Here’s a good argument for why you should perform good journalism instead of bad journalism: bad journalism makes good journalism impossible.
Last Friday, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian published this article about a University-run coffee shop now on campus that sells Starbucks brand coffee. This new coffee shop appears to be making one of the student-run co-ops lose business, and the more politically aware are complaining about the provenance of the coffee. Perhaps with good reason.
The article smelled fishy to me from the start. Not necessarily the facts, but the method of collection felt… ungrounded. There didn’t seem to be any fact checking going on, instead it looked much more like transcription. The reporter had gone, asked questions, and was reporting back what was said. He wasn’t double checking or putting any pressure on the sources. There was just what they had said.
The purpose of reporting is to be critical. We have reporters to sift through the bullshit people tell us because normal people have lives that they need to live, jobs they have to work, and money they need to earn, and they don’t have time to run everything through the bullshit-o-meter.
However, my legwork, in wanting to both follow up on this story, do some fact checking and that I sent it the way of my editor three weeks ago (22 Feb, in fact), has now doubled. I was going to take a different tack (I’ve submitted my public records request to get a copy of the contract the University has with Starbucks) and was going to go to the director of the Center for Student Business.
This morning, off I went. When I get to her, she tells me that she’d be happy to talk to me, but after the article in the Collegian (though she knows I did not write it) she wants to wait until after I’ve been to see the department of Auxiliary Services because the article was full of rampant misinformation and she doesn’t feel comfortable talking to me. I assured her that I was looking to get a copy of the contract first, and that I would go on from there, which seemed to help her warm to me.
Nonetheless, I have to pay the price because someone else did the job badly the first time.
Reporters can only get access to sources when they don’t feel like they’re going to get burned talking to us. So we all have a responsibility to be critical and honest and good when we report otherwise we’re going to make all of our lives more difficult.