This weekend's column: Journalism's new minefields ...
Published: November 18, 2011 05:58PM
Updated: November 18, 2011 05:58PM

"The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
Oscar Wilde

The president of the Deseret News had members of the Utah Legislature to breakfast. And they had him for lunch.

Our lawmakers clearly have a lot of problems with the way the Fourth Estate has covered public affairs. But a few of them were heard to unload on Deseret News President and CEO Clark Gilbert the other day over Gilbert’s attempts to experiment on them, and the public at large, by farming some of his operations out to amateurs.

In defense of the D-News, though, there is going to be a whole lot of experimenting going on in the news business in the coming months and years. The LDS Church-owned newspaper has just wandered a little further, a little faster, out into that minefield, and its loss of a couple of toes is something that all of us, purveyors and consumers of journalism, should examine.

Legislators Gilbert had invited to hear about the wonders of the company’s new citizen journalism initiative had already read how the paper had been hornswoggled into running articles about goings-on in West Valley City that were written by WVC Mayor Mike Winder under an assumed name/email/Facebook.

They didn’t like the idea that the Deseret News was either going to stop covering many public agencies — which was Winder’s beef — or publish pieces from writers who might be out to grind personal axes in the guise of news coverage — which was Winder’s attempt at a solution.

Gilbert’s reply was that, despite one well-publicized failure caused by someone deliberately misleading his editors, his new model is better than what he called “cynical, negative, skeptical journalism.”

Ahem. A little skepticism might have saved the newspaper, and the mayor, a lot of grief.

At the same time, though, a little more open-source journalism could have brought to the public’s attention that, oh, I don’t know, Saddam Hussein didn’t have any nukes. That the AAA ratings for securitized subprime mortgages were a deliberate fiction. That the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control was a corrupt hive of nepotism and bid-rigging. And done it in time for someone to do something about it.

Meanwhile, The New York Times recently ran an interview with John Paton, head of Digital First Media and newly named CEO of MediaNews Group, which just happens to own this newspaper, website, iPad application, etc., etc. He sees a day, soon, when the mainstream media content will be one third the work of local professional journalists, one third from centralized and aggregated sources and one third contributed by readers.

He probably didn’t think he had to specify readers using their real names.

A short answer to this complicated mess is a new journalistic mantra, offered recently by visiting expert Mark Jurkowitz at a panel discussion in Salt Lake City that included Clark Gilbert: “Transparency is the new objectivity.”

By all means, open the multiverse of journalistic endeavors to more people, with different areas of expertise. That’s old hat for opinion pages, after all.

Hire Elizabeth Smart to report for ABC on the dangers faced by innocent children. Hire Chelsea Clinton to report for NBC on people who are “Making a Difference.”

Encourage journalists who know their beats backwards and forwards to tell us their conclusions, not just their observations. Don’t make NPR and the BBC trim their sails out of fear that telling us what they know will cost them taxpayer support.

Publish a church-owned newspaper openly devoted to promoting values and causes.

Just don’t do any of it with hidden agendas. Or under assumed names.

• George Pyle (you think he’d make up a name like that?) is a Tribune editorial writer. Email: gpyle@sltrib.com. Twitter: @debatestate.

• Tip o' the propeller beanie to Jay Rosen, journalism prof at NYU, master of PressThink.org and advisor to Digital First Media, for tips leading to some of the above links.