Journalism’s Addiction: In Love with Journalists


JournalistValentine

The practice of journalists interviewing journalists has become a pet peeve of mine.

So I was irked recently when listening to NPR’s Morning Edition and the host introduced a story about the Egypt reaching the one-year anniversary of Hosni Mubarak being ousted as president.

In order to recap the last year and the turmoil Egypt has faced in the last 12 months, the host introduced an interview guest: a journalist from the BBC.

I nearly spit out my coffee in disbelief.

A journalist, the host continued, who “has visited Egypt several times in the last year.”

Let’s put this in perspective for a moment.  An American journalist was interviewing a British journalist about Egypt.

This is journalism?  This is news?

Alas, it is.  Nearly every major news outlet is guilty of this practice – from CNN to the New York Times.  Journalists believe that interviewing each other counts as “news.”  Or at least news analysis.

In the very least why didn’t Morning Edition interview an Egyptian journalist?  Better yet how about interviewing an Egyptian economics professors?  Or an Egyptian politician?  Or an Egyptian author, artist, intellectual or cultural observer?  Or how about interviewing some of the people the BBC journalist interviewed to get his information?

Can you imagine an Egyptian journalist interviewing a Chinese journalist about the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States?  Wouldn’t most people consider that a joke?

The practice of journalists interviewing each other is now ubiquitous.  A news staple.  Mainstream media is addicted to the practice – to the point where they often switch places.  One journalist interviews a colleague and a few days later the roles are reversed.

Can you imagine any other profession doing this?

I’m amazed at how many journalists and ex-journalists defend the practice.  But no matter how you slice it a terrible and lazy practice.  It allows journalists to emerge from covering the news to participating and shaping it.  It puts the real subjects of war, famine, politics, economics, etc. into the background and elevates the journalist instead.

I often roll my eyes when Nina Totenberg, a legal reporter on NPR, is interviewed on Morning Edition or All Things Considered about the Supreme Court and its rulings.  Totenberg is often cited as a court expert, despite the fact that she’s simply a paid observer of the court.  She doesn’t have a law degree (or even have a college degree).

Why doesn’t NPR interview – I don’t know – lawyers or legal scholars instead?  Because journalists – believe it or not – think that covering topics as a reporter makes one an expert (listen to sports radio for even 10 seconds and you’ll understand what I mean).

But make no mistake about it.  When a journalist interviews his peer it undermines the very tenants of journalism.

What do you think of this practice?

Links:

The Tenants of Journalism

Don’t Blame the Web, Punditry has Ruined Journalism

The Age of Post-Modern Journalism

9 Responses to “Journalism’s Addiction: In Love with Journalists”

  1. Being a journalist, having just been interviewed by fellow journalist I must humbly agree, for lets say 90%. A journalist covering a topic for 10 years, writing background articles, analysis etc, can do that on radio or tv too – just because someone is a lecturer or professor does not automatically mean he or she knows more or is better positioned than the journalist who has been on top of the topic for 10 years. Just saying.

  2. Sorry Hans, I’m not buying that argument. I could be a science writer for the New York Times for 20 years covering space and space exploration and I still wouldn’t have a tiny bit of the knowledge and understanding of it like an astro physicist who runs a space exploration team at NASA.

    Even if you bring it down a few notches to sports. I could be a sports reporter covering the NFL for decades, but still wouldn’t have the insider knowledge and first-hand experience of a former player or a coach.

    Besides, journalists are not supposed to be interview subjects. They are supposed to be covering the news (or uncovering it). When they start to analyze it and bring subjective opinions to news stories they damage their own creditability.

    Is it any wonder that the profession is no longer trusted by the public when all they see and hear is opinionated “journalists” opining on the issues of the day? That doesn’t seem like objective news gathering to me. It hurts the industry’s reputation.

  3. Good points. Another no no I learned from (a young) George Snell is the interviewing of children. Don’t do it, he once said. And I don’t.

  4. Of course, half the 30 and 40 year old men I know are still children, but I don’t count them…

  5. I agree with Hans, and your response with something so technical is BS. Of course an astrophysicist is going to be a better interviewee than a science journalist. But have you considered the fact that some of these journalists were, at one point or another, involved in the field they cover? Yes, some scientists, lawyers and athletes because print or broadcast journalists. You obviously have a chip on your shoulder, or perhaps your ego is causing some sort of resentment.

  6. Hi Marc:
    Always a good tactic to personally insult the person you disagree with and make my point about “a chip on my shoulder” rather than that we have a difference of opinion. I’ll try to ignore the rudeness and point out that I also used a sports example. Please read my comment again.

    Nor do you choose to address the nature of the job of a journalist – which is to objectively report on their beats – be it politics, science or sports. When the journalist begins to opine on these issues they move outside of being objective to being subjective. Hard to cover issues when you are choosing sides or advocating one perspective over and other.

    And do you really think a journalist interviewing another journalist is really the best journalism? I don’t. I think interviewing those actively involved in the news – the victims, protagonists, experts, witnesses and participants is the way to cover news and uncover stories and angles.

  7. I totally agree with you on this, George, and have done double-takes (can’t say “a double-take”) when I hear high-level reporters being interviewed. On the local level it’s incredibly rampant and is positioned a little bit differently. Since you’re in Boston, think about the BBJ’s Lisa Vanderpool and Boston Globe op-ed writer Joanna Weiss (to name just two); these writers are regular features on other local media outlets, such as NECN, but are used not as first-hand sources for news but as authorities on wrap-up, talk show type spots about what’s going on in certain market sectors. The result seems to work out as a way to make the news more approachable, kind of like having a dinner conversation with a very knowledgeable acquaintance. Not sure if that makes it right…

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