Sunday, April 1, 2012

It's April Fools Day

As the headline states, it's April Fools Day again, and you need to be on your guard for pranks. Here, though, you will find safe haven. I do not take part and probably never will.

I mean... I'm trying to practice journalism here. The way I understand journalism, it is to a large degree as much of a creative art as other pursuits such as more general writing or painting or sculpture or music. There are as many different ways to tell a story as there are storytellers. Writing a piece is the selection of one of a nearly infinite number of possible combinations of words, meant to invoke, or not invoke, any of a myriad of possible responses from the reader. Creating a video report does the same thing, but combined with any of a near-infinite number of images, each to be combined with a different part of the writing, and that's plus the editing, or even deliberate lack of editing. And then there are the photos. Interviews. What information is to be presented, what information is to be sought, and how do you present it or seek it.

And that's not even getting into the different personal styles of each individual journalist. What is your preferred method of reporting? What topics do you prefer to cover? Do you present your personal viewpoints, or leave them out? How much do you insert yourself into a story? What subjects do you seek out? Do you go easy on a subject, or do you apply pressure to them? How much pressure? Do you apply equal pressure to everyone? If not, who do you press and who do you go easy on? Do you leave the audience to think things over themselves, or do you make your intended message subtle, pronounced, explicit? How much detail do you go into on a topic, or do you prefer to just cut straight to the point? And what of your ethical code? What do you consider to be in bounds and what do you consider to be out of bounds?

Again, it's really something of an art form.

But no matter how you go about practicing the craft, there are two basic principles that every serious journalist must follow at all times, no matter what else they do.

1) Any serious journalist must attempt to give their audience the best understanding of a given topic that they possibly can.
2) Under no circumstances is a serious journalist to leave their audience dumber than when they started. Especially not deliberately.

Participating in April Fools Day violates principle #2. The byline for this site is 'Be less stupid'. If I were to pull an April Fools prank, I would be making you more stupid. So I refrain from participating. And I would hope that more established journalists do the same. A journalist is supposed to be someone you are able to trust, at all times. That's the ideal, at least, that a journalist is supposed to shoot for. Why would any journalist worth their salt show themselves as untrustworthy on perhaps the one day of the year they're needed the most, a day that is essentially a celebration of brazenly lying?

Be careful out there today. You never know who might not have such qualms about such things.

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