Sunday, May 16, 2010

Journalism 101 (Jersey Style)

By Alan Caruba

Many years ago I sat in the office of the managing editor of The Star-Ledger, then and now New Jersey’s largest circulation daily newspaper. I had been working at the Morris County Daily Record. By way of proving my worth, the editor asked me to do a series on pets.

I wrote a four-part series that exposed a fair amount of chicanery involving the New Jersey Humane Society and the American Society for the Protection Against Cruelty to Animals. “You don’t understand,” said the editor. “I wanted something along the lines of Jane and her pet duck.” I didn’t get hired and shortly thereafter I became a public relations flack.

My years as a journalist on weekly and daily newspapers taught me a lot about the way being a reporter inevitably creates a sense of hubris regarding what the reader should be told. There’s a real feeling of power in writing an article or, better still, a column that says, in effect, this is the truth.

This is particularly true of journalists who cover the state house or, at the highest level, the White House. Either way, reporters who also write columns soon conclude they know how to run the state or the nation better than the person elected to do the job. They like being close to power without being responsible for the tough decisions.

The former Governor, Jon Corzine, a multi-millionaire and former Goldman Sachs executive bought a seat in the U.S. Senate by outspending his opponent, grew bored there, and then repeated the process to become Governor of New Jersey. He was so allied with the civil service unions and so liberal that the Garden State, along with California, became the poster child for poverty. The Star-Ledger was his cheerleader much of the time.

To the horror of the newspaper and astonishment of the nation, the deeply blue State elected a Republican, Chris Christie. And not just a Republican, but a genuine conservative who looked at the State’s economic mess and determined to reverse it.
Christie had amassed an impressive record as a U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, putting a large number of its corrupt politicians in jail.

At a recent Trenton press conference, a political reporter for the Star Ledger, Tom Moran, asked Gov. Christie if he was being too “confrontational” with the Democrat majority in the legislature and the Governor let him have it. The YouTube video went viral to the point that Fox News commentator, Sean Hannity, shared it with his audience.

It was a gem; a real politician explaining that he had been elected precisely to put an end to the way the wealthy, corporations and lots of regular folks were fleeing New Jersey, a State with the nation’s highest property taxes, sales taxes, and every other tax imaginable. At one point the Star Ledger restricted YouTube from showing the video even though it was still available on its own website.

In the Sunday, May 16 edition, Moran fired back with a column titled, “Gov. Chris Christie’s ‘confrontational tone’ may cause him to lose needed partners among N.J. Democrats.” Christie would not be Governor if a lot of Democrats had not voted for him.

Some previous Moran columns were titled, “Gov. Christie may have picked a fight he’s ‘almost certain to lose’ with N.J. Supreme Court nominee.” “Picking fights, forcing change: Gov. Chris Christie’s first 100 days” And “Gov. Christie and Democrats are on a ‘collision course over this year’s budget.”

Like daily newspapers all over the nation, the Star Ledger is losing circulation, in part due to the availability of real facts and informed commentary available on the Internet. The other part of that equation is that people began to realize just how biased their local daily was.

The die-off of newspapers is gaining momentum, along with formerly respected weekly news magazines like Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News and World Report, all of whom are appallingly liberal in content and which continue to tell lies about “global warming”, et cetera. Newsweek is up for sale.

Moran has a right to his opinions, but they clearly inform his reporting as well. He should do one or the other, but not both. Ironically, Moran left the Star-Ledger for a job on the public relations side of the desk, but soon returned to his job as a political reporter.

No doubt he will be churning out both “news” stories and columns for Christie’s term in office and, no doubt, more readers will decide to drop their subscription.

© Alan Caruba, 2010


Unknown said...

I'm one of these oddballs with a wide spectrum of knowledge and skills. Some in depth such that I can testify as an expert witness. Many others where I have a lot of hands-on experience, and the usual otherness of at least a modicum of knowledge.

So I watch TV news or read a newspaper or weekly news magazine.

I often come away with a lot of head shaking. The news is often not really news; it's editorializing.

Then there's the problem that the subject is brand-new to the person reporting. They don't know doodly-squat about the subject. Often, however, they have strong opinions--and it shows.

Which is why many of them seem to me to deserve my appellation of "mediahcrities".


Ron H. said...

Alan, Your link no longer works, but this video is available at many other working links, including the "Huffington Post"!

A Google search of "Youtube Christie reporter" shows dozens of links.

I love this guy. He's the real deal. We need many more like him.

Ron H. said...

Desertrat, you said:

>Then there's the problem that the subject is brand-new to the person reporting. They don't know doodly-squat about the subject. Often, however, they have strong opinions--and it shows.

In all fairness, I don't expect a reporter to be knowledgeable on every subject they report on, but they should be able to produce an informative report, or they are in the wrong job. And, as you say, they should keep their biases out of it.

If I want opinions, I'll read the "opinion" section.