By Christopher Harper
The protests over the death of George Floyd may have a profound impact on the way the media cover stories.
During the past few days, the editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer was pushed out because of a headline.
The head of the editorial page of The New York Times was axed over a column by a conservative senator.
The editor of Bon Appétit was ousted after a Halloween photo surfaced of him masquerading as a black pimp.
The incoming dean of the School of Journalism at Arizona State University, one of the best-known producers of media talent, lost her job because she tweeted that good cops existed.
Even the editor of The Los Angeles Times argued that the terms “riot” and “looting” were racist after consultations with African-American members of his staff.
For me, the last one is a real head-scratcher. I’ve been trying to come up with alternatives to the two words. Civil disturbance instead of riot? Redistribution of wealth instead of looting? The Times editor didn’t provide any guidance.
What is clear, however, is a fundamental change in reporting about race in America. Point-of-view analysis and perspective will replace neutrality.
That’s not necessarily a bad development. I have often written about how bias exists in almost every news story these days. By dropping any guise of objectivity, fairness, and balance, the reporters will demonstrate their bias. That makes it easier for readers and viewers to determine whether they believe the reporter’s “truth.”
Instead, I submit that accuracy and transparency may be more applicable to guiding journalism. Accuracy becomes an issue of debating facts. That isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s a conversation rather than a shouting match.
Transparency is much more difficult because it forces journalists to provide more information about their belief systems and bias. While reporter like others to be transparent, that doesn’t necessarily mean that journalists want to tell everything about themselves.
Moreover, transparency means that the media should provide the public with access to the entirety of an interview rather than a short quotation or soundbite. Also, all of the photos and videos should be included in all reports so the readers and viewers can determine what, if anything, was taken out of context.
Having spent many years choosing quotations and editing video, I know that what’s left out may be just as important or perhaps more important than what’s left in.
I hope that the complaints will create a better environment for the public to see what goes on behind the closed doors of media outlets. I am, however, skeptical that journalists want to change the way they go about their business, particularly when it comes to allowing the public to look over their shoulders.