By Becky Holland, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ever since the ‘first newspaper’ was said to have been published in Boston in 1690 by Benjamin Harris, journalists have been viewed as both ‘bad’ and ‘good,’ by, well, anyone.
Funny thing is, Harrison’s publication, called ‘Public Occurrences – Both Foreign and Domestic’ was put to rest after only one edition was published. Why? The government suppressed it. Basically, the big wigs leading the country at the time, killed it.
Oh, would advocates of the ‘Open Records Act’ and ‘Freedom of the Press’ have had a field day there.
A dear old friend of mine in south Georgia said, “You know, you media folks are just ‘messy.’ But that is not always a bad thing. ‘Cause we humans like to know the ‘messy’ stuff even though we say we don’t.”
He was using the urban meaning of ‘messy.’ You know what I mean – ‘messy’ as in stirring up trouble, instigators, gossipers, trouble makers or as my old mentor, Bertie Mae Garrett, would say, ‘negative ninnies with nothing better to do than talk down people and what people do.’ (Yes, I see some of you crawling under your computer table and feeling like someone is stepping on your toes – we are all messy.)
In a way, he was right about journalists. A journalist’s job is simple – to report the news as it happens without favoritism, and as correctly as possible. I should throw the words ethical and honest and non-persuasive in the mix too.
The media’s main purpose is to disseminate the news – share information. Some of the information might not sit well with some folks – especially if they are the center of the story, and the story angle might involve something they did – like say post some nasty stuff on their social media or misspend allocated funds or get caught stealing.
But it is what it is.
Now, just like in any profession where you deal with humans, there will be and are some journalists, some editors, some news anchors, some radio broadcasters, some reporters and even some publishers, who will take a piece of news and run it across the screen, the airwaves or the newspaper ‘like it was a hot potato needing all sorts of fixings.’ That is nice way of saying, they prefer using unethical, tabloid journalistic methods instead of keeping straight to the facts.
Not that there is any reason to do that – other than to sell papers, sell your broadcast, up your ratings, etc … – really, it is what it is.
Different strokes for different folks.
Because of that type of attitude in our society today, officials in governmental agencies or law enforcement agencies or emergency personnel do get a little antsy when the media pops up.
Phone calls, emails and visits from a member of the press seem to cause anxiety or frustration in local, regional, state, national and international entities even before that journalist can say a word.
Unless the journalist follows the ‘tabloid style of journalism’ and is out to ‘burn’ every politician, educator, police chief, fire chief, mayor, sheriff, yadda yadda, and even though it may not seem like, that type of thinking is rare, all a journalist wants to do is tell the story.
Today’s journalist has more opportunities and resources to tell stories than when I entered the business in 1995. A journalist doesn’t even have to actually talk to a person they want to interview. They can write an interview with questions and present in email format or text someone.
Now, reporters have to be careful when doing that. Not everyone is used to that type of interviewing, and as we all know, writing can be misconstrued and cause or create problems when people start assuming things.
Take for example, you need a story right a way, and the story is important. You know the person you are going to interview is busy. So you email the questions, and say when you need them back. Depending on the mood of the interviewee, the things on that person’s plate and the topic you are interviewing about, your email interview could cause panic and alarm.
Officials and leaders are constantly being barraged by people demanding information and accused or allegations are being made, and laws are thrown at them consistently. This can make them very nervous. It can also make them think that everyone and their dog are out to get them. In other words, can put a police chief, a fire chief, a city manager, a sheriff, a college president, any elected official, always on the defensive when a member of the media contacts them.
There is not a lot of room for error in that type of work. They do have a big responsibility. They have to run their business, their department and their city and follow 1,001 protocols.
Which is a part of the reason the Open Records Act was created. The public has many rights, and the media has rights as well. The Open Records Act, or the Public Information Act as it is now known, gives citizens the right and the vehicle to be able to inspect or copy certain government records. At the same token, it allows for those entities to withhold government records from the public or media.
Needless to say, because of a vast amount of allegations and accusations and the calling out of governing entities not being transparent, it is hard to draw the line of difference in interview questions and requests for information from media.
That alone could justify the reason that some media folks can get ‘messy.’ So can the demand for the information to be answered by a certain time. Deadlines are deadlines, and a reporter’s job is to get that story out there in that amount of time.
An email request from a journalist can be misconstrued. Which is why I advise, though I am not always able to follow it myself, that interviews take place where you can hear a voice. I’d prefer seeing a face as well. Body language is important in telling a story.
Journalism, today, comes in many different forms. First, you have those journalists who went to college, received the training and degrees for journalism. They are a part of an actual, accredited news organization. Secondly, you have got the ‘new media journalist’ who may have the degrees but don’t work for an accredited news organization, but have started news blogs or websites. Thirdly, you have got the ‘hobby journalist.’ This is the blogger, the Facebook host of a news group or the social media tweeter of news.
Each one follows a different school of thought in how to share the news. Some of that dissemination can be ‘messy.’VThose ‘messy’ journalists do seem to cloud the judgments of people when dealing with a journalist who follows the old school of thought – tell the truth, don’t play sides, be respectful, but tell the truth without drama.
Regardless of how much those of us who were trained to follow the standards set by respectable journalists through the years don’t like the ‘messy style’ – we have all fallen into it at one point in our careers. It would be when the ‘By Line’ and the ‘fame’ meant more than telling the story.
Just because there are a few ‘messy’ journalists out there, doesn’t mean all of us have that purpose in our emails, our phone calls or in the way we write.
I think of the slams against our local police as of late. In fact, these slams have created quite a stir as the local police officers’ association has taken a stand against a particular governmental leader who has done the ‘slamming.’ The slams have been about the need for training in community relations. Now as to the approach that this government leader has taken, and the allegations made towards him, I can’ really speak on that, nor will I give a public opinion on specifics.
I will say that anyone who works in a community leadership role – elected and non-elected officials, and employees of said officials and departments should always conduct themsleves publicly in a respectful, supportive (even if you don’t agree) and such manner – that includes on social media as well. (Even off the clock or behind your Facebook chat box, you are a representative of your family, your friends, your education and your job.)
Don’t even get me started on employees in retail today and the lack of good customer service.
The point of this is to say, don’t judge anyone – media personnel, police officers, city commissioners, McDonald’s employees, Walmart stockers or Big Lots’ cashiers by the actions or words of a few.
I was reading something today about dogs and dogs’ noses. Did you know that no two dogs’ noses are a like. In fact, a dog’s nose print can identify a dog just like finger prints can identify a person.
No two journalists are a like. No two police officers are a like. No two plumbers are a like.
Before you react, or start gossiping or get all legal about it or start being vocal about something judged on the behaviors of past dealings with reporters, why don’t you give a reporter a chance?
Just because one messy reporter or messy situation left a bad taste in your mouth doesn’t mean the next one will. It is not personal – it is business.
Let’s let the word ‘messy’ be used for what it is really meant to define – a college kids’ dorm room, my dad’s workshop, my closet.
A reporter can make a fantastic ally and a lifelong friend. (And we are not always looking at everything on the record.)