Thursday, July 21, 2005

Journalistic 'Norms'

From a Washington Post chat with Geneva Overholser, Chair in Public Affairs Reporting, Missouri School of Journalism:

Q. With the proliferation of things like blogs, is a definition of "journalist" even possible?
Geneva Overholser: This is definitely one of the stickiest questions in this whole subject. . . .I've been told that the best way to go about this is not to attempt to define who is a journalist, but rather to consider (in any given instance) whether the material at hand is journalism. Easier to see, for example, whether the information was gathered in the interest of the public, whether it conforms to journalistic norms, etc., than whether the one gathering it is a journalist.

"Norms etc."? OK. In just the past couple of weeks we've seen:

1. A Sunday magazine piece whose soul purpose is to burnish the public image of the dictator of Syria.

2. An article that makes the wacky claim, in the face of all evidence, that the London bombers were targeting Muslims.

3. A columnist claims Hezbollah terrorists respect the Israel-Lebanon border.

None of this tendentious swill adhered to "journalistic norms." All appeared in the New York Times.

I'd suggest that Ms. Overholser omit "journalistic norms" from her definition, lest she exclude the large proportion of journalism that is dumb, unprofessional, and biased -- violating all the norms of journalism -- while still being, just barely, "journalism."
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