Long ago in a classroom far away, an instructor gave an assignment to a group of fresh-eyed journalism students: Write a news story about the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus.
The challenge wasn’t writing a story. Presumably that was a no-brainer. It was to test whether students could put aside their personal beliefs, separate facts from rumors and speculation, weed out those with an ax to grind, and report dispassionately and even-handedly.
The results were predictable. Most fell short. They couldn’t detach from belief systems they’d been taught since the cradle, and that colored their version of events. A few succeeded, and it was a harbinger of how they’d excel in their careers.
It was a different age, journalistically. There was a commitment to ferreting out facts and keeping yourself outside the story. It was almost a religion, and violation was idolatry.
It was before Watergate spawned a generation who fancied themselves investigative journalists à la Woodward and Bernstein, but fell short because they were inexperienced. This soon devolved into “advocacy journalism,” then into opinion-in-lieu-of-news — both of which persist, often alongside “news” that really isn’t news and isn’t even relevant.
The prevalence of advocacy and opinions masquerading as news is painfully apparent. What about irrelevance? Consider a recent teaser for a nightly TV news program: “How often do men change their bed sheets? Less than you think. We’ll tell you more on the news at 11.”
There’s a tendency for all of us to believe things were better when we were there, when our hand was on the tiller.
But the world changes, and we must adapt. This is no less true with the media. Some journalists can be worked with professionally and effectively. The difficulty is with those who care more about opinions and less about facts. You must differentiate between them in a heartbeat. If you fail, you put your client in peril.
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Preparation & Training. You can reach Roger Gillott directly at 310-826-8696.
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