The Barbershop has re-located

The proprietor has moved the shop to ChicagoNow, a Chicago Tribune site that showcases some of the best bloggers in the Chicago area. You can logo on to the Barbershop home page here. The ChicagoNow home page is here.

You'll still be able to post comments with the same ease as in this location. The proprietor also will keep this web site alive if you wish to review old posts.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Judging Amy

In a perfect example of contemplating their own navels, the Chicago media have gone wild with the story about WMAQ-Ch. 5 reporter Amy Jacobson getting axed because she attended a pool party hosted by the subject of a news story that she had been covering.

A friend called the excessive coverage foofaraw, and perhaps it is. But it raises a larger question: Just how close should reporters get to their sources. Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, writing on his blog, thinks it’s not a big deal. Responding to a comment, he said:

And you misunderstand the reporter/source relationship if you think it's all about having the notepad out and the voice recorder on all the time. Reporters and sources go to ballgames, play golf, dine and just hang out from time to time to build rapport, familiarity, trust and so on. The presence of kids might have even facilitated that, though I'd hate to think any journalist would deliberately use his or her kids as professional props.

Leaving aside the bit about the kids, I’d like readers to know that not everyone in this business thinks it’s a good idea to “just hang out” or otherwise socialize with people they are covering. It’s called “getting too close to your sources,” and it can lead to big trouble. By that, I don’t necessarily mean trouble for the reporter; it’s just bad journalism. Getting too close to the people you are covering raises serious questions about your objectivity. It skews your perspective and sets you up to be used.

Does any but the most naive reporter seriously think that he’s being entertained and befriended because he’s such a swell guy? Early in my career 30-plus years ago, I found myself being invited to some nice parties thrown by people on my beat. I accepted some of the invitations, but it soon dawned on me that it’s harder to write a balanced and fair story when you’re palling around with the very people you’re writing about.

Of course, some journalism educators no longer teach that objectivity is a myth, and therefore it’s not just all right, but recommended, to buddy around with the mayor, governor, alderman, county president, congressman, senator and whoever your little heart desires. But don’t ask your readers to trust you. Because you’ve betrayed them.


Dan L said...

Bah - come on Denny. You know the Chicago media as well as anybody. They really like to report the news - but they love to be the news. If you're Jay Mariotti trolling Ozzie Guillen or if you're Amy Jacobson cuddling with the story - it's just how they operate.

Anonymous said...

Truer words have not been spoken, Dan. Well said. Maybe she can also cuddle up to the Telemundo babe who had an affair with the LA mayor, only to "report" that he was divorcing his wife of 17 years. Gotta' love these "reporters." Such integrity.