When Journalism 101 is cast aside
The goal was a journalism career. The destination was Sports Illustrated.
The destination evolved into 44 years at the Sun-Gazette, more of a career than 99 percent of the population gets.
That’s because the goal — journalism — was achieved.
The path was tricky, with challenges, successes and setbacks.
None of it would have happened without two professors at the University of North Carolina, Drs. Walter Spearman and Richard Cole.
Shortly after arriving at one of the nation’s best journalism schools, it was apparent just about all the other students were more talented than yours truly.
It was just as apparent the talents could be learned and the touchstones were matters of professional integrity, not talent.
The medical profession has its “first do no harm” creed. Lawyers lean on equal justice under the law. Trades have their bibles of dos and don’ts.
Journalism’s tenets: Be fair, objective and balanced. Keep personal beliefs from tilting the product. And, no matter whether you like an interview subject or not or how they treat you, these tenets still apply.
Otherwise, it’s not journalism. It’s carnival barking that anyone can produce.
Executing these standards is not easy. Amid thousands of interviews, there were countless moments when the person across the table was unlikable, accusatory, full of hyperbole masquerading as principle, inaccurate with facts or flat out lying.
The mission was to write an objective accounting of the conversation and inform in a way that promotes trust.
In that way, the work here is no different than that at the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN or any of the websites that have mushroomed into our information menu.
There is no joy in contending we are obeying journalism law better than those more famous conduits. It is a sad observation given the pride I have in our profession.
It is alarming to watch basic journalism traded for agendas, website clicks or viewing eyeballs. While the larger imprint of opinion material is understood, that approach is becoming prominent in the hard news presentation, our first obligation. News anchors call people racists without a qualifier and make judgments that create divisions that don’t exist. Reporters argue agenda points when asking questions. Headlines bear little resemblance to events. Stories are emphasized or downplayed to match viewpoints. Often there is a double standard in reporting based on whether the political leader is liked or not.
This has been happening for awhile and has reached epidemic level since the phenomenon of President Donald Trump.
Trump is not particularly likable. When criticized, he criticizes back. He’s often nasty and lacks taste. He’s boastful when we would prefer modesty. He uses “I” when he should use “we.”
But the hard journalism truth is that none of this is supposed to matter. Criticism and watchdogging are still supposed to come with measured professionalism and at least an attempt at balance.
The most recent institutional survey reported 92 percent of the stories regarding Trump and his administration were negative.
Meanwhile, the jobless rate is at an all-time low, the stock market at an all-time high, wages for nonsupervisory personnel are rising at a faster rate than those of their bosses, the economy has been roaring for two years, foreign entanglements have been reduced and talks to end North Korea’s nuclear threat are at least ongoing.
You can’t have all that and a 92-percent negative product unless objectivity is being thrown into a dumpster.
Trump is called racist for immigration policies (many of them similar to President Obama’s) and criticisms of representatives of color. Meanwhile, unemployment among African-Americans and Hispanics is historically low and a criminal justice bill that benefits them more than anyone has been Trump-driven. And, in case you haven’t noticed, Trump picks fights with anyone he disagrees with.
It is correct to worry about Russian intervention in our elections, but a $40 million, two-year probe has not uncovered anything between the administration and Kremlin resembling what political sirens are claiming. And none of them has bothered to question the allegation origins, which point at Democratic ties to Russia, FBI operatives with an ax to grind, exposed emails of Trump’s presidential opponent and a fraudulent dossier.
If Russia is such an overriding threat, how come no one was interested in exploring President Obama’s open microphone promise to be more cooperative with the Kremlin after he was re-elected?
These glaring double standards and incomplete reporting only exist when and where agendas are driving the product.
Drs. Spearman and Cole would not have given passing grades to those practicing these journalistic atrocities.
And how soon before the rest of the American public gives us a failing grade?
This is a noble profession. We need an intervention and rededication to its principles to save it.
Troisi is the retired editor of the Sun-Gazette.