The term “reporter” seems to have evolved a bit since Webster 1913’s time. “One who reports speeches, the proceedings of public meetings, news, etc., for the newspapers.” Poor Webster, of course, simply could not foresee radio, television, cable television, the internet, and all those other media we have now and cannot now foresee.

I’ve been a reporter in print, online, and on TV (and have done some radio work as well). The job’s gone past speeches, the proceedings of public meets, and “news,” as Webster 1913 understood it, in so many ways.

In its purest form, the job of a reporter is to gather news and report same. The medium, of course, is highly relevant to how one does that.

In print (or online), one has more words than in real-time media like radio and television. Interviews for print media, therefore, can and should be more intensive and in depth. On TV, one has 80 seconds to tell the story…assuming the reporter’s done his research (the viewer cannot and should not assume that in these wretched times, but it does still happen from time to time), the interviews serve mostly to get the expert’s, or the man on the street’s, opinion on foregone conclusions. The next day’s paper will have the details.

The definition of news, alas, is evolving. Not always for the best. The news companies are owned by media conglomerates with entertainment interests. The conservatives will tell you they have a liberal bias. The liberals will scream and shout and kick up dust. The middle-of-the-road people (if they do exist!) will not tell you anything…just watch/read the report and judge for yourself. (Most reporters I know have only the get-off-work-on-time-and-to-the-bar-early bias.)

Setting aside intended bias, no reporter can possibly be unbiased. We ask the questions we’re interested in. We edit the responses based on our goals in telling the story. We do this, mostly, with the best intensions to tell the story truthfully…but it’s the truth as we see it. We left out the questions you might have asked, we solicited conclusions from those involved in the story you might have dismissed.

Bigger still, we decide what’s news. Reporters, editors, producers, news directors…we think we know best what the audience wants to hear/read/see. We base this on long experience. But…but…times change. I’m not convinced we’re changing fast enough for the times.

The nuts and bolts of a reporter’s job will likely always remain the same. Ask questions. Solicit opinion. Get facts. Report them in a clear way. Our success in that will vary, surely, but that, I think, is our established goal.

What is more fluid than any given reporter’s talent for reporting the news is what, in fact, people consider news. In a small market, a fatal car wreck in the country is news. In a bigger market, the news director is going to say, quite rightly, “If a guy hits a tree on a rural road and dies, that’s a bummer. But news? How does that affect me? The new mega-shopping-plaza opening downtown is more relevant to more of our audience.” (Of course, the wreck is quite relevant to you and yours if it involved a member of your family or happened in your front yard, but understand we’re speaking to many thousands who never heard of what’s-his-name, the dead guy.)

But what if, some day, we all come to the conclusion that lonesome tragedy or great commercial enterprise do not news make? Some day, it may be, people will regain their interest in the family, in things academic and small, things lacking heroism or immediate import. Then, I think, what the majority of the audience thinks is newsworthy will change. We might all be more interested in calm gatherings of massed people to appreciate simple art than in rage-filled flashes of anger, violence, and extravagance.

The reporter will pick up on this. But rest assured, he will be among the last. He relies on comfort, most days: what worked yesterday is what works today. As a reactor to what happens, he is invariably behind what’s actually happening. But mostly he means well. I do, anyway.

Re*port"er (-?r), n.

One who reports. Specifically: (a) An officer or person who makees authorized statements of law proceedings and decisions, or of legislative debates. (b) One who reports speeches, the proceedings of public meetings, news, etc., for the newspapers.

Of our tales judge and reportour. Chaucer.


© Webster 1913.

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