Citizens should be watchdogs in their communities

November 21, 2015 Commentary, Editorials Print Print
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editorialBeing a journalist is tough. People like reporters when an article shines a glorious light on the event or organization, but hate reporters when an unfavorable truth is published with their name attached to it.

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Darla Kilhoffer

Journalism is not blogging. You can’t write your opinion and pass it off as fact. Information has to be attributed to a reputable source and quotes cannot contain a single error or you may be charged with misrepresentation.

People go the extra mile when they want you to cover a special event, but are impossible to contact when you have a story assignment they don’t want to talk about. News sources accuse journalists of misquoting when they dislike something that came out of their own mouths.

That’s the main trouble with journalism: the sources for articles. Reporters don’t merely copy and paste from Wikipedia, nor do they quote verbatim from press releases. Reporters speak to real people who know the article topic inside and out, which means as a writer, you have to research the topic to be able to ask relevant interview questions.

Sometimes sources are incredibly helpful and quote-worthy. Others claim to know nothing about the issue or say they cannot speak to the press about it.

So-called authorities on the topic pass journalists from one person to the next until it’s deadline day. Running in circles leaves little time for writing and little to write about.

And yet, journalists will be called upon to cover an event for free publicity. Are we only fair-weather friends?

OCCC News Writing Professor Sue Hinton teaches that news is four things: accurate, objective, fair and balanced. These elements are the foundation for newsworthy writing and professional reporting, the things journalists strive for in every story.

However, when journalists attempt to contact sources on both sides of an issue to get a balanced story, we are often met with rejections.

Lately I’ve wondered if some OCCC employees have a clue about what is going on in their office or department, or if they are mindless robots, answering phone calls and shredding paper. No one seems to know how to answer basic questions anymore.

People are terrified to express their own thoughts or opinions. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been declined an interview because someone didn’t think his or her opinion was worth writing about.

We are the next generation of reporters — the very people who will feed the world time-sensitive news on school shootings, botched executions, political dishonesty and the moments when goodness and light shines through humanity.

Stop being mere consumers of the news and start being watchdogs as well.

Those who want to know what is really going on in the world also should be willing to share what information they know.

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