Former New York Times economics reporter Peter Goodman’s explanation for leaving the eminent newspaper to join the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/) raises interesting questions about (a) the past and future relationship between journalists and Subject Matter Experts, and (b) the lengths to which journalists have always gone to color their stories with some form of opinion.
As reported by Rem Rieder, editor of the American Journalism Review (http://ajr.org/Article.asp?id=4975) Goodman cites the following:
• He is looking forward to being free to write online with a clear subjective point of view that he was denied the ability to do as a supposedly objective newspaperman.
• He will no longer have to rely on Subject Matter Experts with defined points of view to say in quotes what he wanted them to say so he could get a subjective point of view across in his article. He told former Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz who has joined online publication, The Daily Beast http://www.thedailybeast.com/, that it was “almost a process of laundering my own views, through the tried-and-true technique of dinging someone at some think tank to say what you want to tell the reader.”
Goodman’s rationale for moving to online journalism along with other notable reporters reinforces the reality that professional communicators have to adjust their understanding of media relations and media training to today’s reality. Advocacy journalism – especially online – is increasing in direct proportion to partisanship on key issues in the political realm. As Rieder says in his column about mainstream and new journalism in the age of interactivity on the Internet, “Witness the nastiness and ad hominem attacks that ricochet around the blogosphere and the comments sections. At the same time, there has been something downright liberating about the emergence of so much lively, engaging, freewheeling writing, so much voice. It makes the traditional straightforward news story seem awfully vanilla.”
With that in mind, we at CommCore remind our clients:
• Always ask questions of a reporter – mainstream, online, or blogger – before the interview. These include queries such as the nature and scope of the story or posting, who else he or she is talking to, and what information he or she has in-hand to base the story on. The answers will help the spokesperson find out what the reporter, columnist or blogger is driving at; what other points of view will be represented; frame quotes accordingly; and select appropriate supporting data to fill gaps.
• Remember that the journalist or blogger will likely ask questions of your Subject Matter Expert with a desired specific answer already in mind. Prepare your SME accordingly.
• Never assume objectivity on the part of the interviewer by making a statement that characterizes the opposing point of view. It can suddenly appear in abstract form in a quote in the story or a headline, even if prefaced by words of denial.
• In a cyber world of shared links, even an objective story appearing initially on a mainstream publication’s website can be attached to an ideologically-biased column or blog that attacks your position.
What are your views on the inexorable movement of journalism online? How do you handle the increasing subjectivity of reporters?