The Sciences

Reporters Gone Wild

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJun 8, 2010 1:11 PM

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Are traditional journalists who take a vow of objectivity walking around like libido-suppressed priests? Except that reporters struggle to keep a lid on their opinions? Here's Matt Welch, a former UPI reporter, on the Helen Thomas eruption:

I am tempted to feel bad for an 89-year-old lady getting caught in what might be passed off as a senior moment, but there's no reason to believe that her statement and tone don't reflect her basic views. They also, I believe, reflect an interesting, under-appreciated, and ultimately impermanent media phenomenon: The longer someone is submerged in what they and their organizations regard as traditional "straight" reporting, the more gruesome the results are when the gloves come off.

Welch's hypothesis is worth considering in the blog age, in which "straight" mainstream reporters are increasingly shedding their neutrality belt. While I think he's on to something, I also think his journalistic psychoanalysis goes a bit too far:

Straight reporters have been taught for six decades to submerge or even smother their political and philosophical views in the workplace. Like all varieties of censorship, this process creates resentment and distortion. Whatever it is that you feel prevented from saying, you will be more likely to scream once given the chance.

As for myself, this blog does serve as both my shingle on the web and a platform for expression. But mostly I do it to keep myself intellectually engaged in a variety of topics that interest me. Not to vent my spleen. I tend to have long deadlines as a freelance magazine writer. And I usually teach one course every fall and spring semester at NYU. So this blog is an outlet that allows me to participate in the daily conversation. On that note, I'm aiming to serve up less opinion and instead use the space more as a forum for those who have varying (and informed) opinions on the subjects that interest me, like climate change and sustainability. I've been experimenting along those lines the last few months and will contintinue to do so. If anyone has any suggestions on how to foster constructive dialogue that is inclusive and welcoming of diverse perspectives, please do share them in the comments. Over the next few days, you'll notice some changes in the site, including a comment policy that will set out civility guidelines. And there are great exchanges coming up between some very smart people, so stay tuned.

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