The first journalism class I ever enrolled in was taught by David Swartzlander – a Doane College professor who is widely considered one of the best journalism educators in Nebraska.
The first day I was toting my red and black Adidas book bag with a political button on it. Swartz took one look at it and informed me that if I wanted to be a serious, honest journalist, the first thing I needed to do was circle file that pinback.
So in the trash it went.
I was taught old-school journalism: the only place your political opinion belongs is in the voting booth (or an op-ed piece, but that is rare). I take that very seriously.
This I firmly believe: cable “news” is not news. It’s commentary -- unless you watch C-Span. (If you do, good for you.)
It angers me that people take a lot of cable – and internet -- commentary seriously and think that’s true journalism. The violently-verbiaged exchanges are for show and to incense viewers: “combat journalism.”
How’s a person to navigate the information cesspool?
Harvard University’s Summer School website offers a four-tenet guide to sorting through information and misinformation. They are as follows:
1. Vet the publisher’s credibility.
2. Pay attention to quality and timeliness.
3. Check the sources and citations.
4. Ask the pros. (FactCheck.org, etc.)
As a writer I particularly notice number two. If a writer doesn’t understand how to compose an article with simple grammar or usage, they probably haven’t received proper instruction (if any). For example, using ALL CAPS AND EXCESSIVE PUNCTUATION!!!!!!!!!!!!
That said, no one – yes, including journalists – are perfect. I’ll be the first to admit that; I know I certainly haven’t been error-free. If I have a mistake in a story I beat myself up for it, because I know said article is important to someone and I want to report that the best I can.
A few weeks ago, for example, I had an “oops” in an article. It was a mistake that any intelligent person should be able figure out what it should have been, but I still felt awful. It was a dark day that horrible Friday (see last week’s column).
The following week my new cheerleader Steve Moseley came in and talked me down from the ledge. Everyone makes mistakes, he said. If you look at even just one page of a newspaper in detail, you’re bound to find at least one typo, punctuation error, misspelling… the list goes on. Don’t worry too much about it, Moseley told me. It happens to every writer. I felt a little better.
Simple, stupid mistakes aside, I try extremely hard to write the best, most accurate article I can. Readers, watchers and listeners deserve at least that. I can’t imagine intentionally partaking in thinly-veiled commentary or combat news. It’s a disservice to the public, and I take my responsibility to inform very, very seriously. Truly “fake news” is disgusting, and I’m not going to watch it, read it or consider it.
Neither should you.
A more detailed explanation of Harvard Summer School’s “4 Tips for Evaluating News” can be found at https://www.summer.harvard.edu/inside-summer/4-tips-spotting-fake-news-story