ANN BAILEY: There are two sides to every storyLately, along with my regular interviewing, writing and editing duties at work, I’ve been helping out with career workshops for some area eighth-grade students. Along with telling the 13- and 14-year-olds about what I do at my job, another thing I’ve talked to them about is some of the fundamentals of reporting; asking the “W” questions — who, what, where, etc., getting the facts right and the importance of telling both sides of a story.
Lately, along with my regular interviewing, writing and editing duties at work, I’ve been helping out with career workshops for some area eighth-grade students.
Along with telling the 13- and 14-year-olds about what I do at my job, another thing I’ve talked to them about is some of the fundamentals of reporting; asking the “W” questions — who, what, where, etc., getting the facts right and the importance of telling both sides of a story.
Although news reporters believe that doing a balanced job on stories is a basic part of journalism, I’ve discovered that a lot of people these days don’t see it that way, anymore. I figure it’s important to get the word out whenever I have the chance that being balanced is as important in journalism today as it ever was.
That may seem like stating the obvious, but with the advent of talk radio several years ago, and now blogs, a good share of people — or at least the ones who are the most vocal — appear to believe that it’s the reporter’s job to tell only one side of the story — theirs.
While I think both talk radio and blogs are a good way for people to voice their opinions, I think they’ve skewed people’s thinking of journalism.
When reporters also give the other side, they’re often accused of being biased and trying to sway public opinion. That’s likely news to the reporter who spent several hours talking to people on both sides of the issue trying to make sure they received balanced treatment in the story. Moreover, the reporter may not even have an opinion on the issue about which they’re writing so they’re surprised to find out that they’re on a particular side.
People apparently have become so used to reading blogs and listening to talk radio announcers who only represent their points of view, that they’ve lost respect for objectivity. I also believe that the ability to make comments on newspaper websites has affected some readers’ critical thinking skills. Instead, of reading stories carefully and digesting what they say, some readers just skim a few words, then dash off a comment criticizing the sources in the story.
When another reader points out that the first reader is missing the point or that he or she misread the story instead of acknowledging they were at fault, many of the people who comment apparently have the “I’ve got my mind made up, don’t confuse me with the facts,” mentality and continue their rants.
Then other people, who hold the same point of view, jump into the foray and soon there are a plethora of comments on the story, most by people who are supporting one another in their quest to bash someone with whom they don’t agree.
If someone with an opposing opinion dares to weigh in on the comments, they are quickly dismissed as having no credibility or worse, being a traitor. Reading the comments makes me so frustrated and dismayed about the human race that I decided it was in my best interest to give up reading them for Lent. I decided that few of the comments posted represented thoughtful consideration of the issue and that it would reduce my stress level and make me less dismayed about the state of humanity if I quit reading comments.
From where I’m sitting, not listening to both sides of the story not only violates the tenets of journalism, but also goes against human decency. In my day-to-day life outside of the newspaper, I strive to listen to both sides of a story and teach my children to do the same.
By listening to the other side, my children will, at the least, gain insight into the other person’s perspective. That may not sway their view, but it will help them understand why the person has the opinion they do. Listening to both sides also may make them realize that what one side is saying about how a particular event unfolded is very different than the way the other person saw it.
For example, if one of their friends says a teacher yelled at them for “no reason,” they may find out, after hearing the teacher weigh in on it, that he or she did, indeed, have a reason for their outburst. The reason is not an excuse for yelling, but it does shed some light on why he or she reacted in the way he or she did.
I’m under no illusions that people who don’t like this column aren’t already formulating views on where I stand on issues, based on what I’ve written. My past experience tells me that people who like to use the comment button on the website as a way to further their agendas, will dismiss it and tell me, under a pseudo name, what a waste of time and space my columns are.
That’s OK, because everyone is entitled to their opinions and I believe there’s two sides to every story. And I sign my real name to the stories I write and opinions I voice.