Saturday, June 11, 2005

What's a Journalist?

Here we go again, first the blog mob and now the real book reviewers get into the fight over what a journalist is. This is a quasi-generalist term that's meaningless when anyone who types a word about anything qualifies.

This is my response to Jim Fusilli who writes reviews for the Wall Street Journal and others and is a crime novelist, from Goldberg's blog. It came about from a series of insults from David Montgomery a freelance reviewer, about my journalistic qualifications. I've never had so many insults as I have over this J-degree from those who don't have one.
I'm really sick of this. I defined it as a separate niche in the media, but it isn't reporting per se which was what Lee was referring to. Everyone in this business is so touchy about their turf. The question becomes in this light, what is journalism? Then we get anyone with a blog is a journalist, yet those are and mostly opinion. But there are opinion journalists although columnist seems to be the term used by the papers. The editorial page is separate from from the news, yet most people don't know the difference. They think it's all opinion, so this muddies the water further in my view.

Like I said I have a degree in journalism and they don't have a course on review writing. They have reems of them about reporting all of the areas of the news. Reviewing doesn't require interviewing the source. You can be extremely selective about what you write about. Pod-dy-mouth in turn is doing journalism because she's conducting interviews and reporting new information. Connelly did that as a crime reporter. I do it to as an environmental journalist from far-flung field investigations.

Jim can defend his territory but I can defend mine as well. If you don't agree then don't agree. That's your choice, but blatant self-interest certainly governs the sensitivity. Reviewing is more like PR than journalism from my training. Saying that isn't an insult to anyone unless you let it be. Making biologist cracks is.

Fusilli's logic path and thesis is here:
There's something going on here that's beyond me, but to the point, I'd say reviewers are journalists, and Michiko's a good example of why. Her expertise is conveyed through adherence to a consistent set of standards, she writes clearly and her work almost always bears evidence of reportage and empirical knowledge. Tom Nolan's a good example in our field: When he reviews Robert Parker, Dennis Lehane, Denise Hamilton or Laura Lippman, for instance, he brings to the assignment a proven expertise in the history of American detective fiction as demonstrated by his Ross Macdonald bio, which I'd call a significant work of journalism. Like Michiko's, Tom's work as a reviewer is informed by his journalism and, in my opinion, is journalism.

The standards issue is the most important part and this and dervives from the code of ethics and standards not followed by amateurs. Journalism though requires original reporting. Everyone reviewing the same book really isn't the same thing as reporting news. That's the only point I was making, but of course I touched a niche nerve and was attacked for it. Ridiculed is more like it.


Blogger Lewis Perdue said...

What's a journalist?

Present the facts, all of the facts to the best of your ability and regardless of whether you agree with them or not.

Be aware of your prejudices and biases and look to edit those out, both in word choice and selective use of facts.

Opinion has NO place in a news story.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I couldn't agree more Lew. You know I've never been so insulted and attacked as I have by nonjournalists for my views on reporting. And the degree is an open invitation to declare I know nothing about it from those who don't have one. Amazing up-is- downsim. Thanks for the response.

7:52 AM  

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