News McNabb

Al Sharpton vs. Rachel Maddow: Who to believe. The definition of a journalist

Al Sharpton vs. Rachel Maddow: Who to believe. The definition of a journalist

Austin_Photo: News__Al Sharpton_August 2011
Courtesy of MSNBC
Austin_Photo: News__Rachel Maddow_August 2011
Courtesy of MSNBC
Austin_Photo: News__Al Sharpton_August 2011
Austin_Photo: News__Rachel Maddow_August 2011

Who is a journalist?  That is a relevant question nowadays. 

Is the person delivering information to viewers or listeners qualified to handle information in a fair and impartial way?

Is the Rev. Al Sharpton a journalist?  MSNBC is calling him a “host”.  Well, that falls short of my definition of “journalist”, but he’s there on cable interviewing people.  The National Association of Black Journalists rejects him.

"This would still be just another non-journalist media 'celebrity' receiving a TV show based upon their name recognition, not their years of experience, training, ability and talent,” the NABJ was quoted as saying in the Atlantic

 When something important is going on, you don’t want an activist, you want a journalist 

Who can say definitively why Reverend Sharpton was hired?  Is the NABJ right in its criticism?  Whatever lead to the decision-making, the network didn’t consider this:  Rev. Sharpton is not a journalist.

Also on MSNBC, former Congressman Joe Scarborough is “host” of “Morning Joe”.  Is he a journalist?   Does being a good-looking former member of Congress, former football player, and lawyer make you a journalist?  No.

Is MSNBC prime time’s Lawrence O’Donnell a journalist?  No.  Yes, he is good on camera.  Yes, he is knowledgeable, but is he a journalist?  No.  Is he worth watching?  Sometimes when he’s not too pompous. 

How about Rachel Maddow on MSNBC?  Is she a journalist?  Well, she’s a Rhode’s Scholar and holds a PhD, but she didn’t study journalism.  She did, however, practice journalism on the radio.  I’ll give her a pass. 

Well, non-journalists are on the air here in Austin and elsewhere, mainly on radio talk shows.  Should we care?  Yes.

The #1 talk radio station in town, KLBJ AM, has perhaps two journalists on the air in the mornings.  Mark Caesar is a journalist—trained and qualified.  Ed Clements can qualify as a journalist.  He has the training and knowledge.  Sergeant Sam Cox is what he is, but he is definitely NOT a journalist. 

Yes, KLBJ’s Jeff Ward is a former football player, but he is a journalist.  You may object to his positions since he is a talk show host, but he has the degrees from The University of Texas at Austin to qualify him as a journalist.

The KLBJ AM bio for Alex Jones claims he is a journalist.  He is not.   “Veteran broadcaster Alex Jones brings his unique perspective to the KLBJ team with a brand new, hard-hitting news and information program unlike any other on the air.  Jones is a seasoned investigative journalist who has broken hundreds of national stories during his career.”  Mr. Jones started as an internet talker and protested most everything over the years.  He still does on KLBJ.  His bio is clear stating that he is an activist.  Journalists are not activists.  Journalists report.   

There is no need to talk about Austin’s Border Radio’s 98.0 the “Big Talker”.  Nobody listened.  So, it’s now an “oldies” format station now as of August 15, 2011.  That’s OK with me.

Call me “Old School”.  Here’s the point:  When something important is going on, you don’t want an activist, you want a journalist—somebody with the education, experience, instincts, and intelligence to deftly handle information, find the truth and tell you what you need to know. 

That “somebody” is a person who has heard the call to practice journalism as a noble profession equal to attorneys.  Sometimes, journalists are more important than the legal eagles when life and death is on the line.  This is why there are university degrees in this profession.  Further, experience counts.

You don’t just sit down at a microphone, in front of a TV camera, or at a computer terminal one day and become a journalist. 

So, the standard should be the same for cable TV, internet news sites and local broadcasting.  Fair and balanced reporting might help this country.  We’ve heard enough of pundits who polarize. 

© Jim McNabb, 2011