(Polaroid snapshot via williac.)
This could not be more wrong:
It is enough to make some reporters bristle. "Some of them seem to want us to hate the people we cover," said Ken Herman, a White House correspondent for Cox Newspapers and an association board member. "They don’t seem to understand that you can have a professional relationship with them where you don’t hate them, and you can sometimes talk to them, and maybe have dinner with them."
As an attorney, the dichotomy between your professional stance and your personal friendship can become blurred as well, outside the courtroom, because you see the same folks around the courthouse, you get to know how their kids are doing in college and how their wife's chemo is going and so on. As time goes on, you become friends with even the most bitter of professional rivals. You can't help it — it is human nature. But you do not, for a second, give the other counsel a pass within the courtroom or during negotiations or anything else simply because you know them. Why? Because it would be unprofessional as hell — you do your job, to the fullest extent possible, and with as much intensity and dedication to your client's position as you can muster. Otherwise, you are committing professional malpractice.
And, with all due respect to Mr. Herman who has been around the journalistic block for a while now: far too many journalists have been committing journalistic malpractice. And they need to face that fact.
The reason blogs and plain old average folks (let's call them subscribers or readers or consumers of your journalistic product, shall we?) are pissed off? Because, as your clients, their needs took a backseat to your own personal need to maintain a happy relationship with your new pals at the Bush White House and in the GOP leadership in Congress. So the tough questions got shoved to the side for far too long and the relationship building became of paramount interest – which served the Bush Administration interests, but left the public out in the cold. It is what the Bushies encouraged because it served their purposes to have a docile media pool who was afraid to ask anything remotely difficult for fear of being shut out of the briefing room. And you fell for it, hook, line and stinker.
You allowed the Bush Administration to dictate the terms of access and of how you should or should not do your job, all the while forgetting that you are the one in the relationship who buys ink by the barrel and thus actually hold the power of digging at the truth at your fingertips.
There is a reason that Dan Froomkin had to write out a primer for basic journalistic principles on the Neiman site not too long ago: because far too many journalists inside the Beltway were so busy trying to keep their jobs, they had forgotten how to DO their jobs. (Apologies to Aaron Sorkin and Rob Reiner for stealing an American President line, but it was too perfect a fit.) Maybe the idea that a "recovering reporter" reader had is the way to go — rotate journalists in and out of the Beltway, so they are not constantly steeped in the weird "go along to get along" attitude that permeates so much of the atmosphere there.
You want to know what we want? We want you to do your jobs. It is that simple.
Your whole job, not just the bit that makes you look good on camera or gets you a byline whether or not you've reported the whole story. Take a page from Charlie Savage's book: the man just won a Pulitzer for refusing to back down on a story that needed to be dug into, and that few if any journalists bothered to pick up on even after his reporting kept uncovering more and more egregious behavior. In a situation which cried out for oversight and answers, the ball was well and truly dropped — except by Charlie who was deservedly rewarded for doing his job. Why not take his example and run with it for a while? How about that as a step in the right direction?
And while we are at it, try listening to Jay Rosen (who was also quoted in the NYTimes article with Herman): the false equivalency given to factually inaccurate crap has got to stop. If the public official with whom you are speaking is trying to sell you a load of bullshit, it is okay to call it manure. In fact, it is accurate to do so. As Jay says, too many journalists over the past few years have "lapsed into a phony kind of balance." If the facts do not support it, you aren't doing yourself any favors by pretending that both sides of an argument are equal. That is not balance, it is just phony.
There are any number of journalists who did not fall into this trap — but far too many did, and still do, and it is incumbent upon each of them to ask themselves whether or not this applies to their own work. Your audience expects you to do your job, to follow the story wherever it leads, even if that makes things uncomfortable. Fewer quail wings, more meaty investigative reporting. What do you say?
(And while I'm on the Pulitzer kick, huge kudos to Brent Blackledge (via Attytood) who also understands that public corruption is bad and that the facts — all the facts –need to be exposed to a heap of sunlight. Good on ya!)