“The Way News Should Be Done” Write Up by Thomas Graham

So just for starters, this piece was about David Cay Johnston’s experience at Al Jazeera America (AJAM). It’s a reflective piece discussing what AJAM was before it was canceled. This is what prompts Johnston to argue that journalists in the profession today do not discuss the real issues in America because they seem too afraid to step on any toes. Rather, they get what is called by producers “the get”, which is having some big name in for an interview and doing everything they can not to insult them so that maybe they’ll come back or some other big name will want to come and be interviewed for the fame. It’s all about the ratings and getting people to read, not really about actually educating them or trying to persuade them on serious issues in America like poverty or unemployment or something along those lines. This, Johnston claims, is the tragedy of American journalism today. That and we don’t recognize true journalism, as done by AJAM, as it should be recognized.

A lot of opinions came out through the adjectives he used. Interesting thing to be careful of; it’s not just what facts we include or don’t include that sets the bias. We don’t always know what a journalist doesn’t include, but the adjectives he uses make the bias clear. In this case, though I think it’s clear that Johnston would only include the positive things people said about AJAM and not the negative things at all. Well, he did mention that one person said AJAM was slow paced. The other person questioned the validity of the station based on it being “owned by Middle Easterners”, and if that’s not enough to make you mad I don’t know what is. It seems like that inclusion makes Americans seem closed-minded and that it’s not really AJAM’s fault for closing, but that of Americans. So in a sense, by pointing out this criticism of AJAM, Johnston is still arguing his case that AJAM is a good, reliable news station. Also being in the “opinions” section of the editorial is a pretty big signaler that this piece is highly opinionated. Not to mention the fact that this man, Johnston, is writing this piece about his employers. So taking into account who the author is would give us a clearer insight into what biases he may bring into the piece (like Gay Talese being sexist and the like) because no one can actually be totally unbiased. We all bring our personal beliefs into our pieces even on a subconscious level, so that’s something to watch out for in our own writing, whether it’s journalism or not. And even more so in this piece by Johnston because he’s writing mostly about his own experiences at his job that he loves. This, you could say, causes the piece to border on being a creative nonfiction piece, but even then the piece still has evidence to back it up and it’s not really about Johnston himself so much as it is about AJAM, though his own experiences play a key role in the piece because they establish an inside look at the organization. He is his own primary source. Still biased though.

Another interesting thing Johnston did was that after he gave his introductory paragraph which established what the piece was about, he gave his credentials. We all know that this is the technique known as Ethos which is used to get the audience to trust the writer’s word. In this case it came off slightly pompous, though. It makes sense that he would be so, though, because this amazing company he’s worked for for a long time and loves is shutting down. Anyone would be indignant at losing their job. Thus, even though giving his credentials sounds a little egotistical (or maybe that’s just how extensive it is), it does set the tone more completely for the piece, as does the introductory paragraph with the aforementioned adjectives. But what’s interesting is that he didn’t even give all of his credentials in the beginning right then and there as an information dump. Instead, he mentioned all his awards. Later, though, he slid in the fact that he’s been a journalist for 49 years, just for example.

Another thing Johnston does is he separated his article into sections. I’ve seen this done before and not done before. I kind of like it because it makes the whole piece more organized and you directly get what the journalist is trying to say before he goes into the evidence to support it. One could argue that could be done in the topic sentences, but topic sentences are just for the paragraph, not really for the entire section that has multiple paragraphs to support it (people don’t want to read a topic sentence and then a huge body paragraph. It’s better to have the section heading and then however many paragraphs you need to support it).

One final interesting thing Johnston did was he put several hyperlinks in his article. This is a good way to get people to read more because not only will it help them understand more completely what Johnston is talking about if they read what he is referencing, but it’s also a one-click-away article for people to read without having to dig through a bunch of articles to get to. I know for my piece I submitted for this class I hyperlinked an article to something about the Republican debate being canceled because of Trump. It didn’t really have anything to do with the topic of my article and I’m not really sure if anyone clicked on it and read it, but still I gave it an effort. So that’s something I’ve actually tried in my writing and I think that’s a good way to get people to read more journalism. There’s just the problem of getting people to click on them.

Was it convincing even though it was clearly an opinionated piece? It doesn’t seem to matter considering AJAM was already being canceled when he wrote it. So it’s important to think about timing when writing a journalism piece. The question of “is it too early?” never seems to come up, but something we should probably keep in mind is “is it too late?” That said, if this article had been written in time and wasn’t just a reflective piece on Johnston’s experience at AJAM then it probably would have been convincing because he paints a vivid picture of great journalists and editors losing their jobs (especially if they have backbones like they used to) and he clearly put a lot of heart into writing this piece so we can tell that it matters a whole heck of a lot to him–that journalism in general is kind of going down the drain. But even though this was a highly opinionated piece, he still slid in solid facts like how when Gay Talese wrote “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” he didn’t even meet Sinatra, which supported what he said about journalists not needing direct access to the subject to write about it. So in that respect it is convincing us to want real news that goes in-depth on social issues facing us today that so many are afraid to touch. And that real news, Johnston claims, could have come from AJAM with its diversified staff if it hadn’t been flushed away.

Even though this man David Johnston has the narcissism of Harm de Blij with the presentation of his many, many, many credentials at the beginning of the piece and then more credentials throughout the piece, leading up to the piece de resistance of talking about his finishing of the article allowing him to write a book about “a simple and effective federal tax system for the 21st century economy” not to mention his mentioning of several news organizations begging him to write for them, I still found myself convinced by him. I don’t know how, maybe it was the evidence he gave about all the recognition AJAM received over the years or maybe it was his conviction or maybe it was just the way he presented it all, but despite his personality I was still convinced that AJAM was a great news organization and the world/the nation should be sad to see it go because it was one of the last true news organizations that gave real pertinent news. Color me impressed.

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