Skip to content

The Dying Art of Journalism

August 22, 2011

Journalists are reliant upon press releases, communication directors, and public relation firms to do their jobs. I’m as guilty as most. My inbox is inundated with information everyday, and I rely heavily upon these so-called “gatekeepers”  to provide me with information so I can write a story.

However, the age of media relations departments are slowly killing investigative journalism. When the story isn’t favorable for the main character the information is either locked up in “no comments” or bundled nicely in a press release for all journalists to regurgitate verbatim.

Instead of picking up the phone and calling a person directly you must go through the media contact. If you try to skirt around the PR person you find the people with the information unwilling to comment for fear of violating protocol.

This typically isn’t a problem for journalists during the day-to-day news grind, but it becomes a significant problem when a reporter decides to cover a story which doesn’t have a press release.  As a reporter there is nothing more frustrating than writing, “John Smith declined to comment.,” which really means the PR person doesn’t want Mr. Smith talking to the press. So then reporters are stuck with a half written story and news consumers are left with questions, questions like why did Jim Lynch really leave the Department of Transportation? Is Steve Bullock running for Governor? What is Governor Schweitzer doing after he is termed out? What is Senator Baucus’s plan on the super committee?

I understand why “gatekeepers” exist. They protect certain individuals and entities from news stories which may paint them in a not so favorable light. They like to control the message. They’re on damage control.

However, media contacts are also paid to help journalists filter through the loads of information and pull out the story. They do have great value to reporters.

However, media relations departments have led to lazy journalists who rely on the press release to get the story.  Many reporters don’t know how to write a story without it being fed to them. I confess I have fallen into this trap too. The spoon fed journalists greatly outnumber those willing to roll up their sleeves and look beyond the neatly packaged messaging. Finding stories is an art and a skill. It’s something journalists need to do better.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Dylan Brown permalink
    August 23, 2011 12:48 am

    I agree it can be very frustrating waiting for things to pop up on the radar. But I must say the art of reporting is shifting, like the industry as a whole, not dying. We now have social media, whether it’s good or bad, to help us journalists find stories.

    Marnee, it seems to me that you not only contribute a large amount of thought provoking material to the ethos of social media, but also utilize it as a beneficial resource in story development and research.

    Unfortunately for all present and past journalists, self-serving press releases are here to stay. This  process has commonly been called propaganda.

  2. chuckbutler permalink
    August 23, 2011 6:16 am

    Marnee, good piece and you raised some good questions, ie. what is the Gov going to do next;
    what will Senator Baucus do as a member of the Gang of 12; what is the rest of the story behind
    Mr. Lynch’s abrupt departure from DOT, followed by the resignation of an HR/planning staffer and will AG Bullock run for Gov and why?

  3. Robert W. Minto, Jr. permalink
    August 23, 2011 10:37 am

    This is a really outstanding piece on the state of journalism as a profession as far as it goes. Good journalists would say “to Heck” (not my first choice of words) with protocol and get to the source and write the story and I might add I know many (Marnee included) who still do. The problem lies (see last paragraph of Marnee’s post) with the lazy journalists and the state of “sound bite” journalism. A bigger issue seems to be the consumers unwillingness to pay for good Journalism and the ability of good media outlest to pay a fare price for good new journalists. Only the great and dedicated can afford to stay in the field so they go to work for (drumroll please) big corporate media relations departments writing press releases. It’s a sad commentary, but in days past, only the worst journalists wound up in media realtions departments.

  4. Timothy F. Sharp permalink
    August 23, 2011 11:17 pm

    Good Piece Marnee, as I am sure you are diligently aware, journalists are also gatekeepers to their readers, so a piece that is simply regurgitated from a PR spokespersons is essentially useless to us as news consumers. It is too bad that so often what we get are recycled AP stories which are he said she said, with no verification of veracity. I frankly am sick of it, and I am sooooo ready to become a fan of the next Bernstien! Keep up the good work, and remember, the PR people are a captive audience, they are desperate to get their spin out! I say make `em squirm 🙂

  5. August 25, 2011 7:33 am

    Hi Marnee,

    i couldn’t agree with you more. I am amazed at some of the PIOs out there. Easy questions from early in the morning are answered by e-mail late in the day. And God forbid if you have a followup question because they sprint for the door once they hit the “send” button. Some even wait 24 hours before responding.They offer no access to the people in the know and give cryptic answers, It’s incredible. It’s sad to think some of these folks at one time called themselves “journalists.” I am glad/thankful they are out of the business. And now they are eating from the public trough (which many of them seem to have forgotten) and withholding information. They should be fired, spanked or in jail.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: