Reporter’s Notebook: Proud To Be A Reporter
As we wrap up the month of June, this will mark two years since I came on board your newspaper as your state government reporter, keeping you abreast of all the goings on underneath the golden (now-wrapped-in-plastic) dome.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the trade of journalism, particularly as controversies involving The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and other papers have come to light.
There is nothing journalists love more than talking about journalism and other journalists, even though I have to imagine the average person finds this form of navel-gazing a yawn-inducing exercise. The public just wants to know what is going on and they don’t need all the sausage-making talk.
But the issues I want to talk about here are of objectivity, bias, fairness, balance, key phrases often used by journalists to describe their work.
A little bit of background. As I’ve mentioned multiple times, I’m a college drop-out. I made it three semesters through Ohio Valley University before being put on academic suspension due to low grades in my math courses and a bad class attendance record. Oddly enough, I probably do more math now crunching state tax revenue numbers and COVID-19 case numbers than I ever did in school.
Even when I did attend college, I wasn’t a journalism major. OVU didn’t have such a program in 2001, so I majored in liberal studies with a minor in communications. There was a college newspaper, but no one in the class, so I became editor-in-chief by default. The only exposure I had to the fundamentals of journalism was three years in my high school journalism program at St. Marys High School. Mrs. Krista Yopp taught me the inverted pyramid (putting the most important facts at the top of the story), how to write a proper news lead (who, what, when, where, etc.), how to lay out a page, how to measure in picas, how to edit photographs and so much more.
When I first joined the high school journalism program, I didn’t want to be a reporter. I wanted to be an opinion columnist. I had my own column, and later became an editor in charge of our columnists. I didn’t decide to become a reporter until my time at OVU and I had to recruit a staff and cover campus news. My summer internship in 2002 at the News and Sentinel also helped.
But after leaving college it wasn’t clear I was going to get to be a reporter. I spent a couple years blogging while working various retail and food service jobs. I recently went back and looked at some of my old blogs, detailing the thoughts of a young man in his early 20s in the mid-2000s. They’re quite cringe-worthy in hindsight.
However, my blogging did bring me to the attention of the founder of The Marietta Register in 2006. I later became the city editor for that paper covering Marietta city government and politics. I even became the managing editor of the very short-lived Parkersburg Register until the great recession hit and that experiment ended. During that time, I also reported news for Results Radio, filing stories for six radio stations and producing a weekly commentary segment while earning awards for election coverage.
Except for my five-year sabbatical working in state government communications from 2013 to 2018 working for both Democrats and Republicans, I’ve been a fulltime reporter for 10 years. I don’t claim to be an expert and there are certainly members of the press with far more knowledge than I.
There are discussions in newsrooms across the country about objectivity. This means something different to the public than it means to reporters and editors. Most journalists will tell you that objectivity is unattainable. Members of the public might tell you objectivity means being fair and balanced, two words that also mean different things depending on who you ask.
I will tell you right now that I am biased, though not necessarily politically so. I left government service and returned to journalism specifically so I didn’t have to care about either political parties or who has the majority or who wins elections. But when it comes to public policy, my biases can show.
My biases can show sometimes in what stories I write. I’m lucky that my editors trust my news judgment and allow me to choose the stories I follow. But obviously there are some stories I find more interesting than others and I cover those. That means inevitably not covering something else. I’m a one-man band in Charleston, a one-man bureau chief, so that also means picking and choosing stories.
Ultimately, my goal is to try to tell you the facts and what is going on through my eyes and ears. I’m not a stenographer. Part of the job is listening to people, but also asking hard questions about the things they’re saying or looking up what they’re talking about to determine if what they’re saying is factually correct. It means filing Freedom of Information Act requests for documents and emails. It means calling political leaders at inopportune times to get comment on a difficult story.
Every day I work in service of you, the readers, to try to seek out the truth, to inform, to hold government accountable, and to provide transparency. This is an honor, and I’m proud to be doing this for you.
If you keep subscribing and reading and sending me feedback, I’ll keep writing.