By Cheri Jacobus - 03/17/11 10:28 PM EDT
The explosion of the Internet and blogosphere, which has made silly-sounding words like “blogosphere” and “Twitter” a part of our everyday lexicon, has also served to blur the lines of journalism, and what constitutes a journalist, as accessibility to sharing information and communicating is expanded.
Bloggers have issued breaking-news missives and investigated a little where reporters have failed or been neglectful, coming to have an increasing impact on public opinion and even policy. Additionally, the serious and respected now “tweet,” alongside the ridiculous and shallow, as one can follow Wolf Blitzer on Twitter just as easily as Perez Hilton. As a result, the term “journalist” has become a tad ambiguous.
To the uninitiated or merely confused, you are currently reading an opinion column. My opinion, to be precise. One can submit op-eds to newspapers that will appear under your name, should the op-ed-page editors deem your musings worthy. Separately, newspapers have editorial boards, and a paper’s opinion editorials generally do not have a specific name attached to them. (I’m convinced that is solely for the purpose of plausible deniability.) Editors exist to make reporters’ lives difficult, and ads are paid for just like TV commercials. TV anchors are newsreaders, rather than reporters (although most have been reporters at one time), and talk show hosts are neither. Bloggers sit in front of a computer in their parents’ basement in their jammies under a bare light bulb hanging from a single cord (bulb is hanging — not the blogger).
Reporters, however, are the real journalists — the meat of the news operation. They get the story. They write the articles. They broadcast their reports. Without them, the rest are just sailors without a ship. Every now and again we are sharply and sadly reminded of the greatness of the craft and of the people who report the big events — at least certain people, some of the time.
As of this writing, four New York Times reporters are missing in Libya. They were last heard from by their editor when covering the rebel retreat from the town of Ajdabiya. I pray that by the time this column is published they will be found safe and unharmed. The missing journalists are Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Anthony Shadid, the newspaper’s Beirut bureau chief; Stephen Farrell, a reporter and videographer; and photographers Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario. In 2009, Farrell was kidnapped by the Taliban and later rescued by British commandos. How many mere bloggers or columnists would return to the action after going through the ordeal of being kidnapped?
In February, CBS correspondent Lara Logan suffered a brutal sexual assault after being separated from her crew while working to document Egyptian celebrations upon the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. CNN’s Anderson Cooper was roughed up a bit, and Fox News’s Greg Palkot and his cameraman, Olaf Wiig, were badly beaten while reporting on events in Egypt. These folks are back on the job — an undeniably sometimes very dangerous job. Others, such as Daniel Pearl, never get that chance. The late Wall Street Journal reporter was beheaded by al Qaeda terrorist leader and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed while in Karachi, Pakistan, doing his job.
These reporters are real journalists. Political reporters, on the other hand, often get a bit soft and bend to the political leanings of the mother ship in which their editor or network brass reside. They are, in theory, tasked with reporting facts, not opinion. The good ones succeed at making the distinction, despite pressure from their bosses and benefactors. (The others get promoted.)
The ones who get the facts, get it right, and get it first are to be admired. The ones who somehow manage this feat on foreign soil surrounded by real peril are downright special and should almost be revered. While the White House briefing room is high-pressure and a heady place, to be sure, getting it “right” from the vantage point of your second-row seat might seem like a big deal until you’ve had to do it under the gun. Or the knife. Literally.
Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.