“That’s the way it is…” holds its place in history like many famous phrases, but for me it holds a special place because it represents an era when journalists and their industry were held in high regard. That line was the patented farewell each night from Walter Cronkite, who sat in the CBS Nightly News anchor chair for two decades.
The world lost a great journalist when Cronkite died. You can read about his rise through the ranks to the “most trusted man in America” in a thorough column from Al Tompkins at Poynter. You also can read and watch excerpts from the nice postmortem documentary CBS News produced on its former anchorman. (The banner below is courtesy of CBS News.)
What’s more disheartening than losing Cronkite is that we in America seem to have lost the last truly trusted newsman. Perhaps we have done this to ourselves, however, because we have become so insistent on getting every piece of news instantly, even if it’s not entirely accurate. We also are too easily satisfied by reading or viewing a story that is merely a shadow of what it could be because there are no resources in the newsrooms to pursue all angles fully.
We also have become too comfortable with accepting the word of any yahoo with a keyboard and an Internet connection as credible, simply because they’ve figured out how to post to a blog. (You can include me in that group if you want. However, I think I make it pretty clear on this blog that what you are reading here is my opinion mixed in with the facts, which I substantiate with credible sources.) We also too easily accept the opinion of people on the various cable networks posing as newsmen and newswomen who really are not much more than self-aggrandizing talk show hosts — the video equivalent of screaming radio shock jocks merely interested in stirring up the masses to get attention.
Amy Mengel wrote about bloggers not being journalists in a recent blog post. I often have to cover this topic when I make presentations about social media and online issues. I have to remind people to whom I’m speaking that bloggers are not journalists. There is no code of ethics among bloggers and there are no rules. Bloggers can say and do what they want in the ultimate display of First Amendment rights since the thing was written.
After the sound of gnashing and grinding teeth subsides at those presentations, I also remind them that it’s OK that bloggers don’t follow the same rules as journalists. What’s more important to me is that there should be rules for readers.
Reporters — professional journalists — have a code of ethics they are expected to follow. They have an industry to protect and their own credibility to defend. The majority of them care about getting the story right and often are frustrated that the bean counters running the show don’t give them the time they need to pursue a story to its full potential.
It is incumbent upon readers, therefore, to be more critical of the news they are receiving. They need always to consider the source of the news and the sources of those who are doing the reporting. And, most important, they need to keep in mind there is a difference between reporting something and being a reporter.
For now, we seem to have lost our way as an audience when it comes to the news of the day, and until we start playing by the rules, that’s the way it will be.
In fond memory…