Years ago, I was acting station manager at a public radio station. Despite my “acting” status, the station’s board of directors wanted me to boost the station’s income. I conducted group discussions with the staff. One question I asked them was, “Why do you work for a public radio station? The answers were surprising. Mostly, it was a version of “Working in public radio allows me to do what I want.”
Most of those employees were involved in music programming. But I was reminded of that experience when I read this by the outgoing editor of Texas Monthly.
It’s not about us; it’s about them. People who read this magazine care about Texas. Except in the rarest instances, they don’t care about TEXAS MONTHLY writers. Personal essays have always been part of the magazine’s mix, of course, but we’ve had the greatest success when our writers are the vehicles to tell other people’s stories, not their own. For as long as I can remember, we’ve discouraged writers from “inserting” themselves where they don’t belong. The magazine does right by its readers by remembering that egos should be kept in check.
I don’t think reporters necessarily want to tell their stories. But they often see their job as one that offers opportunities to showcase their writing, instead of their reporting skills. In that way, it is about them. And that’s the problem with much reporting.
Journalism should serve the reader. If you want to write eloquently about things, be a novelist, or if you want to write about things that people don’t really care about, be a writer for the Style section of The Washington Post.
Much of the narrative in articles doesn’t do much to impart critical information. For example, in today’s Post, I’ll bet more eyeballs looked at the chart than read the article about Baucus’s health bill. Yet, when looking online at the story, it’s a lot easier to find the narrative than the chart. Yet the chart gives most of the information you need (with some notable holes). But the chart is a faster read. And let’s face it, the story is cluttered with self-serving quotes that do nothing to illuminate the issue.
It’s not about reporters; it’s about readers.