What Makes a Journalist?

Last night, Lesley Stahl tackled Lou Dobbs and advocacy journalism in a piece for 60 Minutes.

Though much of the immediate coverage today has focused on an exchange between Stahl and Dobbs regarding the factual accuracy of a report on illegal immigrants and disease which aired on his show, the real core of the interview was about the ongoing struggle to define just what is a journalist's responsibility.

Here's an excerpt of Stahl questioning Dobbs' definition of journalism (courtesy of CBS Public Eye ):

STAHL: I'm sitting here saying to myself, `This man runs a news show?'

Mr. DOBBS: Hmm. I do.

STAHL: And you can just tell me you don't like the president. Whoo.

Mr. DOBBS: I, matter of fact, insist that the audience know where I come from.

STAHL: What about fair and balanced?

Mr. DOBBS: I've never, Lesley, found the truth to be fair and balanced. I found it to be…

STAHL: But that's–but wait, what's the definition of "journalism?" That that's in there.


STAHL: That has to be part of what a journalist is, is fair and balanced.

Mr. DOBBS: I truly believe there's a nonpartisan, independent reality. But more of the same…

STAHL: But it's your reality.

Mr. DOBBS: It is my reality.

STAHL: But it's not the reality.

Mr. DOBBS: Well, how so?

(Footage of Dobbs)

STAHL: (Voiceover) Dobbs scoffs at suggestions that his advocacy tarnishes his credentials as a journalist.

Mr. DOBBS: The idea that a reporter should be disqualified because

he or she actually cares, actually isn't neutral about the well-being

of the country and its people, that's absurd.

There are a lot of anchor/reporters from all sides of the political spectrum who currently fit this definition. In newspapers, advocacy journalism is more clearly identified in columns, cuing the reader that the content is distinct from the general reporting found elsewhere in the paper.

Television does not necessarily make the distinction quite as clear. Is it realistic to expect journalists to be able to set aside personal bias when reporting and researching the story? Or is it better to know that the bias is there, and incorporate that knowledge into how we consume the news?

And how does one write for an advocacy journalist, especially when your training as a journalist teaches you to prize objectivity over all else? Or does it? 

Read the full transcript of the Stahl-Dobbs interview here