Friday, January 22, 2010

Good luck with that one, SPJ

The Society of Professional Journalists has decided it's time to shut the barn door -- years and years after Mr. Ed trotted off to Hollywood.

In other words, SPJ has gotten an eyeful of Anderson Cooper pulling bloodied Haitian kids out of the middle of a rampaging mob (and depositing him a safe 20 feet from the rampaging mob, conveniently in front of the CNN camera), Robin Roberts running the ABC Adoption Agency and Sanjay Gupta as Marcus Welby, M.D., and suddenly couldn't tell anymore where the evening news ended and "Celebrity Rehab" (or something) began.

Now, if the networks just could have gotten Dave, Jay and Conan into Port-au-Prince, we really might have had something there.

FROM A press release the journalism organization put out today:

The Society of Professional Journalists applauds the efforts of all journalists in Haiti who are working tirelessly to report the aftermath of last week's devastating earthquake and the ensuing aftershocks. However, SPJ cautions journalists to avoid making themselves part of the stories they are reporting. Even in crises, journalists have a responsibility to their audiences to gather news objectively and to report facts.

"I think it's important for journalists to be cognizant of their roles in disaster coverage,” SPJ President Kevin Smith said. "Advocacy, self promotion, offering favors for news and interviews, injecting oneself into the story or creating news events for coverage is not objective reporting, and it ultimately calls into question the ability of a journalist to be independent, which can damage credibility."

Undoubtedly, journalists walk a fine line to balance their professional responsibilities with their humanity when covering disasters. SPJ does not nor would it ever criticize or downplay the humane acts journalists are performing in Haiti. But news organizations must use caution to avoid blurring the lines between being a participant and being an objective observer.

"No one wants to see human suffering, and reporting on these events can certainly take on a personal dimension. But participating in events, even with the intention of dramatizing the humanity of the situation, takes news reporting in a different direction and places journalists in a situation they should not be in, and that is one of forgoing their roles as informants," Smith said.
YOU KNOW, nobody's going to fault Cooper for trying to safeguard a child when all hell has broken loose. Frankly, I think what he did probably was insufficient.

Furthermore, no one whose humanity hasn't set sail for pleasanter climes is going to fault Roberts for checking up on that Haitian orphanage, or even for placing a call to worried adoptive parents back in the States. But if you're making that act of compassion the center of your story, it compromises both the journalism and the good deed.

It ain't brain surgery, and it doesn't require attending a graduate seminar on moral reasoning and crises.

Hell, Hoss. Jesus had it all nailed a couple of millennia ago. Check out
Matthew 6:

"(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
TIME WAS that almost everyone understood the concept. Time was.

Perhaps today's journalists, after reading the SPJ missive, need to take a look at the Good Book -- if for no other reason than to assure themselves that folks just aren't making this s*** up.

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