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Freelancing Through Upheaval

Independent journalists work in a constant state of upheaval: We work without roots, often alone. Rewards abound for the risks we take. Yet freelancing through the current upheaval amid Pres. Donald Trump’s transition to the White House has thrown many for a loop.

The view from there: journalism from a policy perspective

This fall, I am getting the chance to peer in at journalism from outside the newsroom walls. There is no media theory or philosophy of journalism in a public policy class. No distinction between mass media and independent community media. Heck, there’s no distinction between “media” and “journalism.”

Here, framing is about how to structure a policy issue to attract the attention of reporters. Reporters are myopic servants of single-issue beats who simplify messages to fit the format of their media. Media are no more than businesses that lead with what bleeds and profit from conflict. And conflict is the enemy of compromise. Yet compromise is what solutions are made of.

In other words, the media, while essential, are also an intractable obstacle to constructive policy solutions.

Ouch.

I think one criticism, in particular, misses its mark at the same time it points to the greatest potential for journalism’s future.

Specifically, yes or no?

It’s hard to prepare for the artful dodge of politicians, I suppose, with anything other than practice. I’m hopeful that the experience of being a panelist at the Missouri Press Association’s gubernatorial forum last Friday, combined with my current studies of public policy, will prepare me to craft questions that require more specific responses than I got last week.

I think the format presented part of the challenge to specificity. At first, I confess, I was relieved that there would be no time for follow-up questions. That took a bit of pressure off, as I was nervous to “perform” so publicly. By the end, I decided I would have preferred the risk.

Approval vs. accuracy: a crucial distinction

The New York Times reported recently on a new trend in the cat-and-mouse game that is politics-press relations: quote approval. Want an interview with a high-powered political operative? Only if you run their quotes by them for approval before publication.

It’s absurd, of course. It’s offensive. It’s embarrassing that apparently so many reporters accept it. What I want to point out here, though, is not outrage, but a very important distinction. It’s between “quote approval” and the “accuracy check,” which we are taught at the Missouri School of Journalism.

It is not the same as quote approval, but I fear that in the flurry of outrage about quote approval, one may be mistaken for the other. You are not seeking approval for a quote when you check its accuracy. You are checking its accuracy.

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