“Defining ‘journalist’ may become necessary,” read the headline of a column in the Montgomery Advertiser. At stake is whether political bloggers – and others – can qualify to cover the legislature from the press rooms in the state house.
Established “journalists” are up in arms about this, but the question is a good one and raises more questions than the writer probably intended. He wrote “With so many ways to instantly share information, it is important that those who publish unfettered opinion – or are paid political operatives – should not be mistaken for a professional and accountable journalist.”
Now, where does this leave Rolling Stone Magazine? Its ”Jackie” story, which supposedly reported an alleged gang rape in a fraternity house at the University of Virginia, caused a national outcry.
Following publication, the story unraveled and it turned out that the reporter never located or interviewed the people allegedly identified or even the fraternity in question. Closer analysis of the Rolling Stone article revealed a long list of journalistic malfeasance.
The reporter never checked with anyone--including the accuser’s friends who supposedly rescued her—to see if her story checked out. Our conclusion? It’s high time to define what a “professional and accountable journalist” is supposed to be.
Another dust-up includes the antics of Charles “Chuck” Johnson, social media grandstander known for postings and rants with, as Adam Steinbaugh put it “reckless abandon.”
Jumping into the Rolling Stone “Jackie” story, Johnson posted on his Facebook profile the instruction that “resentful former classmates” buzz off, now that he was famous. Deadspin picked this up and emailed Johnson who replied that the “comments about me sh*ting on the floor were made up.” Thus he raised a fact of complete irrelevance but guaranteed quotation.
Deadspin, with delightful irony, reprinted this and asked readers for confirmation, which caused Johnson to demand that the question be retracted under threat of litigation. Still following all this? We had trouble keeping up, too. But the result is a scathing column by Steinbaugh tracing Johnson’s threats to sue, well, everyone and tearing apart why they have no merit.
We’re mentioning the incident because of Steinbaugh’s comment toward the end, “A journalist should be held to a higher standard.” He is so right, and we can only hope that the plea of the Montgomery Advertiser reporter, the Rolling Stone debacle and Johnson’s incendiary comments and threats may generate a real conversation about what constitutes journalism.
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