Of Media Disclosures, Journalistic Missions, and Consumer Expectations

Earlier this week, Alexander Russo explored the always delicate issue of reporters (and by extension, bloggers) disclosing those relationships, personal or professional, that could shade their edu-coverage. In his Washington Monthly column The Grade, Russo writes of a reporter for NY Magazine who sometimes cites his wife’s role in education reform and sometimes doesn’t noting, “This is an issue for many who read and disagree with his views, or who believe that disclosure is an important aspect of credible journalism.”

It interestingly was published on the same day as a Howard Kurtz column for Fox News exploring claims that it was the news media’s job to “stop” Donald Trump and his campaign for the presidency. In his piece, Kurtz opines, “I am a journalist. And journalists who aren’t in the opinion business are supposed to be fair. They often fall short, of course, but it is not a “failure” on their part that Trump is on his way to the Republican nomination—that is, unless you’re a Trump-hater who thinks it’s our duty to knock out the candidate you so detest.”

Eduflack isn’t about to delve into the media’s “responsibility” to fight for truth, justice, and the American way and to stop those political candidates that the individuals who run the media may think stand against such beliefs. After all, what Fox or Breitbart may think is “fair” when it comes to aspiring politicians is vastly different than what MSNBC or the New York Times will think is fair.

But both Kurtz and Russo speak to the important question of what is the true role for a journalist, a professional journalist. No, I don’t mean a blogger with a laptop and access to his mother’s basement. We’ve let the era of “citizen journalism” blur the lines between actual reporting and opining. And in the process, we tend to find the latter more interesting or at least more titillating.

To Russo’s point, disclosing relationships “some of the time” does little good. It assumes, in our information society, that we religiously read specific writers and remember past disclosures. That just isn’t how most folks consumer information these days.

And as to Kurtz’ point, I’d still like to believe that we can distinguish between journalism and commentary and realize the role between the two. But as the lines continue to blur, and as we see “journalism” that doesn’t always cover both sides of a story or provide multiple on-the-record sources to provide a full view, it can become harder and harder.

For the record, I don’t consider Eduflack journalism. It may offer analysis, but it is largely an opinion site. These posts are my opinions, shaped by my own experiences, biases, and preferences. I steer away from guest posts so as to not blur the lines. I’ve rejected every request to advertise on this site so as to not muddy the water. And I suspect that many bloggers are largely in the same boat.

No, I’m not looking to go to battle with those who buy digital ink by the barrel, to paraphrase from Mark Twain. But both Russo and Kurtz ask us to explore some important questions. And I’m not looking to journalists themselves to answer them. Our hope should be that media outlets have clear guidelines of what is expected from their journalists and that the consumers of that information are able to discern what is reported fact, or fact at that time, and what is analysis or opinion of those facts.

But then, my true guilty pleasure is watching and reading TMZ reports. So what do I really know …

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