We’ve come to this — a ‘reporter’ delivering an editorial

There’s nothing special about this example I’m sharing with you. It’s just a fairly clear-cut one of the blurring of news and editorial functions in the New Normal.

In today’s Open Thread, I shared this item about where we stand 20 years after the End of Welfare as We Knew It.

Later, I glanced at the above video that appeared on the same page with it.

Most of the way through it, I didn’t think much of it until the very end, when the young woman on camera says, “I’m Emily Badger, reporter for Wonkblog.”

Did she really just say “reporter?” I ask because if you take every word she just said and put it on an opinion page, you have an editorial. Or an op-ed column, but it was largely spoken in the truth-from-above, ex cathedra tones of an editorial. Only by an engaging young woman, rather than some gray, disembodied, royal “we.”

Which I expect from a blog. I mean, really, how many blogs do you go to for straight news? And as I say over and over to any who remain confused, this is an opinion blog. I don’t have the resources — reporters, and editors to guide and read behind them — to publish a news blog. All I can do here is comment on the information provided to us by organizations that still do have such resources. (Sure, there are exceptions — I occasionally attend some news event and share what I saw and heard — but generally I’m not set up to inform so much as to engage with information obtained elsewhere.

And I certainly don’t call myself a reporter. I haven’t been a reporter since the spring of 1980.

That’s what grabbed me — her title.

I have no problem with blogs offering opinion. That would indeed be the height of hypocrisy

But it’s an adjustment for me seeing and hearing it coming from a “reporter.”

Reporters who unapologetically spout editorials. O brave new world, That has such people in ’t!


43 thoughts on “We’ve come to this — a ‘reporter’ delivering an editorial

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, she obviously doesn’t have a copy editor…..she’s a “writer”–that’s what blogs have.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    OK, now I need to kick myself. My headline says, “a ‘reporter’ delivering an editorial.”

    When, of course, it is extremely unlikely that this is an actual editorial.

    An editorial is the considered institutional voice of a newspaper — or, I suppose, some other organization. The opinions that it expresses are arrived at through the deliberation of a body of people delegated to come up with the considered, institutional views for the organization — an editorial board.

    The views voiced in the video are almost certainly NOT the product of a board devising institutional opinion.

    Although I could be wrong. Maybe the editorial board of The Post oversees the Wonkblog.

    But that seems unlikely, and… unwieldy…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I defend calling it that, though, because as I said, if you took what she said word-for-word, right up to the point when she identifies herself, and ran it without a byline in a vertical position on the left-hand side of any editorial page in the country, everyone would accept it as an editorial….

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Kind of. Which would still be weird, were she a “reporter.”

        Of course, when we hear reporter, we shouldn’t picture Hildy Johnson from “The Front Page,” or for that matter anyone who had that title at any paper where I worked. Though she works at the WashPost, she is “based in San Francisco,” and writes about national urban issues from there. If her “about” page isn’t out of date…

        She’s not someone who, when Lou Grant looks up from his desk for someone to send to the fire that’s breaking, is standing there with notebook in hand, ready to go…

        I think in this case, we should read “reporter” as “someone who provides content and whom we don’t have to pay as much as an editor.”

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          well, and Cindi actually seems to “report” in many of her pieces—lots of digging goes into them, not just playing off reported information

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Absolutely — because Cindi’s one of the best reporters South Carolina has ever seen, and that’s what she brings to her work.

            In that respect, her columns were at the other end of a spectrum from my own. Mine were almost pure commentary. I would riff on known facts, plus my interactions with newsmakers in board meetings and such. Cindi would, and does, tell you stuff you don’t know, stuff that hasn’t been reported elsewhere…

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              Stuff that is far more useful, especially in a state like ours with newspapers like ours. We need a lot of Cindi!

  3. David Carlton

    Actually it looks to me like investigative reporting–not unlike what your former newspaper periodically does and places on the front page. She’s with Wonkblog, Brad–You are aware, aren’t you, that this is a major trend in journalism? The WaPo hires her basically to compete with operations such as the New York Times’s The Upshot and the Ezra Klein-Matt Yglesias behemoth Vox. “Data journalism” outfits like this (especially the independent Vox) were deliberately set up on the premise that traditional reporting of the sort you want has fundamentally failed readers by collecting random information instead of doing systematic analysis and offering explanations. Of course, when you actually start trying to explain all this stuff inevitably somebody’s going to call it editorializing–and sometimes it really does go over the line (I like Vox, but their juice-box mafia approach to journalism–which grew out of blogging–is frequently too clever by half). Also, their focus on “data journalism” comes at the expense of shoeleather reporting–for which they actually have some contempt because it too often finds what the reporter has been sent out to look for. (People on the straight-news side of WaPo and the NYT, of course, respond in kind). What people need, they argue, is data properly analyzed and presented in a compelling way. Yes, it blurs those old separation of editorial from reporting lines–just like you saw in nineteenth century newspapers, and for that matter the British press today. The point is that there has always been more than one way to do journalism, and in today’s competitive marketplace newspapers have to do both. They do try to maintain distinctions, though–that’s why there’s a Wonkblog, offering a separate category of journalism.

    1. Brad Warthen

      Yep, I know that stuff. What grabbed me was calling her a “reporter.” Call her a “writer” and I don’t even notice.

      Straight “objective” reporting is rather passé. But that’s what “reporters” did…

  4. Doug Ross

    What would you call Ron Aiken of Quorum? He mixes opinion with reporting all the time. He is definitely a reporter but with a mission to expose corruption in the county.

  5. Harry Harris

    Brad. You’re right on track about this misnomer of an reporter crossing the line. Have you watched Fox news. The lines there are not blurred, they’re practically erased. All under the slogan “Fair and balanced.” One thing that bothered me in the past was Paul Harvey reporting his “news” and then hawking some product after drawing his breath and saying “page 2.” Michael Smerconish on the POTUS channel of XM is worse. The once commercial free politics channel on paid radio now has sponsored shows with blurred/erased lines. Many folks will do anything for a buck. Now XM has brought DJ’s (mostly has-beens) onto some of their decade channels, interrupting the music with banter and name dropping. Next will be commercials – just watch (or listen). My subscription is going bye, bye.

  6. Bill

    This isn’t new, and it hasn’t been confined to past centuries or foreign countries. Was Edward R. Murrow a “reporter” or an “editorialist”? A case could be made for either, I suppose. Is “60 Minutes” reportage or op-ed? The blurring of the line has existed throughout.

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    Harry and Bill — you’ll notice that all of your examples are from broadcast. Not my turf, and not even anything I’m very knowledgeable about. I’ve never made a habit of watching TV “news,” which to me seems more like entertainment — for people who are entertained differently from the way I am.

    In print, you’d have to go to hybrid journalists like Jack Anderson or Walter Lippmann. More recently, the late David Broder was both a respected political reporter and writer of op-ed columns.

    Early in my career, I crossed back and forth from news to editorial pretty readily. When I was news editor (what we called the city editor) of The Jackson Sun back in the ’80s, the publisher insisted that I join the editorial board. I was reluctant at first, but then realized that one of the very few people at that small paper who had the kind of mind for that sort of thing, and the publisher valued my advice. I also wrote a weekly column for the editorial page, at the same time I was supervising all of the paper’s news reporters.

    Why? Because it was a small paper, and we had to make maximum use of the talents we had on board. And yeah, it sounds like I’m bragging, but I was always sort of a jack of all trades (most journalists specialized; I did not), and from the start I had a natural affinity for editorial work. It was what I should have been doing all along, and eventually did full-time. Until the position disappeared.

    Still, having someone sign off on an opinion piece as a “reporter” is a bit of a novelty…

  8. Kathryn Fenner

    Did the local business reporter in The State today actually describe a new restaurant’s offerings as including “St. Lewis” style ribs…..oy!

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Somebody brought some Kansas City barbecue to the newsroom one night when I worked in Wichita and shared it. Essentially, it was beef brisket, and it was really good.

        But of course, it wasn’t barbecue.

        Shortly after I talked him into coming out to Wichita to work, my Tennessee friend Richard Crowson got excited when he saw a picture of a pig outside a place that said it had barbecue. He went in and said he wanted some pork barbecue. They brought him a slice of ham with barbecue sauce on it…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            It says a lot about me that the thing I immediately assumed was wrong was the idea of going to St. Louis to get ribs.

            I’ve always been more about content than form. I go straight to the core issue…

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              which is why we need defenders of the language, a/k/a copy editors. The article about the typography of Finley Park? How someone was formally something else (as in previously)….how one had to worry about setting “precedence”….
              Jesus wept.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I worry more about tone-deafness than overt typos.

                Did anyone besides me cringe at the front-page lede story about the young man who died at football practice last week? A picture of a young African-American male under a headline saying that he was “one of the good ones”?

                Maybe it was just me, but I doubt it…

  9. Bryan Caskey

    I’m going to tell this to y’all only once, so listen up. There are only four legitimate categories of BBQ in ‘Merica. In no particular order, so as not to start a fight about priority:

    Texas – Beef brisket, mostly. Sauces are thin.
    Carolina – Pork, mostly shoulder in pulled form. Sauces vary from NC pepper vinegar to SC mustard.
    Memphis – Ribs with dry rub, sauce is usually frowned upon.
    Kansas City – This is what most people think of as traditional BBQ, with the thick, heavy tomato based sauce.

    Anything else is heresy, and will not be tolerated.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      My first barbecue was Savannah River style–some tomato in with the mustard, so the sauce is a coral color. Carolina Barbecue in New Ellenton…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        I also see that BBQ sauce sometimes referred to as “Orangeburg Style”. It’s a subset of House Carolina. It’s not powerful enough to raise it’s own army and challenge House Carolina for dominance of the coastal South.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, no, no…

      You only mention ribs under “Memphis.” Rendezvous-style ribs, to be specific. But in Memphis, “barbecue” means pulled pork. And it’s the best kind of barbecue. It was briefly available in the Midlands when Corky’s opened a place here in Columbia about 10 years ago. But it wasn’t up to Memphis standards, and it didn’t last long.

      And how can you say “Carolina” like there’s one kind? Are you not familiar with the SC barbecue map? Did you not study it in school?


      SC has two distinct types that can’t be found elsewhere, to my knowledge — mustard and vinegar and pepper. You can’t just lump them under one heading! The vinegar and pepper is the best on the East Coast, but it is a very different thing from Memphis style. It’s almost weird to call them both “barbecue.”

      1. Bryan Caskey

        I’m putting all of North Carolina and South Carolina into one category of “Carolina”. Yes, there are some variations, but Carolina BBQ is traditionally dominated by pulled pork, regardless of what you put on top of it. The people living in the state directly to our north act like they invented BBQ, so we have to include them.

        Anyway, we can’t fight against House Texas and its vast resources, while having an internal battle against our own bannermen to the North!

        I only mentioned ribs under Memphis because I think Memphis best know for its ribs, although the style does include pork shoulders.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          “Barbecue,” properly understood, IS pulled pork. How it is prepared and what is put on it and and what point in the process accounts for the different varieties.

          That people in the West think of beef as barbecue is almost, but not quite, as bizarre as Northerners thinking that grilling ANYTHING outside constitutes “barbecuing.”

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          I recently saw a reference to the fact that people in North Carolina make something they call barbecue. I’ll have to reserve judgment until I try it, but I’m not optimistic.

          Up there, they call the Pee Dee River the “Yadkin.” I just don’t even know what to do with such people…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            OK, wait. I just read that they DO call it the Pee Dee before it gets to SC. Apparently the Yadkin flows into it the way Saluda and Broad become the Congaree.

            So they are reprieved, for the moment…

    3. Mark Stewart

      There is a fifth type worth mentioning: Pacific Northwest smoked salmon. Alderwood cold-smoked Chinook Salmon to be exact.

      The only “BBQ” to rival good Mustard and Vinegar/Pepper pulled pork, IMHO, though I think one would have to have a heap of each to match a serving of expertly smoked Salmon.

        1. Mark Stewart

          Fish might not count; but Salmon does.

          Also, since your understanding of ‘Merica seems to end at the Brazos, I would submit one more West Coast BBQ – Kalua Pork from Hawaii. The Luau kind… It is cooked underground, but it’s a slow smoked masterpiece as well. Well, done traditionally anyway.

          Both of these are worthy BBQ styles. And they also come with the cultural heft of your aforementioned BBQ types.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            Okay. They’re lesser houses. Salmon is maybe like the Ironborn – way out there on the islands, all oceany and stuff. Hawaii is like the Braavos, or something. It’s way, way out there.

          2. Kathryn Fenner

            I had some awesome smoked fish in Door County, Wisconsin…trout and whitefish…nobody called it barbecue. Up there, barbecue is what we call a cook-out, and involves paahp or sohda, depending on exactly where you are, and maybe some hot dish as a side

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Yeah, it’s bizarre. They think grilling out — no matter what you’re cooking, or how you prepare it or what sauces might or might not be involved — constitutes “barbecue.”

              1. Mark Stewart

                We have a fundimental disconnect here:

                Is barbecue cooked pork, or is it the slow, cold smoking of meat (maybe to include fish)?

                Seems like we have some cultural appropriation going on here. That said, I stand by the central and eastern Carolina forms of the art. And sauce.

                1. Bryan Caskey

                  BBQ is the low and slow smoking of meat that originated from the necessity of cooking the tough, unwanted, cheap pieces of meat that the wealthy people cast off. (Those who lived “high on the hog”.)

                  Accordingly, fish is inapplicable.

                  There’s no other real way to eat ribs, pork shoulder, or even brisket without cooking it low and slow to break down all that connective tissue, and transform it over time into the soft, moist, fall apart tenderness that makes quality ‘cue.

                  Smoke is a natural flavor that comes to the party as a byproduct, and sauces vary widely.

                  The constant is tough pieces of meat that take low and slow cooking to make something people love so much they’ll fight over it.

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