Reporting, Shoe Leather, and Press Releases

Back in the late ’60 (when I was in college) and the early ’70s (when I got back from Viet Nam), I earned my spending money by working in the broadcast business in Nashville. Yes, I was a disk jockey (I managed a number 2 rating in afternoon drive time one summer) and a technical geek (I was studying electrical engineering), but I worked in the news department at one station. I never became a “professional” journalist like Al Gore (who was working at The Tennessean); I was really a sort of apprentice.

One of the basic principles I was taught was that press releases were to be treated as every other advertising we received. It might offer a lead, but any “facts” cited had to be confirmed through a primary source. That often meant sending someone to get actual tape to use on air, and that meant pounding the pavement or at least spinning the dial on the phone. Of course, we used wire service and network material (UPI and CBS) which we acknowledged, but we never put raw PR on the air as our own work. A politician or a flack might say something in a live interview or be heard saying something in coverage of public event, but it would be made clear that the words were his and not the station’s.

Soledad O’Brien had not been born when I did my first newscast. Clearly, the news business in which she learned her trade must have been a very different place from the one where I worked. I’d have been fired for using some politico’s talking points the way Ms. O’Brien did in her interview with Barbara Comstock last month.

Fortunately, there are still a few old-time reporters around. One, Stacy McCain, has a post up that uses that interview as launching pad into a worked example of how to correctly handle a press release if you’re a skeptical, old-time journalist. If you’re not, the the temptation to use someone’s PR that fits The Narrative will bias your reporting.

Liberal bias is not a conspiracy, it’s a consensus.

That’s the important change from journalism as I knew it to journalism now. The consensus has changed from skepticism to liberal bias, and that is the real source of the problem with the Main Stream Media’s business model. In the end, people have to live in the real world of facts. Whether they like it or not, they need the truth in order to make informed decisions. So it will be The Truth rather than The Narrative that will prevail in the long run in the marketplace of ideas.

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