|Many elements go into making a good story.|
So what about journalism? Transparency in journalism would surely be a good idea. Going back a few steps, my idea as I walked down the street was to add a new page to my website that would contain critiques of stories I have written. After all, I'm not perfect. A story I did 18 months ago might appear to me, now that I have more information on the topic, to be flawed in some way. But to talk about a story's shortcomings would not be enough to attain true transparency because there's also an editor involved, sometimes more than one. As a freelancer, my editor will possibly rewrite some of the story, or ask questions that need answers in order to bring the story up to scratch. If I put up a page containing self critiques then my readers could see how the story came into being. What prompted it? Whose idea was it? How did you find the experts you talked to? Did the lede (the story opening) change after you submitted it?
But then I thought about how my editors would take this idea. I am certain that they would universally object to the idea. I would be talking publicly about a critical relationship that enables me to do my work. The idea would alienate my editors and I would get no more work.
So what about a third-party website dedicated to disclosing the way that stories get written? It could accept submissions from journalists, who would remain nameless, and the pieces that ended up on the site would not name the publication, the topic (maybe), or the names of people interviewed. Would that work? How many journalists would opt to submit a story critique to such a website? My guess is, not many.
Journalists have an image problem, however. Mostly they accept it and just get on with the job. Within themselves they know that they are participating in an activity that is essential to the functioning of a democracy. But surveys show that journalists have a very low popularity ranking. One recent survey put the profession lower than a legal clerk in terms of desirability, which is complete nonsense. Journalists mainly enjoy their work. They get to talk with interesting people. They get to contribute to important debates in their communities. They get to question, think, and propose suggestions, and they get paid to do this.
Nevertheless it's unquestionable that that low popularity hinders the journalist in his or her work. When you telephone someone you catch the hardening of the voice when it comes to asking to talk with so-and-so. That hardening of the voice might mean, "I suspect you're going to write a story that's negative in respect of my organisation, so I'm wary." There's the standard response from government departments: "We don't allow interviews with departmental officers but if you send an email we'll try to answer your questions." Departmental policy universally prohibits officers from talking direclty with the media, and all requests for quotes must go through the media office. Or there are the requests for comment that simply go unanswered; people just don't even bother telling you that no comment will be provided. Slam!
It's a bind. It's unlikely that I would dissect the story production process as far as to talk about who wrote what, what bits were given prominence at the editor's request, and what bits were simply cut. But I will think about how I can offer critiques of my stories because I think that community engagement and dialogue is important. Of course, I could be fooling myself. Maybe nobody would bother to visit such a page on my website and spend time to read through my lucubrations. But I think it's an interesting idea. What think you?