Jocelyn Newmarch
Jocelyn Newmarch

The ‘I’m not a journalist’ excuse

Recently on Thought Leader a blogger defended his inflammatory and inaccurate post with the words “I do not profess to be a journalist. I never have. I only analyse journalism and give you my perspective.”

But that’s no excuse. If you want to engage in analysis — which most Thought Leader bloggers do — you have to think critically if you hope to be taken seriously. Is your source reliable? If you’re relying on previous media reports for your analysis — which most bloggers do — is their view likely? Do you check your facts, in this case by checking how other people have reported on the same issue, especially as the post in question was likely to be emotive? How do you treat additional information which may change your analysis? Do you even consider it?

In this case, the blog was inspired by an article on the BBC’s website, normally considered a paragon of reliability. But it seems the journalist and/or the editor was a little too eager and went for a sensationalist angle that distorted the real news. Most other news sources also went for the same sensationalist angle, including outfits like Fox News. However, wire services such as Reuters and The Associated Press, which provided an article to CNN.com, went for the more considered approach.

It is perhaps unfair to expect someone with no knowledge of the subject in question to pick up the differences in reporting, so the initial Thought Leader post is understandable.

When pointed to a link that offered a full English translation of the actual interview on which the BBC’s report was based, and which unfortunately offered a rather less exciting version of events, the blogger responded with the words I quoted in my first paragraph. He gave no indication of whether he’d followed the link.

Blogging may not be journalism, but it is one of the most powerful media forms today, where everyone has a say, where events which might not be reported on by mainstream media are highlighted, where public opinion makes its voices heard. Through blogging, we’re able to hear sharply divergent views and multiple experiences — and the promise of blogging is that all this multiplicity may enable us to think more rigorously and critically, to deepen the level of debate, and to respond to our society with greater compassion. But it can only do that if we’re willing to find the truth, however quiet or mundane it may be.

Truthful reporting is the media’s first duty, but surely truth is also what every responsible adult should strive for, whether they are journalists, commentators, gossip hounds or dinner-party conversationalists. And non-journalists aren’t exempt, especially when offering comment on a public forum.