Someone posed the following question to me (who asked in response to my previous blog entry) : If I were editor-in-chief of a newspaper, what would I do?
1.) First, I'd tell all the reporters that they can no longer belong to any political parties or other political organizations so long as they are employed as reporters. In other words, I don't want any Democratic reporters or Republican reporters. I want reporters, period. All political and sociological ideologies are going to be left at the entrance. Either I or someone I assign will be periodically checking for any slants in reporting. It's very important that my newspaper gains the reputation of fair, objective, and unbiased reporting. I want the story to be the news, and not the style that it was reported to be the news.
2.) Since we can't completely isolate ourselves from the social and political influences that are out there, I will have a greatly expanded opinion section. Opinion columnists will be allowed to belong to political parties or organizations, but they will have to note in their columns or bylines that they belong to X group if they are going to be commenting on it. They will also not be allowed to be reporters any more. The newspaper's Op/Ed page of the website will also be greatly expanded, and perhaps organized by topic. It is my hope that the Op/Ed pages will provide backdrop for the stories that are reported in other sections of the newspaper. For instance, while the front page will provide the details of Bush's latest stategem in Iraq, all the reporters will be doing is listing the details. There will be NO headlines that say, "Bush's latest strategy faulty" or other implications of judgment. The Op/Ed pages will be where such headlines will appear, along with criticisms of it.
3.) Last, and probably most important, once the reporters and columnists get the hang of my style and expectations, I also want them to get it in their heads that I will back them up on what they say - even if it is potentially controversial. For instance, I want them to feel confident being aggressive against a politician who has proven to be getting bribes or otherwise entangled in such illegal or unethical ways. This means that I want to have developed enough faith and confidence in my reporters and columnists that they'll do the job that I expect them to do, and in turn, they'll have faith and confidence in me that I'll back them up against the people they're reporting on, the public that may get outraged, or the publisher that wants us to "not be so aggressive against Candidate X". In short, so long as they do their job right and along my expectations, I'll take all the heat that results from their doing their jobs. I want the reporters to not be afraid to seek and to report the unvarnished truth, no matter where it takes him or her. And part of reporting the unvarnished truth is for the reporter to be consciously aware of not putting any "slant" to their reporting, because any "slanting" will slant away from the truth. It is said in the news business that the only commodity it has is the truth. That statement will be everywhere in my newspaper.
All this will also call, of course, for publishers with balls. Wimpy publishers produce wimpy newspapers. If they can't take the heat, then they should get out of the business. In addition to ballsy publishers will be the need for lawyers who are thoroughly versed in the law as it is related to the news business. That will be part of protecting reporters and columnists. I think that with such a dedication to the truth will come the reputation for truthful reporting, and from that will come more readers. The traditional newspaper business can - and SHOULD - be saved. Our democracy depends on it.
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