My father is a minister. He got his master’s degree in New Testament studies — not so that he could learn about the Bible, but so that he could learn how to decipher it for himself. Our house was covered with books, and his office is now one of the nicest private libraries of Christian and biblical studies I’ve ever seen.
Growing up in that house, we learned several things, chief among them was to listen very carefully to what was being said, to pay attention to who said it, and to use reason, based on fact and personal experience, to make a decision. Indecisiveness wasn’t tolerated.
Today I read three newspapers daily. I typically watch two nightly news broadcasts and one morning news broadcast. I read several magazines, and my household doesn’t let a Friday pass without grabbing a copy of Metro Weekly and DC Agenda. I also get the Philadelphia Gay News each week, an excellent source. Then there are the online sources: Daily I read four blogs, eight topical web sites and Kerry Eleveld of Advocate.com.
You might say that I do this because I work for so many journalists at the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. That’s one very good reason, yes. But I personally came to this organization not because of a passion for news, but because of a passion for facts. Whenever I speak, in private or in public, I don’t like to be wrong. I like to have a base knowledge of what’s going on with a variety of topics. I want to know who to go to for knowledge, and who to trust. And I require several sources to do it.
The constant research pays off. For example, when Michael Jackson died, everyone who ever met anyone ever connected to him wanted to have their 15 minutes. I’d see opinions on Jackson from his former bodyguard’s cousin’s pizza-delivery guy. Should I care what this guy has to say? No. I hunted for quality, and the best thing I read on Michael Jackson was by a man whose family had spent time with Jackson at Neverland when the man was still a kid. He told of his own time as a teenager at the ranch. He told of his time a few short years later while in college when Michael came to visit. He even told of an experience, as an adult, that he shared with Michael and their children. He knew Michael for years, and it was a source worth reading.
It’s our goal at NLGJA, among many, to keep unbiased journalism strong. When you go get your news — whether it’s from Twitter or The New York Times, Facebook or Fox News — listen for the truth. Find out who’s talking, listen for their opinion. Are they validating an opinion you already had, or teaching you something you didn’t know? Can you make the other side’s argument for them? If not, do you know enough? If you’re not paying attention, you’re letting others tell you what to believe and how to think. You’ve given your brain over to the whims of a news-source owner.
The Daily Show once mocked The New York Times for printing the news the day after it happened — making a business out of what is by definition old news. As funny as the segment was, I hoped that the audience picked up on what it missed. The fact is, all news is old news, since we can’t predict the future. Quality journalism can take experience, solid judgment, and beat knowledge to make a story great. And it takes time — whether online, on television or in the newspaper, to listen to a witness’s story, to find the right knowledgeable sources and to put a quality piece of information out to the public without jeopardizing the integrity of the piece.
I find that a headline or 140 characters can give me the news — even quality news, when I’ve picked the right source. But it’s a journalist’s in-depth, unbiased reporting that gives me an education.
Michael Tune is managing director of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. Reach him via nlgja.org.