mike Duffy, while another will argue that petty crimes should still carry consequences.

Most of these debates grow out of the massive amounts of media we consume as part of our work – and not just work, but newshound curiosity. Still, debates about ethics and principles, right and wrong, also occur in the context of local stories we’re working on or issues we’d like to cover.

For example, I recently had a request from a person I’d interviewed for a story to read the article before it was published. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this request (journalists get it pretty often).

At first blush, it’s an understandable, even reasonable request. But I always say no, and so do virtually all journalists. I’ll kill a story – throw away an afternoon’s work – before I’ll let a subject of the story read it before publication. It’s a principle, see.

Why would the person want to read it? Presumably because if they didn’t like something, they’d want to talk to me about it, maybe ask for a change – maybe demand a change.

At that point, though, they’re no longer the story, they’re trying to become the author of their story.

A news story isn’t written to serve the purposes of the people interviewed for the story. It’s written for the paper’s audience. The feelings of the people in the article should be (at most?) a distant consideration in the process of composing the best, fairest article. The interview subject is a character in a story, and the job of the journalist is to write a compelling, accurate story – not to write what someone “wants” written.

That’s the deal. If a person doesn’t like that deal, they shouldn’t speak to journalists.

They also shouldn’t tell journalists “not to misquote” them or “get it wrong.” That’s a pretty insulting thing to say, and people say it too often. Imagine if you told the person bagging your groceries not to do it wrong because one time a clerk broke your eggs. Or if you told the mechanic, before buddy was even half-done a job for you, you’ve had bad experiences with mechanics.

It’s not a crime to do either, of course, but it’s not really in the best taste. Despite movie portrayals of journalists, and the general perception that we’re vultures, this is a profession where issues of accuracy and fairness, morality and ethics are aired fairly frequently. Each time we choose one word over another, we’re aware of how it alters a sentence’s meaning. And our work is on display every day, so it’s no wonder we have little patience for bureaucracies that wish to conceal their actions: you, the reader, know every quality thing I write and every dud, every success and every mistake. Amherstonians can look over our shoulders and see what we’re doing daily, because ultimately the quality of our work is defined by the quality of the printed page.

Sometimes the quality is good and sometimes it’s not as good as we’d like it to be, and our business can be impacted, good or bad, as a result. But we can’t hide, and that should be reassuring to readers: even if journalists didn’t want to do the right thing, they’d usually be quickly exposed if they didn’t. Which is a long way of saying we do try to get it right.

There. A little insight into FOX and a little insight into your local papers. On a completely unrelated note, apparently I was wrong in a previous post: The Vatican still says I’m going to Hell (

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