Journalists interviewing each other as part of news coverage and analysis has become an epidemic. It is particularly egregious on TV and on the radio, but print and online publications share the blame as well.
It is a terrible practice and undermines journalism. Contrary to what many journalists believe, they are not the experts in the areas they cover. They are the observers. Their information is second-hand and their knowledge comes from talking to others.
So medical journalists don’t know more about medicine than doctors. Science writers don’t know physics better than physicists. Lawyers are better sources of information about law and lawmaking than legal journalists. And so on and so on.
Don’t get me going about political reporters…
The practice is dangerous because it creates an echo chamber – where journalists simply rely on each other for perspectives on the news. The insular mentality of “It must be true because I heard it from another journalist.” This leads to what is called “beltway” or “band on the bus” journalism. Where everyone says the same thing because it is reinforced by the other journalists.
Interviewing another journalists is also plain lazy and sloppy reporting.
Journalists should not be pundits. Punditry undermines the creditability of the craft at a time when journalists are under fire for being biased. Look no further than a recent poll by Gallup where 57 percent of Americas no longer trust the media to fairly and accurately report the news. Could this be because many news outlets portray journalists as both straight reporter and opinionated pundit? There’s no such thing as both.
The practice has infected my favorite broadcast news outlet – NPR. One of my favorite shows is On Point with host Tom Ashbrook. The show, despite its many strengths, is a big offender. I’m using On Point as an example and don’t mean to single it out as a lone offender – there are plenty to choose from. That said On Point does abuse the journalist interviewing journalists quite frequently.
Last week (as every week), Ashbrook and his team produced 10 hour-long segments on a variety of topics: U.S.-India relations, the U.S. struggling in the sport of long-distance running, advice for President Obama and the leadership qualities of new Speaker of the House John Boehner. The shows always feature collections of guests to share their perspectives and opinions and last week Tom invited 25 people to appear.
Guess how many of these 25 “experts” were journalists? Thirteen. That’s 52 percent.
The prior week was worse. Out of 23 guests appearing on On Point, 14 were journalists. A whopping 61 percent. According to On Point, the only people worthy of discourse on most important topics are reporters. How about talking to the sources who provide the journalists with their information? These are the “real” experts and the people who are at the center of these stories.
When public opinion is shaped by journalists and then covered by other journalists – well, then journalism has problems. Solving the problem is simple. The practice should be stopped.
What do you think of the practice? Does it undermine journalism? Is there a role for it in coverage?
Photo by Sister72 (via Flickr)