Taking sides

I’ll start with the usual disclaimer here that I’m not speaking for my employer or anyone I work with. In fact, most people who work in journalism rarely think about the issues raised here. They’re too busy doing their jobs. And few of the self-appointed media watchdogs get that. The ones that do generally don’t admit it. Bad for business if you tell your readers that the news organization they’re being told to despite isn’t a monolith.

This story combines — perhaps confuses — a couple of archetypes in today’s journalism. Call them The Crusader and The Pundit.

The Crusaders in the story: NBC’s Ann Curry (frequent reports on Darfur), Fox’s Douglas Kennedy (dangers of ADD drugs), ABC’s Diane Sawyer (profiles of poverty).

The Pundits: CNN’s Lou Dobbs (“they took our jobs!“), Fox’s Bill O’Reilly (“I hate left-wing scum!”), MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann (“I hate right-wing scum!”).

They’re lumped together here, but I see them as distinct as the news and op-ed wings of a newspaper. (A visiting blogger told us yesterday how he learned of the divide between those two wings at The New York Times, and the gap in thinking at The Wall Street Journal is frequently on display.)

The Crusaders are simply doing what good journalists do. They’re exploring the world, raising questions and finding exceptional things. I haven’t seen the reports to judge whether they’re fair, but there’s no reason they can’t be. Going to Darfur with a camera isn’t a political statement, and if we define it as such, there’s no hope for this business.

The Pundits are what they are. They’re a byproduct of cable television’s need to fill 24 hours of programming with something, and the easiest filler is an angry man yelling at the camera.

Naturally, whenever anything like this is raised, it’s seen as an indictment of journalism as a whole.

So how would I, as a low-paid drone in the media machine, defend my profession in the wake of reports such as these?

I’ve already defended the Crusaders. If your beliefs are threatened by the revelation of atrocities in Darfur or the acknowledgement of poverty in America, that’s your problem.

The Pundits? It’s not my job to defend them. Because I’m not watching them.

The people who should answer for the Pundits? The people watching them and buying their books.

To the 90 percent of us just trying to make an honest living here, watching our entire profession derided because of the Pundits is a bit like snarking on Carbon Leaf and Guster because you hate Fergie and Fall Out Boy.


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