Poverty Is Not an Accident

Poverty Is Not an Accident
Nelson Mandela

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

"fair and balanced"

You are reading http://livinginthehood.blogspot.com

From my newsgroup:

I have opinions on every story I'm researching. I had opinions on the five-day story I did on the extension of Paseo del Norte Boulevard, through Petroglyphs National Monument.

I let the people whom I interviewed on the subject know when I sympathized with their positions. All sides.

That's the purpose of journalism: to help the listener/reader/viewer begin to identify, in some relevent way, with the issues.

Notice the operative word here: "relevent." I abhor editorializing, based on the Cult of Personality ("like her, cuz she's got big boobs, like him, cuz he's got a wad of cash"). I hate "infotainment."

By the time I finished interviewing: the Governor's PR man, the State Senator who has fought for the road extension for twenty years, the Archaeological Association who vehemently opposes disturbing ancient artifacts, and the Native Americans who've opposed the extension for twenty years, I could see all sides, and relate to them.

Hopefully, my listeners picked up some of that. This story is nearly a civil war. It has polarized people along racial, party, socioeconomic and other lines. And everybody's angry, resentful and feeling persecuted by the "other side."

I found a common thread in this story: except for the PR man, who's too politically savvy to express a position on it, EVERYBODY is mad at the City Council for apparant incompetence. And everybody is tired of fighting.

I don't think other news outlets have reported that. I did. Actually, I allowed all sides to voice it themselves, in sound bites.

Unless people are hard-core, into their particular agendas, nobody who heard that report could say they didn't learn something about the players in this struggle.

Yes, I'm fair. In fact, I DEMAND that my interviews address key points, so I'll have audio from all sides, on these points. Whatever else they say may or may not be relevent to my report, but I require them to address the issues.

And, yes, I'm balanced. Now, if you break down the sound files from each of the parties in my Paseo story, you'll find one person's files run longer than others. She doesn't really say more than anybody else. But she's a Native American woman. Everybody else was white and specifically educated in how to speak to the public. This woman never had that advantage. She speaks quite well. She just speaks slowly and thoughtfully. She isn't trying to cram her words together quickly; she's thinking, as she speaks, rehearsing it before it comes out of her mouth.

So, to accomodate the fact that she presents her information more slowly, she got more time than others.

But nobody who heard the piece could accuse me of bias because of that.

If I were interviewing a person with a speech impediment, a learning disability, a language difficulty, etc., I would also allow that person more time to express him/herself. It's called, "reasonable accomodation."

This woman is not impaired; there's simply a cultural difference.

After five days, my listeners understood: the four conditions the Governor has placed, before he'll approve the extension of Paseo. They understood how opponents and advocates of the extension thought about their positions. They knew this has been a long discussion, and won't be resolved soon.

So, fair and balanced are what I do.

But I also have opinions.

I won't, however, be showing up to a protest with a banner. I may show up with a recorder, though.

It's not my place, as a reporter, to publicly advocate a position on a story I'm working on.

I have my commentaries for my opinions. And I don't write commentaries on news stories I am...or have been...reporting. I also don't write news stories on subjects of my commentaries.

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