An army of reporters

24Jul08

The New York Times writes about a network of citizen journalists reporting on the U.S. presidential campaign.

While newspapers are slashing staffs, the outfit linked to the Huffington Post called Off the Bus claims to have amassed an army of 7,500 reporters — far more than any traditional American news organization today. For example, The Associated Press has 4,100 employees, and that includes all administrative and business staff along with journalists.

But this reportorial horde is not going to vanquish the traditional media anytime soon.

For starters:

… not all 7,500 correspondents, many of whom have full-time jobs, are working for OTB at once.

And then there’s this issue:

Marc Cooper, who is the editorial coordinator of OTB and teaches journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School, said the lack of professional training has in some cases been a problem.

“A lot of people don’t know how to write very well,” he said. “They don’t know how to do proper reporting, they don’t know the right questions to ask in an interview.”

Last but not least:

Some of those covering the platform meetings for OTB are actually Obama precinct captains … but this is not in itself a disqualifier; failure to disclose it would be.

Some may dismiss the claims of objectivity by traditional media. I think journalists are there to be critical of all. If you’ve pissed off everyone, then you’re doing something right. If these citizen journalists can do the same, then more power to them.

Some would claim it’s better for reporters to just lay their biases out there, since they are supposedly infused in their stories anyway. But professional journalists have a sense of honor about their objectivity and seek to set personal feelings aside. Media organizations have a system of internal checks with editors whose job is to make sure stories don’t give anyone a free pass.

What’s the point of reading a news report from a writer whose bias is known? That’s fine for the op-ed pages. But without news reports written by critical observers, democratic society will lose the the raw information needed for citizens to form their own opinions and decide where to cast their votes.

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