By Suzanne Eovaldi, staff writer
“What I’ve got is F*****G Golden,” said jailed Democrat Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. He was referring to his opportunity to appoint an IL senator to Congress after then Senator Barack Obama became President in 2009. Well, pardon my hubris, but what I have is Golden also, in today’s Hades of Politically Correct Journalism. I have a FIFTIES JOURNALISM DEGREE from that same state, Illinois. Therefore, permit me to advise you budding cub reporters and “J Skul” students of some imperatives I was taught way back when Dinosaurs roamed Wright Street into Greg Hall.
“Just the Facts, ma’am; Just the Facts,” said Jack Webb’s Sgt. Joe Friday in another media offering known as the detective genre. My professors stressed over and over, “Be OBJECTIVE” in your news stories! “Get the facts.” You may NEVER EDITORIALIZE in your news stories! “If you misspell words, if you misplace commas, if you EDITORIALIZE in NEWS PRINT, I will FLUNK you,” I remember one professor telling us. We spent time discussing the difference in meaning between objective and subjective. “You are reporters, not opinion columnists,” we were told. “Don’t mix the two.” (Today, I write with a right bent, but I do so quite obviously and NOT with an intention of fooling anyone.)
Dear Cub Reporter; get used to being called a PITA, that is a Pain in the A$$. After low these many years, I finally have grown comfortable walking into a cocktail party and watching as smiling clutches of attendees head to the corners. Back in the day, the last thing that cops, politicians, administrative or government operatives wanted to see–or horror of horrors, share a glass of white wine with–was a REPORTER. “You may NEVER associate with the subjects you cover,” was another professorial dictum.
But today that J Skul degree is a license for admittance into private, D.C. enclaves, halls of power and alphabet bowls of soup shared with wordsmiths and wordy politicians. “Be sure to Socialize With the People You Cover,” is now an absolute necessity in the foggy bottom, for “Socializing with the People You Cover Gives You Access You’d Never Get Otherwise.”
One of my professors told us that a well written news story, a well turned phrase in simple, easily understood language will never be replaced. “Just having something in Print carries much more weight,” he said. While the Old English, oral tradition provided the story teller a method of selling his wares to little hamlet dwellers, the telling and re-telling of a story does not match the authority of the word in print.
We budding 50’s journalists spent countless hours in our workbooks, taking apart crime details. One student had a hard time understanding why he was graded down for saying “a man pulled the trigger,” when the outline of facts we were given to construct the story said merely that “someone pulled the trigger.” Over and over our professor emphasized the importance of minute details.
But now, I appreciate that untiring attention to specifics, to getting the story correctly told, to being ethical, honest, trustworthy. And yes, we had to take courses in ethics back in the day. Just because something is legal, does that make it ethical? Our discussions became heated. But at last I get it. We were told as reporters that we must remain objective, never write with subjective overtones. What is the difference between denotation and connotation? Keep Factual reporting separate from the Opinion pages.
But our professors also told us to “never ignore a rumor.” “There’s truth in every rumor you hear…you just have to dig out the truth…that’s your job as a reporter.” Getting our facts straight, backing up what we wrote with credible sources, verification of fact, keeping the newsroom separate from the advertising department, these words of professorial wisdom were hammered into us. For without meticulous attention to fact and truth, we didn’t get to graduate with a degree from the University of Illinois’ great School of Journalism, way back when fellow dinosaurs sat next to me.
BTW, I very frequently was the only female in my classes. I never felt discrimination, but my male classmates, after one especially difficult classroom lecture and Q-A session, stopped after class to ask me, “Are you OK? How did you handle it today?”
Today, I appreciate how my male professors insisted I learn their J Skul precepts. Feeling offended by their toughness simply never would have occurred to me. I was there to learn my discipline. Tell me how one is expected to teach today when a college classroom is merely a gotcha chamber of leftist babble and PC nonsense? We had to know the difference among eye-witness sources, heard on background, first background, second background, deep background. Tell me how today’s professor would be able to demand from his students such precision if half of the class is Smart Phoning his every lecture up on a social media site?
Look, Political Correctness today, along with the very offensive lunacy of micro-aggression on campuses, actually form the censorship that is dumbing down students and destroying the worth of undergraduate degrees.
There are things the brain simply has to do when it transforms thought into words for use by another human being. A perpetual fear of giving offense will never allow journalists to be comfortable with the true value of the written word.
I must repeat what my professors told us so many years ago: “There can be no substitute for the TRUTH.” Oh how we need that rule in journalism today.