Favorite

The Dem-Gaz's failed quest for objectivity 

click to enlarge The Democrat-Gazette's failed quest for objectivity

Last week, in a column on the Democrat-Gazette's Voices page, deputy editor Frank Fellone offered a logical fallacy posing as an affirmation of a core journalistic value: He argued that the newsgathering part of the paper is unbiased. The Democrat-Gazette puts "public service and straight-arrow news coverage above political gain," he wrote.

That's certainly true of much of the paper's local and state reporting, which is often diligent and fair. But, of course, a newspaper is much more than reporting. Even more important are the decisions editors make on what stories to pursue and pick up from national wires (and those not to) and how they're presented — in terms of organization, headlines, photos and position within the paper. Often the Democrat-Gazette does not meet Fellone's standard.

Take a recent article. On Monday, the Democrat-Gazette ran a story called "Occupy Wall Street draws activist critics" on the front page below the fold. The byline read "compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports," which means that it was altered from the original source, in this case the Associated Press. The original AP story opened with this sentence: "To veterans of past social movements, the Occupy Wall Street protests that began in New York and spread nationwide have been a welcome response to corporate greed and the enfeebled economy."

The Democrat-Gazette's version tamped down the definitiveness in the last part of the sentence, changing it to "a welcome response to perceived corporate greed and the weakened economy." It also ran a subhead, "Too loose to last? wonder some," that doesn't reflect the views of anyone quoted in the story. In fact, the fifth paragraph of the story notes that the "growing cohesiveness and profile" of the protest has "caught the attention of public intellectuals and veterans of past social movements." Finally, where other subscribers of the AP elected to accompany the story with a picture of protesters holding signs or a photo of veteran activists, the Democrat-Gazette ran a picture of a man demonstrating how to break free from plastic hand restraints during the protests.

This is a stark example of the flaw in Fellone's position. The decisions an editor made in the Occupy Wall Street story might not be a reflection the Democrat-Gazette's conservative editorial posture, but at the very least, they're the product of an editor bringing his subjective views to a story.

Objectivity doesn't exist. It's an empty vow. A smokescreen. The pursuit of it also often results in the most pernicious type of journalism — the "he said, she said" approach, where a journalist merely serves as a conduit for opposing viewpoints, without reporting on their veracity.

Fairness and authority strike me as better ideals for journalism. I've been considering assembling a set of reporter guidelines for interns and new hires lately. I think I may borrow some the Voice of San Diego provides new reporters. Here are excerpts of some of my favorites:

• "We are guided by an ability to be transparent and independent, to clearly assess what's going on in our community and have the courage to plainly state the truth."

• "Be the expert: Write with authority ... The day we write a headline that says: 'Proposal has pros, cons' is the day we start dying. There is no such thing as 50/50 balance. There is a truth and we work our damndest to get there."

• "Tell the truth: This means not being mealy mouthed and not being bias-bullied. Stand up to bias bullies. Tell them why you did something. Let them challenge you on it. Don't go quote-hunting for something you know to be true and can say yourself. Don't hide your opinion in the last quote of a story."

Favorite

Speaking of...

Comments (14)

Showing 1-14 of 14

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-14 of 14

Add a comment

More by Lindsey Millar

  • Visionary Arkansans 2015

    They make an impact.
    • Aug 27, 2015
  • Trolling Jason Rapert from Detroit

    Maybe this guy will come to Arkansas if the Satanic Temple is able to install its 9-foot-tall statue of the goat-headed Satanic deity Baphomet on the state Capitol grounds. The monument was unveiled in Detroit last night to a crowd of around 700. The Satanic Temple says it'll soon bring the statue to Arkansas.
    • Aug 26, 2015
  • More »

Most Shared

  • Hutchinson's dilemma same as Beebe's and his GOP affiliation doesn't help

    Ernest Dumas writes about the difficulties faced by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in matching the achievements of Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, even though he, like the majority of the legislature is a Republican. In short, Hutchinson needs Obamacare money, though his party rests on a foundation that hates Obamacare.
  • Visionary Arkansans 2015

    They make an impact.
  • Brantley: South toward home

    A two-week cruise from Vancouver to Alaska was nicely timed for the August heat wave. It dipped into the 40s during my visit to the Hubbard Glacier, loudly "calving" with mighty booms of cracking ice. Here's a brief politically tinged travelogue.
  • New York Times fails again

    If one were of a low and suspicious nature regarding the New York Times' historically inept Washington Bureau, one might suspect yet another example of the "Clinton Rules" — that is, a shaky allegation unsupported by facts.

Latest in Media

  • UA cozy with D-G columnist

    An interesting element of the ongoing story of budget problems in the University of Arkansas Advancement Division has been a divide in outlook in the pages of the state's dominant news medium, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
    • Nov 21, 2013
  • Democrat-Gazette covers one of its own in story of reporter Cathy Frye's rescue

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's reports on the rescue of its reporter Cathy Frye, who was missing for days in the hot scrubby desert that is Big Bend Ranch State Park, are gripping.
    • Oct 10, 2013
  • Hodge shares his OA vision

    Roger Hodge, the new editor of Oxford American magazine, talked about his rise at Harper's, his writing philosophy and his plans for the OA before a full crowd last Wednesday at the Clinton School.
    • Sep 26, 2012
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

August

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Fayetteville ordinance: the good vs. the perfect

    A few weeks back a fundraising invitation arrived from "For Fayetteville," the ballot group supporting an antidiscrimination ordinance to be considered by the city's voters on Sept. 8. After several days of pondering, I ultimately decided to drop by the back room of Doe's in Little Rock with a small check. The reason for the hesitation: The ordinance has real flaws in terms of the breadth of its religious exemptions.
  • Brantley: South toward home

    A two-week cruise from Vancouver to Alaska was nicely timed for the August heat wave. It dipped into the 40s during my visit to the Hubbard Glacier, loudly "calving" with mighty booms of cracking ice. Here's a brief politically tinged travelogue.
  • New York Times fails again

    If one were of a low and suspicious nature regarding the New York Times' historically inept Washington Bureau, one might suspect yet another example of the "Clinton Rules" — that is, a shaky allegation unsupported by facts.
  • Asa Hutchinson: trying to please

    Mike Beebe is celebrated for the finesse with which he governed Arkansas with a legislature that for two years was effectively controlled by the other party and for his last two years with Republican numerical control as well. So what will they say about Asa Hutchinson, who must govern with his party owning lopsided majorities in both legislative houses?

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: New York Times fails again

    • Somehow I have the feeling it's not going to stop due to fact that bad…

    • on August 27, 2015
  • Re: Treat, don't jail, the mentally ill

    • Here is part of our state's (Missouri) solution, in combination with CIT training: http://www.mocoalition.org/#!community-mental-health-liasion/cvzg I…

    • on August 27, 2015
  • Re: Treat, don't jail, the mentally ill

    • Here is part of our state's (Missouri's) solution to this issue, in combination with CIT…

    • on August 27, 2015
 

© 2015 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation