Sunday, June 06, 2010

When Journalists Use Journalists As Sources

I’m not really a fan of journalists on radio and television interviewing other journalists as sources or even for commentary.  It’s okay sometimes and I suspect it is done to save a buck or two when official sources are overwhelmed responding to other outlets.

But the exchange on the radio program Marketplace Friday has been on my mind all weekend.  It is a good example of why journalists using journalists as sources isn’t such a good practice.bp-logo

Show anchor Kai Ryssdal invited two journalists in to discuss if BP is going to go down the tubes paying for this clean up and restoration.  Good question but the answers were glib and inappropriate.

Heidi Moore, a financial journalist (former WJS) who writes for The Big Money (a Slate web publication) stated things like “It(BP) can survive, unfortunately…given the scale of what they have perpetrated on the American environment.”  ….devastated a huge section of the American economy…”  

Megan McArdle, a business and economics editor for The Atlantic stated “whether you think that’s a sad thing or great thing (downfall of BP) depends on how much BP stock you own.”

Now I know it must have been tempting for these two folks to be flip (and they made some good points, listen for yourself in the link above) but Kai is often glib enough.  For writers and editors on things financial, these folks demonstrated at best, a lack of understanding about how market confidence impacts literally “everyone” and at worst, a crass lack of empathy for the millions of people related to BP, who are impacted above and beyond just several hundred thousand “stock-holder” and their families.

BP going bust (even just losing stock value) will of course:

  • undermine its ability to pay for the clean up and restoration…and
  • it would impact employees and
  • their retirement funds,
  • union retirement funds and
  • people who own or work for refiners, jobbers and 23,000 retail outlets including convenience stores
  • and all of these people’s spouses and children.

And that’s just the beginning….it will impact thousands of vendors etc.

We can be frustrated, but no one, including these two journalists and their publications would escape harm from the downfall of BP.   So just to spite it for the harm caused (and the responsibility isn’t just BP’s) we’re prepared to “shoot off our other foot.

Whenever we pull out a finger to point blame, we all need to be just a little less self righteous.  Because in this world, we’re all connected by just degrees of separation to any tragedy…


Randy said...

Well said. In my view, this is another sign or symptom of how public debate has so much deteriorated in the past 20 years or so. Serious discussion is replaced by personal attacks and the like. Journalists and politicians seem to want to promote themselves rather than debate issues and report facts.

I make it a habit of reading, and considering, points of view opposed to my own. Just yesterday I read a guest column in a local newspaper, or at least I read part of it. I stopped when the writer, a candidate for Congress, called a sitting Congressman AND the President liars, because their reading and understanding of complex legislation is different from his own.

So back to your point: Comments such as those you describe do nothing to inform the discussion or the listeners. The degree to which we accept these kinds of discussions is an indication of how much we deserve the news and laws that we get.

I hope you conveyed your observations to the host of the radio program

Anonymous said...

I also heard that exchange on the program. it left me feeling cold, but did not recognize why until you articulated it so well. thank you. Lenore