At the temple

At the temple

: Jay Rosen, my rabbi, continues his lessons about the religion of the press with a fine parable about a CNN reporter who thinks you can’t wear a flag and be a reporter at once and also about a prodigal son of journalism who chose not to worship at the big, one-size-fits-all temple but instead to go to another on the right edge of town. Go read his sermon first and then come back for coffee hour….

The problem in the religion of big journalism is that you’re not supposed to have opinions. You’re not supposed to be American. You’re not supposed to be human. You’re a reporter.

And that, of course, is just so much hubristic hogwash.

I found myself in a discussion about blogs and newspapers recently — I feel as if I never leave that discussion — one of them asked the inevitable question about reporters blogging: Should they have opinions? I said I’d give them my blogboy answer: Of course.

One of the editors gave the example of an ongoing smoking ban story. Should the reporter express an opinion for or against in her blog? It took me a minute before I came up with the right answer: It’s not so much about an opinion on that story as it is about transparency. So, like a good New Yorker, I answered the question with a question: If the reporter were a smoker, wouldn’t that be relevant? Doesn’t the audience deserve to know that? If the audience caught the reporter grabbing a smoke, wouldn’t they properly see it as a scandal? If the reporter doesn’t reveal that, isn’t that a lie of omission, a hidden agenda? So if the reporter has an attitude about that smoking ban, might that be relevant, too?

The problem with this objectivity doctrine is that reporters and editors didn’t just make themselves adherants of a religion, they made themselves monks, even gods: higher beings who do not suffer from the human foibles of opinions and viewpoints and who think having open conversations with those who do is below them.

But the truth is that they are Americans covering an American war and smokers covering a smoking ban and Catholics covering church sex scandals and Jews covering Israel and citizens covering politics. They are not above or apart from us. They are us.

: See also Ernest Miller.