June 9, 2021

Point/Counterpoint

don't know how many of you are old enough to remember "Point Counterpoint," the feature that ended each episode of 60 Minutes before Andy Rooney took over that spot. In "Point Counterpoint," two journalists—one liberal, the other conservative—would discuss an issue; one began with the point, the other made the counterpoint. (Get it?)  Unlike today's shoutfests, it was exceedingly genteel; both sides of the issue were represented, each got to speak uninterrupted, and that was it.

The two best-known participants in "Point Counterpoint," at least to my mind, were James J. Kilpatrick on the right, and Shana Alexander on the left. If you've ever seen the "Weekend Update" bit on Saturday Night Live where Dan Ackroyd calls Jane Curtin an "ignorant slut," this is what they're satirizing, although Kilpatrick was far too civilized to ever call Alexander anything like that, nor would she have responded in kind. Of course, they weren't as funny as Jane and Dan, either.


Anyway, the reason for this digression is that I got a very nice email recently from a loyal reader who wanted to provide a rebuttal—a civilized rebuttal, I should add—to something I wrote recently. As we're always up for a good debate here, I was only to happy to oblige. After all, it gets kind of tiresome living in an echo chamber. And when it's as well thought out as this is, it deserved a place not in the comments section, but as a stand-alone piece. It is the author's request to remain anonymous, but this person is a trustworthy source. 

t t t

I'd like to respond to a statement in your May 22 post:

"I think that's a fair point, and ultimately what the editors are saying is that the media has to exercise responsible restraint in how much of a story they tell, while still ensuring that the story itself is told. Not an easy task, but one would assume that teaching this kind of responsibility is what you should get in journalism school.

"And if you thought that, you'd probably be wrong."

As a faculty member of a journalism school, having worked as a reporter and having spent the last 20 years in the academy, please let me speak in defense of my profession.

First, I can promise you that ethics and responsibility are covered in several courses across our curriculum. In fact, programs accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) are required to incorporate ethics, criticism and reasoning into the programs in order to stay accredited. Even programs too small to be accredited will work ACEJMC-style standards into what they do. Codes of ethics such as the Society of Professional Journalists' Code are also commonly covered in coursework, featured in syllabi, and displayed on classroom walls. I can also promise you that if I catch a student journalist cutting corners or acting unethically, they get to have a very memorable one-sided conversation in my office. I can assure you I'm not the only one who does this.

From experience, I would suggest your criticism is better aimed at the broadcast industry. The economic and business pressures that prompt the relentless drive to be first with the story, to get the exclusive, to fill endless hours with content (no matter how dubious the value), and the need to post high ratings to satisfy the corporate ownership. When you are a newly-graduated junior reporter or producer with no seniority, who beat out a dozen other applicants with your exact qualifications, and you need to keep that job, you learn how the game is played if you want to stay employed.

I have been in the company of enough broadcasters and executives to know there are very good people in the business, and then some that I'd rather not talk about. I have had positive experiences with some of our local broadcasters, and I've also had some experiences that remind me why one should never watch sausage being made. I have to maintain good relations with them for professional reasons, so I can't get into details or say anything personally identifiable.

Those of us who devote our lives to training tomorrow's journalists do our very best to root our students in a strong ethical and moral system. We believe in what we do, and we believe in the purpose that responsible journalism has in a democracy. We do our very best to make our students understand that. But when they leave the academy, it's a different world, and the people they answer to aren't us.

Thank you,

(name redacted)

t t t

Mitchell here. First of all, I think this is great. The internet needs to provide more opportunities for open and honest discussion without degenerating into vicious incoherence. And I'm always open to efforts to change my mind, or at least illuminate my way of thinking. 

As to the argument itself, I think there are some valid points. One point on which I'd agree with our guest is that the broadcast media, in particular, is struggling. Many have seemed to exchange accuracy for an increase in ratings, a desire to play to their constituency. I don't have the desire to get into an ideological screed here, so I'll just say that there are examples on both the left and the right, although I do think one side is more egregious than the other. (Note Jake Tapper's comments to the New York Times Podcast that he refuses to book Republicans who believe the election was tampered with, only to have several Republicans belonging to that category claim that Tapper's show has, indeed, tried to book them recently. True, Tapper, whom I've always liked, replied that he wasn't always aware of what his bookers were doing—but then you should be careful what you say.) 

Another point I'd make is that a solid liberal arts education is a key to a good education in journalism . Too many journalists, especially the ones based on the coasts, show a lack of understanding about the rest of the country, which invariably has an effect on their reporting. You need to be more well-rounded; you need to think outside your own experiences. But with the liberal arts under attack on many college campuses (for various reasons), prospective journalists are missing just what they need just when they need it. I don't remember who it was who said it, but the jist of the comment was that "too many schools have replaced a core curriculum in liberal arts with job training and specialization." And that goes for all areas of study, not just journalistic ones.

Anyway, this is a great topic, one that could certainly fill a book. Do any of you out there have an opinion? One of the reasons I'm no longer involved in politics is that civil discussion has become almost impossible, but that will never be the case here. TV  

1 comment:

  1. One of the best examples of this in pop culture history: https://youtu.be/Pn0WdJx-Wkw

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!