The media's thin blue line

Sydney Schanberg offers this excellent perspective on the MSM's credibility deficit:


Journalism's most serious failure, probably, is its reluctance to explain how reporters go about putting together a news story. A large percentage of news stories, for example, begin with a public relations announcement from a government agency, private advocacy group, politician, corporation, celebrity, or other publicity seeker. Sometimes the finished products that appear in a paper are little more than slightly tweaked rewrites of the original press releases. That is known as bad journalism. But we don't talk about it. Even superior newspapers don't write about such things, out of fear that their critics, or the general public, will use this candor against them.
This lack of openness about our tradecraft—this non-transparency—is really the mother of most of the press's troubles. Consider the Plame-gate saga. It cried out for major news stories explaining in detail how reporters in Washington and elsewhere deal with confidential sources and why they give them confidentiality and what the pitfalls are. ...
The press calls for transparency by government, corporations, and everyone else. But here the reporters reject transparency for themselves, and yet they say they are practicing good journalism. The public needs a fuller explanation, and that can only come from the reporters themselves.
And reporters can describe their methods in detail without identifying their confidential sources. Just tell the public, whose "right to know" we are forever invoking, how we go about our work. Again, candor would probably lead the news community to tighten up its methods and become more professional. We wield a lot of power, so there's something out of whack if we go around demanding accountability from others and don't impose the same level of accountability on ourselves. Our mantra could be this: What do we know and how do we know it?
In other words, the erosion of credibility comes hand-in-hand with a lack of accountability. The media's near-constant invocation of their constitutional rights as the watchdog of democracy is accompanied by an adamant refusal to submit themselves to public scrutiny -- a double standard that increasingly sits ill with their audience.

Shanberg, however, does not address the professional pressures that ensure newsrooms remain shrouded in secrecy. This is an industry that has virtually no whistleblowers because: one, going public with any kind of violation within a news outlet will almost definitely kill your career as a journalist; two, very few news outlets are willing to publish stories that directly attack another one of their own, irrespective of political differences or professional rivalry. The level of professional loyalty -- or more accurately, loyalty to the profession -- within journalism, especially among the national press corps, can make the average cop look weak. [LINK]
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