In professional journalism, the amorphous idea of objectivity is what separates reporters from the masses.
You see, there is no test to take, no licensure and no grand swearing in when one becomes a journalist. When you enter the office of an editor, there is no framed certificate from the Board of Journalism Overseers. The hoops a journalist jumps through are simply cosmetic, if not entirely illusory.
Objectivity is the flimsy rack on which journalists hang their newsy caps. When they cover a story they are supposed to be a detached observer, explaining the situation through the eyes of “both sides” in a way that an uninitiated reader can consume, consider and digest.
In this age of Twitter, blogs and insta-everything, objectivity is dying a death of a thousand pokes.
Regarding the story of UMass’ “contentious” decision to upgrade football, objectivity went three-and-out.
For those that don’t know the story, here it is in a nutshell: Some members of the Faculty Senate are upset with the financial side of UMass’ decision to upgrade the football program. Many of these same members want to either downgrade football or eliminate it entirely. They once voted to not vote on suggesting this course of action. They will vote again, and the results of this vote on whether to vote or not are unclear. Regardless of how they vote, the Faculty Senate can only suggest a course of action, and that suggestion is not binding.
That’s the objective story, and to be honest, it’s really a nonstory. However, because papers must sell and soapboxes are made to be stood upon, journalists from the Big Apple to Hoop City have latched on and plan on beating this thing to death – objectivity be damned.
The whole thing started when the Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler penned an article about UMass’ first-season struggles and relied heavily on quotes (and numbers) from the Faculty Senate. I have been told by a number of people close to the situation that members of the Faculty Senate pushed the Globe to write the article. They did so because, while their non-binding suggestion isn’t particularly powerful, an outraged public packs a serious punch.
So, if what I hear is correct, Hohler took the Faculty Senate’s feed bag and basically wrote their press release. From there, the Globe’s lifeline – the New York Times – grabbed on and wrote a piece that also focused on UMass’ problems. It was from there that the now-infamous Kumble R. Subbaswamy quote arose:
“It’s a very easy matter to one day say we won’t do it anymore.”
While the Boston Globe’s piece caused a ripple in the Twitter stream of consciousness, the New York Times kicked up a tidal wave. Recruits started getting nervous, opposing schools used the article as a weapon, fans of the program were confused, and Charley Molnar had a brushfire on his hands.
Finally Subbaswamy stepped forward and did some damage control.
All of this – every last bit of it – was caused by a handful of journalists who wrote knee-jerk articles in the wake of Faculty Senate meetings that led to absolutely nothing. Max Page, the mouthpiece for the anti-FBS contingency, got what he wanted out of the media. All it took was a little reframing – a little tweak to the angle – and this nonstory could be spoon-fed to a journalist looking to whet his “objective” appetite.
Meanwhile, most of the local media followed the nonstory as they should – with tact and coverage that fit the task at hand. Both the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Matt Vautour and MassLive’s Harry Plumer covered the Faculty Senate meeting, explained what happened and what it meant. Since nothing happened, it effectively meant that there was nothing else to report. Neither wrote a long feature on the major struggles of the program or fed misinformation to their readers.
They acted like journalists.
Vautour explained the situation well a little later on:
But while the faculty protests didn’t lead to a recommendation to the chancellor, it did get them media attention. Twitter buzzed with people retweeting headlines where the faculty called for football downgrade even though 140 characters was too few to point out that it was only some of the faculty, that most of them had dismissed the need to even recommend the downgrade and the faculty have no power here anyway.
This Thursday, the Faculty Senate will meet again, and again there probably won’t be much of a story. However, much like Groundhog Day (albiet a bit early), a few journalists are going to poke their heads out of the ground and make sure this nonstory lasts another few weeks. MassLive’s Ron Chimelis is already stirring the pot by calling this whole thing “a classic battle of jocks versus nerds.”
For those keeping track at home, he also promised to “not to pass any judgments on this FBS journey until the first season was over – at the earliest,” then said the loss to Ohio was encouraging, and then a month later indicated that “the project has been a total, absolute and unmitigated failure.”
Good thing there’s no Board of Journalism Overseers.
To me, this is not a battle of jocks and nerds. At the end of the day, this is the telephone game being played poorly at a middle school dance. Then, when the slow song plays and the jocks and nerds try to find their dates, the chaperones stand idly by as misinformation dances a little too closely with an “objective” media.