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Librarians and Journalists

The other AL linked to this article in its weekly mailing of mostly tedious stuff praising libraries. It compares two polls that show how much Americans love libraries and hate journalists. “What do librarians have that journalists don’t?” it asks.

It also covers the obvious answers: libraries are free to the public and they do a lot more than provide news and information.

After reading the article, I looked back at my post from a few months ago about how librarians are superior to clickbait journalists. Here were the ways I listed:

  1. Librarians don’t compromise themselves for money.
  2. Librarians serve the public good.
  3. Librarians educate people.
  4. Librarians have no reason to be ashamed of their work.
  5. Librarianship is an ancient profession
  6. Librarians care about what they do.
  7. People tax themselves to pay for libraries and librarians.

How many of those apply to “real journalists”? In general, they don’t compromise themselves for money in the direct way that clickbait writers do.

However, they do compromise themselves for ideology. Rare is the newspaper or magazine that doesn’t have a political bias of some kind, and stories that don’t fit the narrative don’t get published much.

They do serve the public good and educate people, mostly, and generally have no great reason to be ashamed of what they do. Far from it. Clickbait journalists won’t win Pulitzer Prizes.

There’s also no reason to think that journalists don’t care about what they do. I’ve seen both All the President’s Men and Spotlight, so I know they care!

The article suggests that journalists go into libraries and explain to people what they do and how they try to get information right. “In get-togethers or classes with librarians and patrons, journalists can show the work they do to provide accurate information. They could encourage patrons to follow them to a community meeting.”

That’s not so much journalists learning from librarians as journalists exploiting libraries to try to get some of the sheen of authority to rub off on them.

What could journalists really learn from librarians? Besides to stop sensationalizing the news, which everyone with an active brain hates?

Be as neutral as possible. The NYT may have all the news that’s fit to print, but they’re going to write puff pieces about how bad rich people feel about themselves and attack anything Republicans do even if they would praise the same actions from Democrats. Even the best newspapers too often present opinionating as news. The NYT is probably the worst of the respectable press in this regard, but they’re all guilty.

Libraries present all sides because they have the space that the motivation to.

But not too neutral. One sin of journalism these days is the foolish belief they should present “both sides,” and not passively like libraries do.

That makes some sense when reporting on politics, where so much of the “news” is just spin and talking points with no principles or intellectual coherence behind them. But astrology, homeopathy, vaccination policies, etc.? There aren’t two sides worth presenting fairly, and yet it happens.

Okay, libraries might be guilty of this, too, since books on astrology aren’t in the fiction section, but they’re unlikely to buy as many books on homeopathy as on actual medicine, or at least I hope so.

Slow down. The journalistic trope that annoys me the most is a sentence such as, “So-and-so didn’t respond immediately for comment.” For understandable reasons, journalists prize speed over accuracy, and as a result the news is often sloppy, incomplete, and biased.

A journalist on a deadline contacts someone for a comment, maybe even someone whose comment is essential to telling an accurate story, but if that person doesn’t answer the phone or reply to the email within an hour, the story goes on anyway.

Libraries are a place to slow down, read carefully, sit and contemplate information. And few groups move more slowly than librarians.

Do more research. Public librarians don’t tend to do much research, but they know how it’s done. If done well, it will involve books and articles, and it will be thorough.

Journalists usually don’t report research unless they can quote someone, so they have to find a live person to comment instead of just quoting reliable published sources. Libraries, by the way, are great for that kind of thing.

Contextualize information. This is a problem of space as much as sloppiness. Libraries allow people to contextualize information. Read about a new study? Do some research and find other studies to get a broader understanding of the subject.

Read about a new study as a journalist? Report that sucker as if it’s gospel truth. That’s how we find out that aspartame will give you cancer until it won’t, that sugar isn’t bad for you until it is, that some diet or other will prevent cancer until everyone on it dies of cancer, etc. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

Librarians have their flaws, but they cover them up better.

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Comments

  1. Bonegirl06 says:

    Where is the snark?

  2. Peter Ward says:

    Libraries have for a long time leaned to the left. Just take a look at ALA and its emphasis on librarians becoming “change agents” and “community facilitators.” Sounds an awful lot like “community organizer.” The days of librarians claiming to be impartial are over.

  3. Libertarian Librarian says:

    I’d be more likely to invite journalists in if they accurately reported on libraries and librarianship. We only have to look at the recent articles about the death of libraries and librarianship. All based on poor data. The once respected Newsweek is now click bait. CNN has to continually correct its “facts”.

  4. “Both sides”? Oh yes, the “false equivalency” (Mr. Hitler, your rebuttal). How about “many/all sides”?

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