I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Just a Blogger..."

I love this one:

JACKSON — Some school board members want stated formally their prerogative to give the silent treatment to reporters they consider unethical.
A proposed policy would permit the members to decline to speak with reporters whom the Board of Education considers to be in violation of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
The proposal would give the board the power to “request the media outlet provide a different journalist to cover the Board of Education and school district,” according to the policy draft released by the district. “In the event the media outlet does not replace the journalist, the Board of Education and its staff members will not be required to provide information regarding activities in the school district or respond to questions and inquiries … beyond the professional courtesies extended by school staff members to a person of the general public.”
The board will vote on Dec. 20.
The resolution will address “people who are calling themselves journalists and are really just bloggers,” said board member Barbara Fiero. [emphasis mine]
I've got no problem holding up bloggers to high journalistic standards; but how about we do the same for print journalists?

Take my last piece on the new Queen of Gutting Tenure, Janine Walker Caffrey. I sourced everything; there are links to just about all of my assertions of fact (maybe I've left a few out that are common knowledge).

Contrast that to the piece that Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger wrote about Caffrey; the piece that prompted me to write my post. Here are the unsourced statements of fact Moran makes:
The legal labyrinth (outlined in the chart at right) can take years to navigate. Districts have to pay attorneys and continue to pay the bad teachers during most of the process. It can easily cost $200,000 a pop. 
Gov. Chris Christie notes that only 17 bad teachers have lost tenure over the past decade. But many more bad teachers are asked to leave before they get tenure. And most tenure cases end in settlements, so they are not counted as part of that 17. 
What Caffrey says out loud, many other teachers and administrators whisper in private, to avoid making waves. But some of them are calling Caffrey and cheering her on. [emphasis mine]
Those are three assertions of fact I would never make without citing a source. I might conjecture that #3 is possible, and I might say there is evidence that strongly suggests #2 (there is), but I would never state any as a fact without a citation - especially #1. And that last sentence should read: "Caffrey claims that many teachers and administrators are calling and cheering her on."

This, by the way, is in addition to Moran's lack of acknowledgement that he has confirmation of Caffrey's stories about her teachers' alleged misdeeds by a second source. Maybe he did confirm them; maybe he didn't. If he did, he should give us a clue who made the confirmations. If he didn't, I have to wonder why he ran with the story at all.

I can tell you that as this blog has gained more attention, I've had people send me story ideas. But I never use their stuff without confirming it. The few times I've cited people as eyewitnesses, I've said who they are, and I only use first person accounts.

The point isn't that I'm "better" than a print journalist; I'm not. I've got no formal training in journalism or its ethics. I'm anonymous (for now), and that wouldn't and shouldn't fly if I was a professional. But it does force me to take extra care to get my facts right; otherwise, nothing I wrote would be taken seriously.

There are some truly awful blogs out there; there are also some truly awful newspapers, magazines and broadcast journalism outlets. Being a blogger doesn't mean my work shouldn't be held up to scrutiny, but it also doesn't mean my work doesn't have value. Judge it on its own merits, but judge your local newspaper that way as well.

Caveat lector.

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