More on opinion in news

In College Goals, Tampa on December 28, 2007 at 5:02 am

Steve Boriss wrote an interesting blog post about sports writers and how they’re being hired for large sums. All the while, news reporters are a dime a dozen and struggling to find and keep jobs.

Here’s the thing. News reporters write bland copy and have the flavor beaten out of their writing before their careers begin. How many people remember the poetic prose of a hard news story? Not many. News stories are all “he said, she said, the report stated.” The more interesting “the horror-stricken crowd watched as the young man fell to his death” is changed to “the crowd watched as the young man fell to his death” because horror-stricken is a sign of the reporter’s “bias.” (Okay, this is an extreme case, but journalism teachers and editors are quick to strip copy of all language that may show a reporter’s opinion.)

That’s one of the main reasons I’m looking at the alt-press for the beginning of my future career. They let the reporter’s opinion slide into a piece if it adds flavor. I’ve read stories in Creative Loafing about topics ranging from white power to raw milk where the writer added their own feelings into their work, which didn’t suffer for it. I read Creative Loafing every week, because it’s interesting and gives me a new perspective on my city. This is what journalism is supposed to do, show people what’s going on, so they can be better citizens.

There is another aspect I like about alt-journalism: writers are usually given the freedom to immerse themselves in their stories. Alex Pickett (who helped connect me with my first internship at Creative Loafing; we met at a party) is a great example. Every week, he finds another aspect of life in the Tampa Bay area and delves into it, writing stories that provide an insight into the inner workings of the city.

Very few reporters at daily, traditional papers get the chance to study their subjects at a deep level. Instead, they pop out stories on deadline a few times a week; the exception to the rule is the newspaper columnist (although, the St. Pete Times does a good job at sending reporters out to explore their stories every once in a while). Howard Troxler comes to mind; when I was in either middle school or high school, I read a column he wrote about bulldogs. When other columnists were vilifying the dogs, he turned the issue around in his head and came up with a compelling reason for people to look at the creatures in a new light.

I’m not saying reporters shouldn’t have deadlines and should pick at a story until just a carcass and a fat paycheck are left.

What I’m really saying is that all stories, even hard news stories, are features. Unfortunately, most journalists don’t hit the mark when it comes to making otherwise compelling stories into a product consumers are passionate about reading. Until reporters and editors become passionate about providing a quality product to their audience (the most important factor in the equation) and not about killing bias (opinion) and controlling the news, newspapers are going to continue to suffer.

  1. I have to agree with you. There is absolutely no creativity in most news stories, let alone newspapers. It’s all black and white. A few years ago, I wrote for an alt. paper – it was wonderful. They assigned stories to me and gave me free reign to do as I wished. Unfortunately, the paper was swallowed by a huge conglomerate who returned it to a robotic news story only type press. I got bored and left.

  2. I often feel very torn about the way we teach Reporting 101 in j-schools. On the one hand, too many students use too much filler of all varieties — “horror stricken” is telling, not showing. But on the other hand, the end result of the instruction does seem to be really BORING writing. It’s torture to read most of the stuff that passes for journalism in newspapers.

    Moreover, the stories the students go out and find tend to be boring and predictable. Why do they want to be journalists if they can only come up with a story that everyone already knows about, e.g. “Humane Society rescues unwanted pets”; “People go shopping on the day after Christmas”; “Lots of people bought iPhones.”

    I like stories that show me something new — yes, such as why do some people want to pay extra for raw milk? Or instead of “What is Kwaanza?” (yawn, heard it already), show me why a family makes the effort required to celebrate it. Introduce me to new ideas. Help me understand the world around me.

    I think that’s part of why people have been turning away from newspapers for years now — the lack of news, as in “new stuff,” stuff I did not already know!

  3. Greetings Wendy,

    This is precisely why I do not engage with newspapers, though I read them everyday. Just give me the news. Or, on that rare occasion where there is a positive, uplifting human interest story.

    I yearn for the author’s voice in an article. That it has been beaten and stomped from the author’s soul is a tragedy.

    Best wishes in keeping yours sister!

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