Former CNN anchor Aaron Brown had some harsh words for his successor, Anderson Cooper, in an interview with TVNewser. … Referring to Cooper’s famous segment, he said, “I know the difference between journalism and a slogan. ‘Keeping them honest’ is a slogan.” — Huffington Post
Now that’s pretty harsh, as the nameless writer at Huffington Post acknowledged in the intro. But, at least Brown had ‘been there, done that’ — one could say he has the right to criticise.
Almost exactly year ago I briefly shared some thoughts about the need for the journalistic value of courage in ‘new media’.
Recent discussions here on thePaepae.com have made me consider it again. We discussed how the PropertyTalk discussion forum introduced new moderation policies and substantial censorship “to avoid litigation”.
Now, while I want to be sensitive to my friends at PropertyTalk, and certainly not ‘bash’ them, it does lead into a conversation I would like to have …
Can I start by repeating this from earlier:
‘Despite my occasional disappointments with some of my friends at PropertyTalk’s actions and decisions (not them. I like them) it’s their baby — their sandpit. They can and should run it as they see fit. That’s fair.’
And add: Being a public forum, declaring itself ‘free and independent’ no less, and operating under a charter of published ‘rules’ about participation in the forum, I think it’s also fair for others to review PropertyTalk’s performance in that regard. (Criticising it as a friend, as I hope I do, not threatening them with ‘legal advice’ about ‘unlawful and illegal comments‘.)
I can only grasp for a conception of how it must feel to have outside predatory enemies like [names withheld] threatening to ‘crush’ the site and suppress discussion through pressure, sometimes nasty harassment and waving lawyers about. It’s a challenge.
A friend pointed out: “Online discussion forums are not protected by any benign legislation”
Do they need such protection?
I spoke with the proprietors of interest.co.nz about this last year, and their legal advice was that they as publishers are responsible for the comments on their website — yet look at the abusive, attacking ‘tone’ of a lot of discussion in their comment threads. Shocking.
But Bernard and David, like me, have a background in news journalism, and we’re familiar with bully-boy behaviour from ‘reluctant newsmakers’ and those people who HATE seeing their own words and actions examined in print. That said, I know they DO moderate the comments at interest.co.nz and respond to reasonable complaints but it’s a very different ‘space’ to PropertyTalk. I think they strike a quite different posture, which is what I want to talk about …
I truly don’t mean to sound patronising about this, but it seems to me that some ‘online community’ proprietors and managers — having stumbled into a ‘new media’ business, which actively seeking page-view-producing Web 2.0 ‘user-generated content’ — don’t possess a media/publishing sensibility.
Enthusiastic about the technology and ‘social media revolution’ they may be, but many evidently haven’t worked out or thought through the ‘fighting for the truth’ … ‘without fear or favour’ culture/approach that journalism teaches. In short: they’re unprepared and unqualified for the maelstrom their merely hosting a discussion can create. And, let’s face it, flame wars can erupt on the internet that leave us all breathless. There’s something about immediate and in some cases anonymous comment that unleashes the nasty in some people and bloggers who take ‘snarky’ to new depths. And then there are idiots.
In PropertyTalk’s case, their positioning statement: ‘free and independent’ (terms declaring journalistic colours) runs the risk of appearing to just be a slogan, as Aaron Brown alleged about Anderson Cooper.
Traditionally-trained journalists are ‘apprenticed’, with luck, to craggy old buggers and hard-faced bitches (a reference to the wonderful Gina Hard Face Bitch from the comedy show Fast Forward). These more experienced chief reporters/editors/producers have learned (and teach their apprentices) to be careful with facts and NOT to be needlessly intimidated by bully boys or lying narcissists or those suffering from small man’s syndrome.
We also learn not to be bribed — and to be careful of appearance of conflict of interest. Many of us aren’t ‘joiners’ for that reason (although perfect ‘neutrality’ is a myth). I remember a news editor I worked with recounting how he’d called the boss of a company which had ‘donated’ a crate of booze for our newsroom Christmas Party. He was surprised because the company had accused us of misrepresenting facts in some coverage. I’ve forgotten the details. There’d been aggro. (Maybe even lawyers?)
Scene: Newsroom, editor’s cubicle
Editor to smiling boss of company: “Pick up your bribe and get out of my office.”
Interpret that any way you like. Given their actions, we didn’t want to drink their booze.
I was lucky in my journalism training and media career to work alongside some very sharp, down-to-earth veterans. I learned a lot about getting it right and standing your ground. It was a privilege to be taught by some of the very best craggy old bastards and bitches in news and media.
(Maybe one day I’ll say ‘I is one’? pfft!)
PS the interview with Aaron Brown is interesting reading. TVNewser