11 July 2007

Some People

  • I have been struggling with an article published in the July 10, 2007 edition of the Baltimore Sun Howard Section and written by Rona Marech (It's perfect, now change, Columbia residents say). Now I don’t want to get into a huge journalistic integrity snit here. The attributed quotes in the article do provoke thought. In addition, this blog (and others) is not the gold standard for journalism, but I believe this particular newspaper article is troubling.

    What I struggle with is (at least to me) the large number of unattributed comments. A few examples (added emphasis mine):

    "Here, people talk in worshipful tones of the Howard County town's developer and founder James W. Rouse..."

    "He was the ultimate visionary, residents say with enormous
    pride..."

    "To many devotees, Columbia isn't just a place, it's a set of values."

    "The unincorporated town of about 100,000 is all about creativity, tolerance, respect for families and nature, they say."

    "Many moved here because they bought into the whole package, not just good schools, green backyards and miles of bicycle paths..."

    "even the most hard-core boosters will admit it's time to update the founder's vision."

    "Residents are heatedly debating which of the town's features work and which ones - despite Rouses' best intentions - simply don't."

    "Just about everyone agrees there should be better pedestrian access
    downtown..."

    "To really understand what's at stake, it is essential to know about the city's past, say villagers..."

    "Many can - and will - recite Columbia's story, which began in
    1963,..."

    "Some critics complain the town is so successful that settling there has become a financial impossibility for many people."

    "Furthermore, Columbia's downtown is a car-dependent flop
    void of charm, some say."

    "Some residents, who consider the proposed building unmanageably tall, were furious."

    "As they slog through plans and seemingly endless meetings, some residents find consolation in Rouse's belief that thriving cities are never finished."

    To me, this writing style should be rarely used in the newspaper; and if it is used, not in such volume within one article. The vagaries of the words "some" and "many" distort and/or hide the actual number of people with such viewpoints. The construct is subjective and rather than informing the reader of the number of people, it encourages the reader to assume a number based on little or no information.

    For resources on source attribution, please consult the following:

  • Society of Professional Journalists
  • ASNE Statement of Principles (formerly the Canons of Journalism)
  • Pressure Points: An FAQ about Ethics Guidelines for Poynter Publishing

2 comments:

Tom said...

Isn't that how newspapers have been representing their positions on a topic without actually saying it is their position. It's this type of journalism that gives professional journalists a bad rap.
Unfortunately, I see this type of writing in the weekly paper almost weekly.

Cannonball Diver said...

You wrote, "Now I don't want to get into a huge journalistic integrity snit here. The attributed quotes in the article do provoke thought."

Chronicling Ms. Marech's
non-attributable positioning statements liberally used by Board members, Board Reps, HOA Presidents, politicians; etc.:
residents say
they say
just about everyone

Outstanding!