July 11, 2013

Journalist-on-journalist crime hampers the profession most

(Editor's Note: July 2013 -- This is one of a series of monthly commentaries by board members and friends of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, housed in the College of Communications.)

By Dana O'Neil


Journalism is in a crisis.

File this under dog bites man on the newswire.

The still unsolvable riddle of newspaper content via Internet access continues to eat away at newsrooms, if not shutter them altogether. Meantime the growth of fan sites and blogs has confused an already befuddled public that can’t or isn’t interested in discerning the line between journalism and rumor.

The misinformation and flat out bad information coming out of the recent Boston Marathon tragedy and Aaron Hernandez arrest hasn’t helped our credibility ranking, which currently ranks perhaps slightly above Alex Rodriguez’s.

But here’s another culprit in all of this: us.

We have met the enemy and he is us.

I call it journalist-on-journalist crime, the new sport where we take great pleasure in knocking each other down. Maybe it’s because of Twitter, the Land of Snark, maybe it’s insecurity within a profession closing in on itself but somewhere along the way we have become a group of mean girls who love nothing more than to take our peers to task and point out their every misplaced comma.

Rare is the day that doesn’t pass without a war of words in 140 characters or less where one reporter is trying to belittle another;

There is certainly a place for criticism. A group whose job it is to inform the public ought to be held to standards and ombudsmen and their ilk are a critical part of the process to keep journalists in check.

But too often what’s happening now is not thought-provoking or issue-centric criticism. Instead it is shrill screeching or worse, name calling and flat out character assassination. It’s personal and petty, and rarely constructive.

Screamed in a bubble or a vacuum it would be harmless, like familial infighting around a holiday dinner table. But thanks to social media, no screed goes unread or unheard.

The pattern goes like this: Journalist X writes a scoop of an investigative story or offers up an opinion column that is unique. Within minutes someone is online taking it apart piece by piece, pointing out that the investigative news story is full of information that can’t possibly be correct or that ‘We’ already knew; or the column is sliced and diced apart, its opinions shredded for their foolishness.

Within minutes, we have aired our journalistic dirty laundry for all the world to see and it is exactly what the profession doesn’t need.
Trust in the media could be at an all-time low. Bellowing television commentators began the erosion; the blurring of the line between responsible journalists and folks with a computer and a website made it 10 times worse; and our own mistakes and misreports have taken it over the top.

People think we have an agenda and disregard the truth to promote it. In sports, fans think we are ‘out to get’ their teams/coaches/players.

The last thing we need is to pick apart each other’s columns and news stories, belittle our peers and generally come off like a bunch of unprofessional backstabbers. It serves no one’s purpose, except those who like to say that the media’s assertions are baseless and foolhardy.

And most important, it does nothing to bolster a profession that needs an extreme pep talk. We need to prove the worth of good journalism and talented writers. We need to explain why this profession has an important and even critical place in the world. We need to prove that the dear readers still need us.

We don’t need to be faux cheerleaders, offering up compliments that are blatantly insincere. People are too smart for that.

Again, thoughtful criticism has a place. Checks and balances are good. But we need to stop taking to Twitter or Facebook or our own personal blogs to attack one another.

We need to remember what our mamas taught us all; if you don’t have anything nice to say, simply don’t say it at all.

Dana O'Neil of has been a member of advisory board for the Curley Center since inception.