- ABOUT US
Karlie Tipton, Editorial Assistant
Photo by STEVEN WALKER
By Karlie Tipton
July 11, 2013
Two years ago this past May, I graduated from journalism school at the University of Oklahoma. And although some of my classes helped to prepare me for where I am today—feature writing with one of my favorite professors, Warren Vieth, in particular—Oklahoma Today has been its own crash course in all things magazine.
Fact checking, writing, and editing: Steffie, Nathan, and Megan have become my willing and able mentors over the past three years. With their criticism and encouragement, I believe not only that I am a better writer, I am a better professional in general.
Concentrating on my current curriculum, I hadn’t given much thought to my pre-OKT education for a while. That is, until Steffie forwarded a journalism e-newsletter containing an article by David Carr, the media columnist for the New York Times.
“Journalism, Even When It’s Tilted” focuses on Guardian reporter and, more notably, Edward Snowden confidant Glenn Greenwald. But Carr does more than tack on criticism or praise for Greenwald’s work with the ex-NSA leaker. He discusses something much more basic and important: the separation of journalism and activism.
One of Carr’s basic assertions is that an activist is anyone with motives aside from simply providing information to the public. Although he concedes that no journalist can be without any kind of political or ideological leaning, the implication is that any writer with an agenda crosses the line from journalism to activism.
Suddenly, some questions presented by Peter Gade, my Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy professor at OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communications, came rushing back.
Is objectivity possible?
As reporters, editors, or bloggers, we decide which stories to cover. Making the decision to cover a topic at all denotes some kind of bias, no matter how insignificant. As an individual who disseminates information for a living, you have some say in what information is worthy of dissemination.
Is objectivity practical?
If objectivity was the end-all of journalism, a reporter could interview someone representing one side of the issue, the other side of the issue, and maybe someone in the middle, type it all up, and call it a day.
A journalist may be many things, but a stenographer is not one of them. We should allow ourselves to be led by the truth, not by the need to maintain the appearance of objectivity.
Is objectivity the reason the public tolerates journalists?
Glenn Greenwald raised the ire of many a professional journalist by making himself part of his story. They question his motives, his credibility, and his integrity.
Whether Greenwald could have stopped Snowden from breaking the law before the fact is unclear—“I have been working with him since February,” Greenwald tweeted, which would have been before Snowden went to work for Booz Allen, the NSA contractors. In either case, Greenwald knew Snowden had placed himself in danger in order to acquire the information he provided to Greenwald.
However, without the risky and sometimes illegal efforts of muckrakers like Nellie Bly and Ida Tarbell, we would not have had many of the reforms that make our mental institutions safe or the laws that make monopolies much more difficult to establish.
Greenwald’s questionable activity has forced him to step out from behind his desk a little more than many journalists are comfortable with, if only to defend his actions, but that doesn’t make his work any less important.
I would never compare my writing to the investigative reporting done by the Guardian or New York Times, but I still hold to the ideals I developed over the course of my education. Whether my article is about people who decorate Christmas displays or the next generation of farriers, I’m not simply taking notes for the sake of public record. I am trying to activate our readers to love their home state just a little bit more.
My question to everyone working at a publication or anyone who wants to someday work in media of any kind: Why would you take the low pay and long hours a career in journalism offers if not to make your world a better place?