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CoMo's DISRESPECTFUL REPORTERS: Dissing the public, missing the story

Since when is name callling part of Walter Williams' journalistic creed? 
 
COLUMBIA, 3/31/12  (Op-Ed) -- After a Columbia Daily Tribune reporter sent me questions that should have gone to someone else, I forwarded him along to other members of the group Citizens Involved and Invested in Columbia (CIVIC).
 
But no one wanted to speak with him, and a discussion ensued about the way local reporters -- many of them newbies recently graduated from Mizzou's journalism school -- treat local sources and Columbia residents.  
 
Among the concerns:  local reporters often show up disheveled and unprepared.   They solicit commentary, then write stories that disregard it.  They spend little time developing relationships with sources, and worst of all, toss in ad hoc ad hominems about people they know nothing about.  
 
The result is a broad stereotyping no editor should tolerate.  
 
Tuesday, Trib reporter Andrew Denney dismissed North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association director and Boston-educated lawyer Patricia Fowler -- one of Columbia's most eloquent public spokespersons -- as a "city hall gadfly."   Denny used the same term to describe retired pharmaceutical sales director Sid Sullivan; and attorney John Clark.
 
A "gaggle of citizens" with a "laundry list of grievances" was Missourian reporter Hannah Cushman's description of concerned people attending an Enhanced Enterprise Zone board meeting two weeks ago.    When this writer mentioned the derogatory description on the newspaper's website, Missourian city editor Scott Swafford pulled it -- at least from the website. 

"Mr. Martin and others who have criticized our use of the term 'gaggle' to characterize the group of Columbians worried about an enhanced enterprise zone are absolutely right," Swafford wrote.   "Although it certainly was not our intention to be demeaning or dismissive of these residents or their concerns, it sure came off that way.  That's why we removed the term from the story."  
 
"Gadflies," "usual suspects," and other pejoratives issue with uncomfortable frequency from the pens of local journalists, who ought to step off their ivory pedestals for a moment and re-read the famous Journalist's Creed.   
 
The creed's author, Walter Williams, founded the Missouri School of Journalism and is widely considered the father of modern reporting.  He urged that journalism was a "public trust" and that "a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true."  
 
One hopes our local reporters don't hold these derogatory notions about the public true to their hearts.   If they do, they will never be effective journalists. 
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