Posted by: eratigan | August 5, 2009

The problems with journalistic professionalism

In chapter 10 of the Graber book, the author addresses the problem many journalists face when covering the court system. Usually, the reporter has no background in law, and so can sometimes accidentally report things that are only half true or entirely incorrect.

Graber points out that a sports editor wouldn’t assign someone unfamiliar with baseball to cover a game, but a news editor may want to avoid the jargon that someone familiar with law’s finer points might want to use when writing a judicial story.

I think this points to one of the problems with the professionalization of journalism and the rise of journalism schools–whereas in the past, someone who studied another subject may come to journalism and bring with them their outside knowledge, there is an increasing number of journalists who know nothing but their craft.

Earlier in the course, we discussed the idea that professionally trained journalists may be able to avoid the common traps of bias, bu I think the problem Graber raises suggests another trap: unintended bias. In the case of the courts, misrepresenting an outcome might be a result of ignorance. It’s not deliberate, but don’t mistakes also sway a reader’s opinion? An error in a court story may later be corrected, but that seed of thought has been planted, and just as with any other article it’s hard to fix that damage.


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