If you want people to like you don’t be a journalist.
I have some limited experience in this, having worked as a journalist in my past.
I mention this in light of the wrath inflicted upon Fox News person Megyn Kelly by Donald Trump and his followers and apologists. It seems that maybe they thought her job was to just look pretty and ask softball questions that set people up to push their point of view across. From what I had seen of Fox News in the past they could almost count on favorable treatment.
(In the interest of clarity here, I think it has to be noted that Ms. Kelly is both a glamour gal and performer of sorts and a type of journalist. I mean look up her photos on the internet and you will see what I mean.)
But in the interest of show business, ratings, and I guess real journalism or something approaching it, the blond beauty with her perfect smile and teeth and hair and body asked some biting questions, including one concerning Trump’s habit of making sexist remarks to and about women.
For that she got threatened on air by Trump who warned her he could be mean to her, and then after the debate he implied that the woman journalist was in a bitchy mood because it was that time of the month.
The job of a journalist in these candidate debates or forums or cattle calls or whatever you might call them is to elicit responses that might enlighten the public and to show whether the respondent can think on his or her feet and can support his or her assertions or case. It is not to be simply partisan and set the prospective nominee up in a positive way that ignores any potential concern for voters.
Now there is a fine line between asking probing questions and loaded questions full of bias by the questioner. But that aside, if a candidate cannot stand up to hard questioning, he or she should not be in the race. This is the real world. This is serious business, not Celebrity Apprentice or whatever that Trump TV show was called.
I am a guy and I was never at the level of journalism that Ms. Kelly is at, but I did face the rejection of people who expected me to write nothing but fluff and nothing but stuff that made them look good.
Now this is going to sound petty, corny, small time or whatever, but I think it deals with this phenomenon nonetheless:
In my first job as a photographer/reporter for a small daily newspaper (well six days a week) a side job of mine was to edit (actually do all the writing for) something called the weekly “farm page”. It had some run-of-the-mill farm news, a lot of handouts that were thinly veiled advertisements or propaganda (you gotta fill that thing somehow), and usually a nice fluffy feature story written by me about some local farmer or rancher or some project conducted by the local state farm advisor (some places call such a person a county agent). The feature stories often had good information in them, but particularly when they were about an individual they were almost always positive — I mean there was no controversy and nothing to be negative about.
Well everyone loves you when you play them up in the paper.
But I wanted to be a real news reporter. So I began to cover the county courthouse beat.
I recall a certain county supervisor (some places call this a county commissioner) liked it when I chanced to take a cute photo of a dog in the back of a pickup truck standing atop bales of hay. Turns out it was his dog. I did not know that when I took the photo. We got along well. The supervisor and I that is, I did not actually meet his dog. I had gone to high school and was in Future Farmers of America with his son, that helped.
But then I began to do serious reporting and quoting what he and others said at meetings and supplying the necessary background in my stories to make sense of it all. And I have to say here: print journalism is often interpretation. It is not transcription. You would not have enough room in the paper to fill it with a verbatim transcript every time there was a meeting, even if you could produce one in a timely manner, and no one would have time to read it and without background it would likely not all make sense anyway. To cover the meetings of elected bodies I found it takes about a year to get acquainted with the procedures and the recurring issues and all the background.
It seems that the supervisors did not always agree with my interpretation. Sometimes they even said they were misquoted. I took to using a tape recorder. While it is certainly possible I could have misquoted someone nonetheless, in cases where we went back and checked the recording I had not done so. There is always the argument, though, that comments were taken out of context. That is where you must trust that the writer is being honest in is or her interpretation. But if the writer is not honest, I think it soon becomes apparent and there goes the writer’s credibility.
I’m taking a long time here to get to the point. One thing that used to stick in my craw was that the elected supervisors had a penchant for going into closed (secret) session. Such is allowed under California law if the subject of personnel or litigation is being discussed, although there are supposed to be limits on secrecy even then. The supervisors seemed to go into secret session at the drop of a hat as soon as the words “personnel” or “litigation” were even mentioned. Actually just discussing personnel in general, not individuals, is not a valid reason to go into secret session. Same for litigation I think.
But anyway I was always after them on that.
One time the board of supervisors went into a closed-door session and I listened at the door. I cannot say for sure, but I thought I heard that supervisor I mentioned say something to the effect that I was a pest. I took that as a compliment. That did not hurt.
But once I did a piece that he considered unfavorable to him. Well it seems that the local farm advisor was chums with him and that the farm advisor wanted to keep on good terms with the board because his department received some funding from the county.
I had always had good rapport with the farm advisor (there was actually more than one and we all got along well). He gave me a lot of good stories or leads for my farm page and I played up all his projects. He was a big and tall man and he was like an uncle to me almost.
But after I became what I considered a real reporter not just a fluff writer (although fluff has its place) he caught me by surprise one day and wagged his finger at me and said in a stern voice:
“You sure say unkind things about (supervisor so in so).”
I was stunned.
We never had a good relation after that. I felt bad about that.
Even I liked to be liked.
I no longer work as a journalist but I have found that people tend to dislike your profession almost no matter what it is. I mean I’m a truck driver and I get the finger every day. I have a brother who is a lawyer, and you know all the bad things said about that profession.
Now I never have been a car salesman and never will be and I have nothing good to say about them. But someone has to do it I suppose…