One of my biggest problems with journalism, as it is practiced in El Paso, is the lack of basic fairness and integrity by several publications. There is no doubt that journalism is in flux as it is being reinvented on a daily basis by the fact that citizen journalists are eroding the ability of “professional” journalists to make a living. There is tension between journalists and amateurs making use of social media outlets. I have argued before that professional journalists should not be at odds with bloggers because the fact is that investigative journalism requires the infrastructure of companies. It is expensive to pay a professional journalist and to provide him or her with the tools required to write in depth articles about issues affecting a community.
I believe that consumers are hungry for in depth reporting on issues that affect their wallets. I also believe that consumers will pay for such a product. However, it would take a deep-pocketed investor willing to take a risk to prove to consumers that an independent news outlet focusing on in depth community issue investigative reporting can be made available.
Unfortunately, no investor would risk their money on a news publication that could go rogue against them in the future and therefore no investor is likely to step up. Likewise, the news consumers are so jaded by “non-profits”, like the Newspaper Tree, that are primarily funded by individuals that control the publication’s news pieces that they are unwilling to pay for news before the publication has proven itself.
Thus, we see bloggers and social media commentators attempting to fill the void. As much as we try, the fact is that it is a part-time occupation, at best, run on shoestring budgets that leave many questions unanswered. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to change any time soon as it is a vicious unending circle.
However, these facts should not be an excuse for ignoring the mainstream media’s failures to hold to the basic standards of journalistic ethics.
This week’s El Paso Inc. published an article by David Crowder titled “Deputy city manager on leave with pay”. This is not the first time I take umbrage to an article by David Crowder, or the El Paso Inc. In the case of Crowder, I once challenged him on the accuracy of his reporting on a city council meeting while he worked at the El Paso Times. During our telephone conversation, he implored me to let it rest because it meant “his job”.
In the case of the El Paso Inc., in 2003 they took an article I published on my El Paso Tribune about Ray Caballero’s make believe family and published it as a letter to the editor from Theresa Caballero without proper attribution. They even took the picture of the billboard I had taken and published on my publication and used it without permission. I had to force them to issue a retraction.
Credit where Credit is Due
I routinely see in the comments section of my blog comments made from devices connected to news media outlets. The commenters use aliases when commenting. I also get telephone calls from news media personalities for clarification or to challenge me about a blog post where the first words out of their mouths is that they “expect” me to “honor” my commitment to anonymity.
They then proceed to demand that I “correct the record” about what I had published, except that they want to remain anonymous. I respond to them that if there is a factual error in my article I will gladly correct it, however if it is a matter of differences in opinion then they are more than welcome to post their comments on my blog, or I would be happy to quote them. Some of them have responded by telling me that they do not want to “be associated” with my blog.
These interactions are part of what I do so I expect the hypocrisy. However, it has become common practice for reporters to take information from my blog and pretend my blog doesn’t exist when they post “breaking news” items or write their articles. That too is part of what I have come to expect from the news media, as they routinely do it to each other, as well.
Although I am not a journalist, I except that basic journalistic ethics, if not common decency, would require that the basis of an article would require that the source document be properly credited in an article.
David Crowder, in his article, referred to the letter putting Jane Shang on paid administrative leave as a “copy of a May 19 letter from the city to Shang that’s posted on a blogger’s website”.
It is obvious that the letter he referred to came from my blog.
Crowder had to refer to the letter because that was the only basis for David Crowder’s article. Without the letter, Crowder’s article had no basis from which to be written. Crowder used the letter without giving proper attribution to the source of the document from which he had based his whole article on.
Besides the fact that it bothered me personally because of the work I put into my blogging activity the fact is that journalism requires a mediocrity of some semblance of ethics and professionalism because like it, or not, published material becomes part of the public record for the community.
Consider this issue like this. David Crowder quotes from a letter without providing you a copy of the letter nor giving you a way to look up the source document.
How are you, as a reader, supposed to critically analyze the article without having access to the basis of the whole piece written by Crowder? How does the reader know that Crowder’s quotes are accurate to begin with? How is a reader to understand the context of the letter if the only thing they have to rely on are Crowder’s quotes?
Are readers just supposed to accept that David Crowder quoted the letter accurately? Are readers supposed to accept that the letter Crowder refers to actually exists? In other words, how do Crowder’s readers know that the basis of Crowder’s article is unbiased and accurately quoted? Because David Crowder told them so?
This is why in basic writing classes it was always pounded into me to give proper attribution to my sources when submitting reports for class work. If this were required for engineering courses, I would expect it to be required as well for journalism classes.
The fact of the matter is that the letter was originally published by Karla Guevara Walton at the Diario de El Paso. She is the one who deserves credit for exposing this to the community. I had given her credit on my article from which David Crowder sourced his entire article. He did not bother to.
Crowder did not provide proper attribution to his article, which begs the question should anyone, trust what he writes?
In my blog posts about Emily Garcia and the Boys & Girls Club saga, I attributed David Crowder as the source of my commentary. To me that was not only the right thing to do but also the professional thing to do.
I guess Crowder does not want to give credence to a blogger who constantly exposes the hypocrisy practiced by individuals such as himself. Of course my work product is useful to him so he just decides to misused it for his own purposes whenever he wants to, regardless of the ethical implications.
I sent David Crowder an email first thing yesterday morning giving him an opportunity to comment on today’s blog post. I copied his editor. As of publication time, I have not received a response from him. It is not a surprise because he will just go on pretending he doesn’t know my blog exists. Oh, he’ll still use my material but he will pretend nonetheless.
It is, after all El Paso style journalism.