The difference between a reporter and a journalist

By Mike Lange
Staff Writer

    I had the recent pleasure of speaking at the Dexter Sunrise Kiwanis Club; and to no one’s surprise, my topic was the newspaper business and the future of journalism.
    I joked that some people think we’re on the endangered species list because print circulation across the nation has been dropping while online views have been increasing.

    But I pointed out that someone has to gather the news, whether it’s for a weekly newspaper or a Web-only publication.
    The quality of the news, however, determines whether it’s coming from a reporter or a journalist.
    The Internet has spawned a new breed of “community reporters” — official and unofficial. For starters, there are an estimated 700 million people on Facebook, including me.
    People today routinely share news through social media. Does that make them journalists?
    Not really. One problem with the Internet is that too many people assume that everything they publish is true.
    One of my Facebook friends recently posted a story that movie star Jackie Chan fell from a 12-story building and passed away from his injuries.     But a simple Google search revealed that this rumor has been showing up frequently since 2011. As of a few days ago, Jackie Chan was alive and still beating up the bad guys.
    To put it simply, newspapers have editors that serve as “gatekeepers”’ for the information highway.
    We don’t always get it right.
    But before it goes into print and online, someone looks at the story and decides whether it’s worth printing; and above all, if it’s accurate.
    My Facebook friends can call themselves reporters, but that doesn’t make them journalists. I can call my office cat a cocker spaniel, but that doesn’t mean he’ll bark.
    Then there’s the frenzied competition to be first with a story.
    In this month’s Columbia Journalism Review, University of Maryland journalism major Michelle Chavez assesses the situation this way.
    “Too often, these outlets, in an effort to break news and be the first to report something, sacrifice accuracy in the service of speed. Mistakes, they seem to think, can be corrected later if necessary.
    “Who is there to trust for that ‘final word’ if the news industry plays this speed game? If journalists want to maintain — or regain — the respect and trust of the public, they need to deal with this dilemma.”
    I trained several reporters over the years during my previous life as an editor, and one thing I always stressed was that it was much more important to be right than to be first.
    The goal of a journalist, in my opinion, is to present accurate information about events that we believe are in the public’s interest, whether it’s hard news or the 100th anniversary of a local business.
    Readers can’t be everywhere. But when they see our stories in print or online, they should be able to visualize themselves in the town council chambers, the community parade or the grandstands at the football game.
    So don’t “write us off.” The Piscataquis Observer has been around for 175 years, almost as long as the Bill of Rights has guaranteed us Freedom of the Press.
    Hopefully, we’ll be around for a long, long time — in one way, shape or form.
    Mike Lange is a staff writer with the Piscataquis Observer. His opinions are his own and don’t necessarily reflect those of this newspaper.

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