Teh Sade Stat of Journalism Today
This blog is a consideration of the state of journalism today from the point of view of a non-journalism major/MFA recipient/magazine writer/editor/feminist/idealist/brunette/crusty 30-something. And as is the case with most of my blogs, this will likely take me several paragraphs, goofy pictures, and sarcastic captions to get to my main point. And if you didn’t realize my title was part of the joke, I don’t blame you; for the record, though, it is. You’re welcome.
This topic was initially inspired by a friend’s bad day with the news-reading experience. Finding truly unacceptable typos and/or grammatical errors in the following two (one, two) mainstream news articles, she expressed her angst on Facebook, naturally — where all of today’s angst finds a happy home.
The offending quotes:
1) “Oh, how you disappointment me my Aussie friends.”
2) “‘[I]t was hard to tell whether it was with faux or guanine naiveté,’ Losse writes.”
To which I replied (partially, at least):
1) “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” When it comes to editing, this is true! Granted, even if Chase had a proofreader review the piece, depending on the quality of the proofreader, these errors still might have been missed; but I’m guessing Chase worked alone on this… But, hey, what do I know? This is only my job… and I’d be out of it if there were fewer illiterate or just plain lazy people out there.
2) Part of the problem — not to make excuses in any way — is that writers for today’s publications are a) on crazy deadlines to keep up with Twitter or some other news outlet breaking stories before they do, b) generally pulling a lot more writing weight than they can handle, and c) grossly underpaid for handling such a large workload, if they’re even willing to take the job for such a pittance. So quality suffers either because of overworking, apathy, lack of qualifications (aka recent grads who didn’t have a writing gig in school… and even some who did, based on some articles I’ve seen), or all of the above.
Having moved on from her rage for, oh, a day or so, my friend then went on to ask her Facebook followers what they felt were the most unbiased, reliable media sources out there. Among the ones cited: Reason, The Guardian (though left-leaning), NPR, Consumer Reports (which I found to be a pleasant and surprising candidate for “news”), and Link TV.
While considering this query, as fate usually likes to have it, I stumbled upon this in my Twitter adventures:
Hmm… Boston Review piqued my curiosity — and followed me back (which was hot, by the by) — so I clicked on the link. Bam! This is what I read there:
“Are you disappointed by the tone and depth of public debate?”
“Are you frustrated that sensationalist political coverage and talking heads drive our public discourse?”
“You are in good company. And it is a big problem. The media — old and new — are not providing honest, thoughtful, open debate on key issues like economics, war, and justice.”
Yeah! Eff that!
“Our democracy is suffering as a result.”
Viva la Revolucion! (Wait, I got carried away. I’m just a little white girl…)
Naturally, I recommended Boston Review to my friend, but I’ve been thinking about this BR statement ever since. Yes, they’re looking for funding, so yes, they got a writer talented in PR and the art of persuasion to inspire readers to donate to the cause. But honestly, people, are you going to hold it against them?
Consider the following: One major flaw in today’s journalism is the fact that most media outlets are owned by a) major corporations or b) their advertisers. And I use the term “owned” loosely here, because when an advertiser threatens to pull its ad campaign — and, subsequently, its funding — from your publication in an attempt to dictate what you will and won’t print (e.g., you will not under any circumstances print something your staff wrote that, while factually accurate, it doesn’t like), and you give in, you are essentially owned.
Let me bring you the real, dear little journalism undergrads: Journalism today ain’t no Woodward and Bernstein shiz — not with most publications, at least. Back then, a journalist had to fear retaliation from, say, Richard Nixon. But today, if you work for, say, the fictional outlet of Flox News, do you know whom you have to fear? Your bosses. And their bosses. And even your interviewees. Because you can forget about getting another interview with Joe Blow if you didn’t let him see your article before it went to print (in to the sane!) and change his relevant yet controversial points to self-promotional, meaningless drivel. With the exception of all the fluff you can handle, you will write and report what these people tell you you can write and report — nothing more.
And perhaps you already know this. And if that’s the case, is it any wonder to either of us that you’re fresh out of the gates with your cute little degree all rolled up in your hand, completely apathetic about what you’re planning on spending the rest of your life doing?
Knowing things like this make me infinitely grateful I pursued studying my passion — creative writing — instead of doing something “safer,” like a journalism major. Because even when I have to stop caring that I likely won’t ever be paid (let alone allowed) to write accurate yet abrasive material, I still have the love of language, the love of writing itself, to keep me fulfilled, to keep me pounding out the paragraphs, inserting those commas and correcting those typos. And, of course, writing whatever I very well please on the side.
Which brings us back to that initial complaint my friend made about the lack of proofreading and editing in journalism pieces. This here — this thing that you’re reading right now — this is called a blog. Is it a blog because it’s online? Partially. If it’s online, does that make it a blog? No. A blog — especially a personal one such as this — has one editor, typically: the writer. I don’t excuse any mistakes I may make herein, but I am the only set of eyes looking at it (albeit multiple times) before I hit “Publish.” But a news blog should have at least one editor — and one who knows what the heck grammar is and can spell properly without the squiggly red line. And a news article — also online, but not a blog — should absolutely have at least one editor reviewing it as well. The fact that it’s online for the whole world to see is no excuse for laziness on the part of the writer or acceptance of said laziness on the part of the reader because, “Oh, it’s just a blog”; in fact, because an online presence tends to completely replace or at the very least supplement — not subtract from — a print readership, to me it should be even more critical that everything in the text be accurate from not only a factual but a grammatical standpoint.
In other words, Yahoo!, Huffington Post, you have some work to do. Get to it!
Mistakes will be made — sure. But seriously, this is why we have proofreading and copyediting. This is why we have editors. Find at least one good one, and here’s some additional advice on that: Since most college grads period (even English/journalism majors) are not learning proper writing skills in school these days, test and choose wisely.
You’d be amazed if you saw what some of the stuff coming through my work door looked like before we beat it into submission, because you see it in its prettified state. And that’s the way it should be. If it still looks like something a third-grader wrote by the time it’s posted to your website for all your readers to see, you got problems.
Test your writers, invest in your writers, and invest in more writers. And for g-d’s sake, let them do their jobs! That’s what you’re supposed to have hired them for!
Thank you, Boston Review, for (hopefully) representing a publication of integrity — one everybody in this country can learn from. I hope you are successful in your mission.
If I find out you’re owned, though, I’m going to retract every kind thing I ever said about you here. You’ve been warned.