The new edition of Poynter Report is online. My copy arrived a couple weeks ago, and seeing the online link reminded me how the smoke curled out my ears when I read this, by Skip Foster:
Jill Geisler, Leadership & Management group leader at Poynter, did something shocking a couple of years back.
She wrote a column for Poynter Online lamenting the amount of profanity used in newsrooms.
People lashed out at Geisler in their website feedback, filling their responses with profanity of the worst kind. Letter writers gratuitously laced their responses with profane and vulgar language, as if it were a badge of honor. Few rose in support of her position. It was frightening.
Hmm. I remember that column, and I remember a different sort of response. Yes, some of the commenters “laced their responses with profane and vulgar language” in response to Geisler’s kindergarten-teacher scolding, but the gist was more along the lines of, Newsroom budgets are being slashed, editors spend more time in meetings than at their desks, news hole is shrinking. And you think, in a climate like this, that we should worry about cussing in the newsroom? Get a fucking clue, lady.
Or words to that effect.
Foster continued: Those who responded make up a significant faction of people who work at our newspapers. They are answering the phones, dealing with the public, and serving in a variety of positions. They are a component of a newsroom culture that apparently values profanity, meanness, and hate over civility, composure, and caring.
Apparently? Or it could be that we value plain speaking, honesty and traditional newsroom values over yet another head-scratching staff meeting over what our 21st century mission statement should be; or maybe we remember when raises amounted to something and employees were not told they’re now part of a “performance-based” workplace culture (no raise for you!). Or maybe we think, crazily enough, that newspapers ought to cover their state legislatures, and when we don’t, we feel like swearing.
Just a thought.
The idea that Foster thinks the same person who uses a bad word to describe Geisler’s dumb column cannot be trusted to answer the phone without saying, “What the hell do you want?” speaks volumes about why reporters think editors are clueless and out of touch.
One view: Somehow, our crucial watchdog role has morphed from healthy skepticism of the powerful into a dark force � an ugly brew of anger, mean-spiritedness, and antagonism that alienates readers and turns newsrooms into personality war zones. We have lurched from the honorable mission of holding the powerful accountable to a wholesale mistrust of anything that moves, even our colleagues. That attitude of mistrust and a disconnect from the newsroom and community is reflected in this “defense of profanity.”
Oh, for God’s sake.
You can read the rest of it — at the bottom of it all, he’s onto something, although I don’t think he knows how to fix it, because it seems to boil down to more meetings and team-building exercises — or you can turn the page.
I know what I’d do.