Last week, in a piece called “Fill in the Blank: Being a Reporter Is the ______ Job in the World,” David Carr polled readers on what it’s like to be a journalist these days. Some of the initial responses threatened to drag the post into mawkish “We Are Journalists”-like territory: “it’s so much fun I sometimes feel guilty getting paid for it,” one person wrote; “Despite the long nights, near crippling anxiety and little/no pay there is still nothing else I see myself doing” wrote another.
But then The New York Observer’s Foster Kamer noticed a wild comment from Kurt Luedtke telling a story about a reporter who “thought it was cool to call Santiago on the company’s dime,” racking up a huge phone bill for his employer; that person, Luedtke wrote, “is now in charge of editorial budgets for the New York Times.” Kamer showed why being a reporter is actually the best job in the world: He found Luedtke, who used to edit the Detroit Free Press before becoming a successful screenwriter (he wrote “Absence of Malice”!) and figured out the phone-bill scamp he’d fingered was Times deputy managing editor Bill Schmidt.
On Monday, Jeff Bercovici weighed in with eight more arguments for the life of kings: You get to read on the clock, it can be exciting, etc.
Lyra McKee says one of Bercovici’s plusses (“For better or worse, the old days of journalists having to put in 20 years of work to earn the right to use the word ‘I’ are well behind us”) is actually a huge problem: “Unfortunately, Jeff’s right,” McKee writes. “Would-be reporters seem to use ‘I’ more than ‘Who, what, where, when, why’ in their reporting than five years ago. And in that transition, many of us became dicks.”
The tendency to insert oneself into a story, she writes, is damaging journalism’s brand: “When people read our words, they give us time they won’t get back. Why should the public give a shit about what you think, unless it adds value? They should give a shit about what you report, not what you think (unless you’re a columnist). Yet reporting has been turned into a war of words.”
But maybe the appeal of a field where you can talk about yourself all day is diluted somewhat by knowing most people don’t trust you. There’s a lively discussion on Jay Rosen’s PressThink blog about why Gallup data shows Americans’ trust in journalism institutions has declined “from over 70 percent shortly after Watergate to about 44 percent today.”
Rosen offers a number of possible explanations: By the same data, Americans trust all institutions less; the halo affect of bias accusations; the professionalization of the press. “[I]t strikes me,” he writes, “that something went awry within the professional project–which also did a lot of good for journalism–and eventually that flaw began to take its toll on public confidence.”