Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is It Bad to Say I Can Relate to Song?

Maddie Kuhn

In the 2002 Los Angeles Times article, A Journalist Breaks the Golden Rule, Anna Song is criticized for presenting a eulogy for two young girls who were the subjects of a story she was covering. The author, Howard Rosenberg, describes how reporters in small towns like Oregon City, Oregon "are more likely than their bigger-city counterparts to be tugged by ties of friendship with sources they encounter on a daily basis." Song's eulogy was appreciated and praised by the townspeople, but was highly questioned on the basis of objective journalism.

When I signed up for this ethics class, I was hoping to get some answers to and other examples of situations that were presented to me during my journalism career. I found both in this article and I could especially relate to the quote I presented in the first paragraph.

Winter quarter of my freshman year, I became a reporter for a brand-new show at WOUB called Hardwood Heroes. This show analyzed the high school basketball teams from Athens County. Reporters were assigned to each team and they had to attend as many games as possible, talk to players and coaches, and be able to analyze the games for the show at the end of the week. I was assigned the Nelsonville-York Buckeyes. I was so new to the area and the team that I got lost driving to their first home game I ever attended. What I did not realize is how deep of a connection I would build with the teams, the town and some of it's people. It would be enough to make me question my objectivity.

The first person I ever interviewed for Hardwood was Kim Kline. She was a great talent who eventually moved on to play for a Division 1 college. Before long, I learned that her father, Jay, was the head coach of the boys' team and coaching her younger brother Daniel, who was one of the rising stars for the team. By meeting one person, I was more connected to the other two members of her family. As I continued to cover the girls' team, I eventually met the point guard, Kelly Cox. She is very nice girl and a talented three-point shooter who was always willing to be interviewed after a game. During halftime of one girls' game, I went to the Nelsonville-York scoreboard operator to ask for some statistics. His name is Steve Cox, Kelly's father who also had a son, Casey, on the boys' basketball team. There was another connection with another family.

My sophomore year, I went to more games and always made time to talk to the Cox family and the Kline family. Later on in the season, I did feature packages on the Kline and Cox families and their deep ties to Nelsonville-York basketball. For those interviews, I went to their houses on one occasion. There, I saw old family pictures and heard fond memories of their lives surrounding basketball. Now my reporting extended beyond the game. After those interviews, I realized that I really was no longer a completely objective reporter. I loved the Buckeyes' teams. I wanted them to win. Off camera, I gushed about the players and the people I met during the games. So every time I was on the show, I had to make sure to cover up my 'homer-ism' and be able to report objectively.

But, one time, I slipped up. I made a statement in a game recap that viewers could have interpreted as an nonobjective statement. In December 2010, the Buckeyes' boys' team played Huntington Ross in a holiday tournament at the Convocation Center. They were 0 and 3 and they needed a big win to lift their spirits. They went on to win the game and I was very glad for the team. I smiled as I stood by the locker room door, waiting for interviews, and hearing them shout jubilantly. Unfortunately, that bled into a future stand-up (5:43). I said "It's great to hear their cheers from the locker room." My producer told me later to beware of language like that because it made me sound like too much of a fan.

I really was ashamed that I let my guard down and that my love for the basketball team got into the way of my reporting. I made no other errors for the rest of the year, but I developed even more connections. After talking to enough people, I learned that the Nelsonville-York athletic community, past and present, is linked so much that one person's story always involved someone I already knew. My junior year, that knowledge culminated in a feature package that related the history of the basketball team to the connections the people have with the community and each other.

In the end, my connections with the people of Nelsonville-York have been a much greater benefit than a burden to my journalism career. But, it taught me an important lesson about how to battle through the desire to sing their praises and to be the objective reporter the public deserves. I can use my enjoyment and knowledge of Buckeyes basketball to endear myself to the community, but when it comes time to report, the tenets of journalism are always my first priority.

No comments:

Post a Comment