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Opinion

Opinion

Technology doesn’t make journalist

October 8, 2010

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I do not believe in “citizen journalism.”

Yes, I know that’s heresy. Yes, I know the old model has changed: The monologue is now a dialogue. Yes, I know ordinary people with cellphone cameras now “report” newsworthy events, and bloggers are indispensable to the national dialogue.

Yet I remain convinced that, with exceptions, citizen journalism is to journalism as pornography is to a Martin Scorsese film; while they may employ similar tools — i.e., camera, lighting — they aspire to different results.

So I’ve had it up to here with people calling James O’Keefe III a journalist.

Last year, you may recall, O’Keefe was lauded by political conservatives for “investigative journalism” that helped bring down ACORN, the financially troubled group whose sinister works included advocating for poor and middle-income people. O’Keefe, in a hidden camera sting, posed as a pimp and filmed some of the organization’s employees advising him on how to facilitate his supposed illicit business. It made him the toast of the blogosphere and earned him the admiration of Fox News. A resolution honoring him was even introduced in the House of Representatives.

The resolution, which failed, praised O’Keefe and his conspirator, Hannah Giles, for “exemplary actions as government watchdogs and young journalists ...”

A year later, the “young journalist’s” star is, putting it mildly, fading.

Earlier this year, prosecutors declined to prosecute ACORN employees amid reports that the videos were selectively and misleadingly edited. Meanwhile, O’Keefe and three others were arrested for trying to tamper with telephones in the office of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. Now comes last week’s report of a bizarre plot to embarrass CNN correspondent Abbie Boudreau, who was seeking an interview. O’Keefe had apparently planned to lure her aboard a boat filled with sex toys and secretly record their meeting; thankfully, one of his henchwomen warned Boudreau off.

THIS is journalism? No.

Journalism is hours on the phone nailing down the facts or pleading for the interview.

Journalism is obsessing over nit-picky questions of fairness and context.

Journalism is trying to get the story and get it right.

“Citizen journalism,” we are told, is supposed to democratize all that, the tools of new technology making each of us a journalist unto him or herself. It is a mark of the low regard in which journalism is held that that load of bull pucky ever passed as wisdom. If some guy had a wrench, would that make him a citizen mechanic? If some woman flashed a toy badge, would you call her a citizen police officer? Would you trust your health to a citizen doctor just because he produced a syringe?

Of course not. But every Tom, Dick and Harriet with a blog is a “citizen journalist.”

Worse, they are spreading like the common cold. Ask Shirley Sherrod if you don’t believe me. Sometimes it feels as if there are more “citizen journalists” than citizens. It is hard to know how to feel about that.

After all, it used to be that you couldn’t enjoy freedom of the press unless you could afford to own a press. The Internet has opened the public square to more voices, and you can’t complain about that.

But I don’t believe in citizen journalism because journalism — like any profession worthy of the name — has standards and ethics, and if you don’t sign on to those, I can no more trust you than I can a doctor who refused the Hippocratic oath or a lawyer who failed the bar exam.

You cannot be a journalist — citizen or otherwise — if credibility matters less to you than ideology. So please, let’s find something else to call James O’Keefe III.

If you want, I have a few ideas.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com. lpitts@miamiherald.com

Comments

Ralph Reed 3 years, 6 months ago

We all should realize that failure to provide reliable news (fact check) exists even at Faux News, the pinnacle of news entertainment. For Tom & others that should read the only reliable news source in the country.

Case in point is the 10,000 jet packs the LAPD is going to buy.

(Tom, would you write what you did at 0710 if Leonard Pitts weren't black?)

@smartygirlwu. Gosh, you're right.

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tomatogrower 3 years, 6 months ago

O'Keefe is just trying to get a job at Faux News. After all they didn't believe in checking their facts about California buying expensive jet packs, why wouldn't they hire someone like O'Keefe who makes up news. I personally think it's too bad the CNN reporter didn't go in afterwards with a tape and camera of her own. Then she could have had the creep arrested for sexual harassment. He sounds like quite a pervert to me.

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Audrey Goebel-Hall 3 years, 6 months ago

Interesting. I did not see one mention of race in the above column.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 6 months ago

If some undercover blacks had brought down a nefarious conservative organization, this column would never have been concieved and/or written. That is the plain truth. Pitts could give a flying fig about journalistic standards; just spewing his racist filth.

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grammaddy 3 years, 6 months ago

I find Mr. Pitts to be an excellent journalist.I make a point of reading his columns wherever I find them.He gives a point of view lacking elsewhere. Thank you Mr. Pitts.

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Liberty_One 3 years, 6 months ago

"You cannot be a journalist — citizen or otherwise — if credibility matters less to you than ideology."

Then Pitts isn't a journalist.

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