Biased truth about objectivity
Someone ratted on me.This dude wrote a letter to the editor of one of the publications I’ve been freelancing for and accused me of finagling a free pass from the Skico in exchange for a story I wrote about Aspen. My editor said they could not verify the identity of the person who wrote the letter, which means the chicken butt used a pseudonym. Whether I paid double full retail for my pass or gave one of the higher-ups a B.J. for a half-day lift ticket really isn’t the point. As far as said publication is concerned, it’s about ethics. As you might imagine, ethics is not a topic with which I am very familiar. The whole deal with reporting for newspapers is you’re supposed to be objective. They really believe it’s possible to tell the unbiased truth, or at least some version of it.But I come from the magazine biz, and the publications I worked for didn’t make any attempt to even feign objectivity. Forget about quality journalism or objective reporting. They wanted to sell ads. As a magazine journalist, “comp” was my middle name. I was wined and dined and flown around and put in the best hotel rooms and offered free spa treatments. There was always a glass of wine and a fruit basket upon arrival with a nice note welcoming me and informing me of all the ways I would be spoiled during my stay. Boxes of free gear often appeared on my doorstep unsolicited, sometimes by FedEx. My magazine editors applauded my ability to drum up free stuff. The words “small budget” never deterred me from getting that cherished assignment. “No” did not mean “no.” It meant “go bark up someone else’s tree and report back to me when they give you the money.”Just recently I did a piece for a magazine that sent me a list of sources they “recommended” I use for the story. Turns out I was required to use all of them. “They are our advertisers,” the editor said. “If you don’t use them all, someone is going to get really mad at us and pull their ads.” Never mind that none of them wanted to call me back and made me miss the deadline.A few weeks ago I got a gig writing daily coverage of snowboarding during the X Games for expn.com, the event’s official website. I’m supposed to provide these “notes and quotes” that give readers a sense of the atmosphere and personality of the event. So I do my thing and call it like I see it.I overheard the commentator, Tina Dixon, ask someone if she looked fat. I thought it was sort of cute and funny since it’s pretty damn obvious to me that Dixon is the furthest thing from fat. She’s actually quite thin and has that long, straight blond hair I would kill for. She also happens to be married to Rob Campbell, the former editor of Snowboarder magazine, who has to be one of the coolest, most adorable men I have ever met in my life. You would think the girl might have a sense of humor about herself, considering she’s got it all, but nooooo. Her agent called my editors at expn.com and made them pull the quote off the website. “I was too tired to argue with her,” my editor said. “So we took it down.” The next day I wrote a story about the women’s superpipe snowboarding finals, which frankly was a total bore without the top athletes who pulled out at the last minute to save their energy for the Olympics. I compared it to a junior varsity soccer game back in high school. Sure, they’re all sweet, enthusiastic and full of potential. But they’re just not that good … yet.So I go into the production trailer and my other editor looks at me over his fancy-pants red-rimmed glasses and says, “Um, yeah. Well, you know. Here’s the thing. See.” I was struggling so hard not to roll my eyes that it physically hurt the muscles behind my lids. “It is our event. I mean, we do own it, so we do have to make it sound … good.”So I go from accused of being too biased to not being biased enough.Ever since Mr. Snitch or whoever the hell this person is started messing with my scene, I’ve been doing a little investigative journalism of my own. One friend of mine who owns a public relations firm told me she knows tons of journalists who accept free press trips and then do stories for more than one media outlet so they can blur the question about who pays (or who doesn’t pay, as the case may be). Another friend who used to work in the marketing department of a ski area told me she has “sold” ski passes to prominent journalists for a couple hundred dollars so they can say they paid for it. (Who pays for their ski pass and who doesn’t is not public record.)And it seems like ever since this happened to me I’ve been offered more free trips, free gear and more schmoozing opportunities than I have in years; and I’ve turned them all down. “But I already ordered a brand new GORE-TEX Marmot jacket in your size,” one publicist cooed. “Are you sure you don’t want to go on an all-expenses paid trip to go snorkeling in Belize?” another chided.I don’t want any part of any of it. At this point, my understanding of what it means to be a journalist is convoluted at best. Suffice it to say it’s in a million little pieces. Strange or not, I’d rather tell the truth the safe way and call it fiction.The Princess had a dream she murdered Jessica Simpson, and she is trying to cut back on reading so many celebrity tabloid magazines before she goes to bed. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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