Saturday, July 4, 2009

Daring to Blog

There comes a time in every writer’s life when he questions his marriage to the written word, and whether he should continue pursuing the life of a scribe. Relentlessly questioning this futile existence, hunched over a keyboard, emoting through language and pouring one’s heart and soul onto the page is at once gratifying and maddening. And yet, it’s also a nomadic existence punctuated by loneliness and stone-cold sobriety, that what we do depends so much upon personal reflection and experience. Anything less means one is either a hack or a machine churning out bland pabulum that’s neither inspiring nor worth reading.
As a journalist, I’ve always maintained objectivity in that I report the facts. I cite documents, tape interviews and publish quotes verbatim and never inject my own personal opinions into news stories. That’s journalism.
Yet on this blog, I have the freedom to write whatever I want to.
So when the mayor told my editor that there was probable bias with my writing because of certain blog entries at The Angry Reporter, I took notice. The mayor didn’t approach me about these concerns. He went right to my boss.
The mayor also has concerns that because my landlord is one of his strongest verbal critics and because I posted a video of my landlord mooning the mayor a year ago and because I’m brazen enough to blog about what I think, then I should be drawn and quartered in the public square for crimes against journalistic objectivity.
The editor, who reads the blog and is aware of its content, is a free speech advocate who realizes I do this personal blog on my own time and it is not affiliated with the paper. Some reporters have succumbed to blogging and as a result, were fired. Others were demoted or mocked for daring to write anything resembling a personal opinion.
I think I have a good working relationship with the mayor and the city’s administration. If the mayor had any concerns about my credibility, he should have addressed them to me.
Thing is, I really don’t care about my landlord’s political opinions. I just pay the guy rent and want to be left to my own devices.
There’s no sinister agenda and I’m not some hired gun sent to malign the sterling reputations of our upstanding local officials.
What it comes down to is the First Amendment and the journalist’s responsibility to accurately report stories and separate themselves from any personal opinions they might have about the subjects they write about.
Thus the blog functions as a release valve for blowing off steam, a lightening bolt cast from Valhalla, and a mighty sword to slay dragons. Some would venture blogging compromises the journalist’s neutrality and objectivity, that to be a good journalist, one must exist alone and in a bubble and hold no allegiances or opinions.
Good luck getting invited to parties with that attitude.
That’s not to say the reporter/blogger should run roughshod; there are issues of libel to consider, so in many ways, the blogger must closely edit their writing.
Concerns that a journalist should not blog what they truly believe about the people they cover are understood. However, if the writer represses and stifles what they believe, they become robots, witless automatons and gullible hangers-on excreting canned statements and press releases that don’t serve their readers.
The blog is the outlet for creativity and opinion. It gives the writer a conveyance to publish and be read by a worldwide audience, larger than the newspaper’s circulation and one more attuned to the digital world we inhabit.
Separating both objective reporting and opinionated blogging is not rocket science. For a fresh-out-of-school journalism major, raised on a steady diet of commentary and biased television news, maybe this process would be tricky. Yet for someone like me who has been at the game since 1994, it’s easy to switch from journalist writing mode to regular writing mode. Plus, the newspaper’s editors function as gatekeepers, weeding out anything questionable.
I believe the mayor or other elected officials or anyone else for that matter, really doesn’t care about this blog. To them, these are just the fevered rantings of a struggling writer and nothing more and nobody is forcing them to seek out and read this blog.
However, I can’t control, nor do I have a part in the problems my landlord has with the mayor. The fact that I live in a building owned by someone with a grudge against the mayor is not my fault.
The mayor also had issue with the articles I’ve been writing for the paper, which delve deeply into pay-to-play allegations against the mayor and the public defender. I didn’t dream up this story. I’m only reporting it. Blaming the messenger is a tried-and-true tactic used to discredit the media, what the targets of scrutiny do to appear victimized.
My question is: would the community be better served if this story hadn’t been reported at all?
Should the citizens, who have the right to be informed about their government, be kept in the dark about the public defender’s $500 contribution to the mayor’s campaign which is in violation of a local ordinance that the city purposefully didn’t enforce?
Perhaps those in power want the citizenry to remain stupid and docile and not ask too many questions. Perhaps the press should just stick to covering ribbon-cuttings and fluff pieces and relinquish their responsibility as watchdogs and become part of the city’s publicity department.
Maybe I’m just tilting at windmills, a lone crusader who wants elected officials to make the right decisions and become responsible for their actions.
Yet I think there’s something more. I think it’s about fighting the good fight, about giving the public the facts and informing them about their community.

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