I worked in TV News for Ten Years.
I guess I will always care about good Journalism until the day I die.
How else do I explain my thoughts, going out of my way to react to a piece written by a columinst, Steve Lopez, for the Los Angeles Times?
The Problem with Columnists who work for Major Daily Newspapers is that they write in a significantly different way than the rest of the journalists who also work at the same publication. However, regardless of the differences in their writing style, or their bylines, the standards of ethical conduct is the same.
Here's what Steve Lopez writes in his piece –
“I suggested the drama of the last eight months at the Coastal Commission could make for a juicy TV serial – the colliding forces of ego, money and power along California’s world-famous shoreline. She rolled her eyes.”
How do we know that the above excerpt from the article originally had a different context?
How do we know that it wasn't Lopez pitching the subject (of his article) as a show idea?
We don’t know.
So when he writes the subject “rolled her eyes,” how do we as readers not know that the subject is reacting to the merits of an entertainment pitch?
How do we know if when Lopez failed with a real pitch for a TV show (to Dayna Bochco and her husband Steven Bochco, the producer of shows L.A. Law / NYPD Blue) , he turned his reporting coverage as something different – an entertaining bit of journalistic style, a sarcastic interview starter to get a rise from his interview subjects?
Again, the answer is that we don’t know.
We weren’t there.
But we shouldn’t need to be there to trust the story we are reading from a reporter who is writing about a real issue, and who we are led to believe is approaching his subject with an unbiased viewpoint before writing.
The quote from his article above could be construed by readers (and opponents of his reporting) as an attempt to pitch a show to established Hollywood entertainment producers as a quid pro quo proposition that failed, which prompted him to write about the incident in a way that he was able to spin the context and the content as a journalist without any bias.
I believe the L.A. Times’ legal department, the editors, or anyone who might be paying attention to internal journalistic ethics (which, back in the day, was written brilliantly by David Shaw * who examined journalistic ethics, including the ethics regarding the newspaper who employed him - the Los Angeles Times. Yeah, I feel like a museum curator invoking his name) should be all over Lopez’s piece and asking questions. I mean, its not as if the paper wasn’t recently involved in a multi-million-dollar law suit against an ex-employee, a sports columnist, who sued the paper for wrongful termination. The L.A. Times legal department, in my opinion, clearly showed that the sports columnist used his position as a “journalist” in an attempt to secure work in the entertainment business, a clear conflict of interests. So the decision in court didn’t go the Times way, all the more reason to see Lopez’ reporting on this story as a similar lapse… or the appearance of an ethical lapse.
For the record, I don’t know either of the Bochcos who are the focus of the article. Nor have I ever been affiliated with their cause or people who may be supporting their agenda. I have no personal stake in the issue written about by Lopez. In fact, until I read the story, I had no idea about anything regarding the fight to preserve coastal land from private exploitation. This is, of course, the purpose of a major newspaper -- to have their reporters draw attention to what should matter to the public at large. But I think its important, more than ever before, that we trust the journalists who we hope will be our eyes and ears in places we can't be.
* I do not invoke his name haphazardly, but out of design. I think of him whenever I think of journalism ethics. In college, one of the text books I had in my journalism class was a collection of articles by David Shaw, which obviously influenced my thoughts on this subject. But know that like any profession -- it's complicated when it comes to a profession and self-examination -
He became the first media reporter at a U.S. newspaper given the independence to write about his own paper, and he often critically dissected the Times coverage. It cost him some friends in the newsroom, and Thurber's obit candidly notes that when Shaw won the Pulitzer in 1991, the crowd that gathered to celebrate was smaller than usual and many bottles of champagne were "returned to the kitchen unopened.