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Spoon-fed Journalism

July 15, 1990

Journalist James Kinsella (David Shaw's April 8 review of Kinsella's book on AIDS reporting, "Covering the Plague") believes that educating the public about current events is "not really what journalism is about," that "the basis of (journalism) is telling a story you happened to hear, and that somehow touched your own life so significantly that you want to share it with another." Shaw (who studies the media) agrees.

Gag me with a spoon! It sounds like gossip (sensitive gossip), or like the less orthodox kind of sermon. Is a reporter's more important job to "share" a touching story or to tell the public (in this case) how many have AIDS, how they got it, how to avoid getting it, how communities and government help or hurt AIDS sufferers, etc.?

Maybe it's not accidental that, as Shaw notes, the reporters whose AIDS coverage Kinsella most admires emphasized informing the public, not touching it.

Also confused is Kinsella's and Shaw's worry over the "crusading" reporter: Is it possible for a reporter to have "professional detachment" when the ideal story begins with a reporter's feeling of identification?

I'm a graduate student who will soon be a reporter. I'm not going to worry about educating readers' emotions. People discover their own feelings from personal experiences; a journalist's responsibility is to discover for the public what's going on in the world, not in the reporter's own heart.

TAMARA MENKES

ANAHEIM

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