Q: You gave the short answer to a recent question (“Advocacy Groups and Journalism”, July 12, 2006). I’m not sure I agree with you.
There are always accusations of conflict of interest and bias in reporting. As media conglomerates grow, so too will the accusations.
In this climate, journalists with experience outside the mainstream media can and should be valued for the perspective they can bring to the news. Witness the boom in the blogosphere as readers, with news outlets on their heels, seek “authentic voices”.
Katie’s quandary was one of convenience (“a low-stress, low-responsibility job for the summer”) rather than passion. Some of today’s senior news staffers probably didn’t make a cool-headed analysis in the '60s and '70s, when they might’ve been seen “pushing petitions” without concern for their future credentials.
It seems Katie won’t uncritically accept paid campaigning. I bet, even if she took the job, she’d still do what reporters do: ask questions. What she'd find would give her insight on a significant contemporary debate.
You gave sage advice to a writer in past (Oct 21, 2003), when you said the issue was not how to make the résumé look better, but how to become a better journalist.
Would a young person’s experience on the front lines of an environmental campaign make her a better reporter in future?
I’d tend to say “yes.”
A: Thanks for your thoughtful and well-written note.
We are witnessing an incredible range of authentic voices these days and that can only be enriching.
Certainly, mainstream media can and should expand the range of perspectives that they can detect and reflect.
Katie's question was whether working now for a Sierra Club campaign to stop off-shore drilling could be an issue for editors later on deciding whether she could cover an environmental story involving the Sierra Club.
I said I think it could be. Just as the Internet gives voice to so many more of us, it archives our statements. It is as though we are all creating public online résumés. It would be easy, down the road, for someone to write, "the newspaper article is biased. The reporter, you know, once worked for the very organization she is writing about."
While I think that would be a pretty harsh and superficial judgment to make, I think it could happen for some of the reasons you outline.
Katie, by the way, took a summer job at the bookstore on Alcatraz Island.