Even Though You Don’t Want My Feedback, Ms. Newspaper Editor…

This article will take approx 4 minutes to read.

Jay Rosen, Columbia University Journalism Professor, posted a picture of a print-editorial piece in The Valley Press, a small local newspaper in Connecticut. It was an intriguing read into the minds of many in traditional media.

For the hard of eyesight (it’s small), let me transcribe this fascinating editorial from editor Abigail Albair:

As a reporter I try to keep my opinions to myself, but as an editor who has in recent weeks observed a disturbing trend in journalism, I feel compelled to come out from behind my computer screen and speak out.

Some of our fellow Connecticut newspapers and news websites have developed a tendency toward an over-involvement of the public in their work. You, our readers are of incredible importance to us and we welcome your story suggestions and your thoughts and opinions on our work and the subject matter which we present to you. Just as we respect your suggestions and comments, we hope you equally respect our ability to do our jobs.

There is a local and arguably national trend developing of publications giving readers the chance to roam newsroom floors and offer tips and guidance on not just what we write, but how it is written. As your local newspaper, we will always welcome suggestions from our readers to allow us to grow and transform. If you have a suggestion to offer, we welcome it, though there is a time and place for it.

In most cases, no one committed to a craft is comfortable with an outsider, with none of the training they’ve had, to successfully do their job, sitting over their shoulder critiquing every move. Everyone needs some perspective and guidance at times, but the fact that other organizations are inviting this into their newsroom on a daily basis suggests to me that they have lost all faith in themselves to adequately fulfill their obligations to the public.

In too many cases, readers are being told at the conclusion of each story printed that what you may have just spent three minutes of your life reading could have contained factual inaccuracies because “everyone makes mistakes.” It is our goal for you to never need to submit “corrections” to this publication, and we find it troubling that other publications would call on the editing skills of their readers.

We hope you will choose us as your newspaper and trust our employees to do their job for you, not the other way around. Truth in journalism is a core principle for those of us who have chosen this profession. It is our objective to offer that to you every day.

It will always be a part of our mission to be approachable. We do welcome feedback from readers, as well as suggestions. We do welcome feedback from readers, as well as suggestions. You can be the source of some of our best topics, but there always come a point where we can “take it from here.” Our staff is dedicated to producing quality journalism whenever a story reaches print.

It is upsetting that some news sources are eager to turn to gimmicks rather than solid, old-fashioned reporting and hard work to sell their product. We are eager, as well, to make you part of our product by reporting on the events in your lives. To that end we pledge to stay plugged into happenings of our communities.

We believe in what we do. We hope we have proven to you that you can believe in us too.

-Abigail Albair, Editor

First of all, apologies to the Valley News for the entire reprint. I could not find it in your online archives so please feel free to link me in comments and I will excerpt for Fair Use.

Now to the heart of the matter… I can see that Ms. Albair is clearly an intelligent woman. According to LinkedIn, she is Co-Editor in Chief at a newspaper less than two years after she graduated Wagner College. Her credentials are strong for being so young and inexperienced. And I mean that kindly.

It’s no secret that I don’t have a degree, much less a journalism degree. I’ve made it to the point of my success through hard work, ambition and going after what I want. However, I don’t think of my self as less-competent than others in my industry who have graduated with Engineering degrees from MIT or Carnegie Mellon.

Ms. Albair’s denigrating look at the public is less than becoming. While I respect anyone with a craft and their ability to do it, we do not live in a vacuum and, in fact, attempting to live in one lacks accountability. The Third Estate has every right to critique the Fourth Estate and absolution of that right, not only empowers an irresponsible press, but abdicates our responsibility to give and receive meaningful input.

The timeline for that abdication of responsibility by the public follows a path like this:

  • Newspaper prints inaccurate story
  • Public accepts story without question
  • Fallout from inaccurate public perception ensues

This is never more appalling than when self-proclaimed news agency, Fox News, implants biased stories with no real objectivity, into the minds of a significant portion of American culture. Because the public questions, there is a “check” in place to cause doubt. But so many others take their “reporting” at face value.

But I don’t want to descend into politics.

Input from the public is very important in 2011. Would we know anything about the coup in Tunisia if it wasn’t for “citizen journalists”? Would we have eyes on the ground in New York City when US Airways 1549 crashed in the Hudson River?

No, Ms Albair. We wouldn’t. While the angst you portray is proper in many respects, the problem is not as you describe. The problem is not public input into your precious protectorate. The problem is editorial oversight. There needs to be more editorial oversight to prevent CNN iReporters from inaccurately reporting Steve Jobs having a heart attack and causing Apple stocks to sell off like wild.

Your job, Ms. Albair, is of utmost importance, because you hold the power to appropriately filter information to the general public. We need more of you. Not less of us. You need more of us because, with your budget shortfalls and attrition in the ranks of fine journalists due to the economy and woo of the internet, you need boots on the ground. You need the general public being your eyes and ears and feeding information into your newsroom. Not the other way around.

But I can see how you see more editorial need being a threat to your job. Not everyone can have an Editor-in-Chief title having graduated Wagner College in 2009. Not everyone. Only the elite.

Comments

  1. Abigail says

    Aaron,

    First of all, let me thank you for your critique of my editorial. My only regret is that it seems to have been misinterpreted and perhaps that is an error of mine in the way I presented it.

    Everything you have said, I agree with. You will notice the many times in my editorial that I remind my readers of the high regard I hold them in and the need I fully recognize that I have of them.

    The best stories and tips that come into our newsroom come for our readers and I take pride in the relationship our staff has developed with our community. My concern is that there are specific news organizations, some small local papers just like us, that are relying so heavily on reader submissions to fill space on the cheap that they are not, as you say, appropriately filtering information.

    They will print anything and everything submitted to them, much of it self-serving or slanted. I’ve also seen some news sources absolve themselves of the responsibility to check facts because they’ve included a tagline informing the public that they might have been wrong.

    My goal was to remind my readers that we are still willing to take their tips and run with them. That we want to engage in a dialogue with them and provide them with the news they are hungry for, with their help. I simply wanted to assure them that our paper is not headed down a slippery slope of being simply a newsletter of press releases. We may be small but we are still dedicated to providing them with the news they seek.

    We absolutely need editorial oversight to prevent misinformation from reaching the public and I am in support of that, not against it. My fear is not that my readers will become more involved, for that is something I want more than anything. I want to talk with them, meet with them and learn from them. I whole-heartedly agree with your point about them being our eyes and ears.

    My fear is that there are news organizations that by printing anything that comes into their inbox without a second thought are allowing their product to be dominated by special interests and the readers we serve deserve more than that.

    The bottom line is that in the end, wherever the information comes from, it is up to us, not our readers, to be accountable for what is printed in our newspaper.

    Once again, thank you.
    Abigail