Ingrassia: Journalists need to protect their objectivity and independence

Posted By Student Newsroom on Sunday April 30, 2017

By Mindy Tan and Hannah Levitt
Medill News Service

News organizations need to protect journalism’s objectivity and independence, said Lawrence Ingrassia, the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, at the Best in Business Awards Dinner of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers spring convention in Seattle.

Ingrassia was on stage to receive the SABEW Distinguished Achievement Award for 2017, an award that is given to an individual who has made a significant impact on the field of business journalism and who has served as a nurturing influence on others in the profession.

Lawrence Ingrassia, the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, doing a question-and-answer with Dean Murphy, the associate editor at The New York Times.

Lawrence Ingrassia, the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, doing a question-and-answer session with Dean Murphy, the associate editor at The New York Times.

Business journalists must anticipate major issues, such as automation and digital security, and educate the public on them, said Ingrassia during a question-and-answer period with Dean Murphy, associate editor at The New York Times. 

Murphy asked Ingrassia to comment on one theme that emerged at the conference: that today’s journalists must work together with advertising and product teams to achieve digital innovation.

“You’ve got to protect the journalism … you’ve got to have stuff that readers value. It’s the job of senior editors to worry about what the products are and where the goals should be because I don’t want my journalists to worry too much about ideas, or monetizing what they are doing,” said Ingrassia.

“Once you start blurring the lines between the journalism and the commercial, you’ve had it,” he said.

Ingrassia also addressed the future of journalism.

“People have said video is the answer; they have said podcasts are the answer. We’ve gone through this whole Rolodex of answers without having a single answer. I think we have to stop thinking there is one single answer, and recognize that it is going to be a bunch of different answers,” Ingrassia said.

This is dependent on each media organization’s analysis of who their readers are and how the organization can add value, he said.

Murphy asked Ingrassia to do what he asks of his journalists: look around the corner and predict what will be the most important emerging trends. Ingrassia pointed to two potential trends — the rapid automation of workplaces and cybersecurity.

“We’re very good at covering things in the moment. Sometimes that means we’re missing what led up to that moment,” Ingrassia said. “When you look back, what are you going to say what was the thing that was really important, what really changed things dramatically? I think if you do that you might be able to anticipate, and get out ahead and tell those stories.”

One of the ways to do this is linking up with research institutions and universities where cutting edge research is being done, he said.

Ingrassia also tackled the question of how journalists should cover President Donald Trump, a followup to a panel discussion held on Friday.

“The best way is to try to go at the story hard but ask yourself: ‘Would I go at it just as  hard if it was somebody else? Would I hold that person to the same level of accountability? How would I write about it from that perspective? Related to that, what is the context? Trump has done ‘x’ but what happened in the last three administrations?’”

He also warned journalists about showing bias in their social media feeds, such as Facebook and Twitter.

“When I look at tweets by a lot of journalists, they have such a strong point of view, so when I read what they write, I can’t be sure” about their objectivity, Ingrassia said.

Henry Dubroff, editor and owner of the Pacific Coast Business Times, said Ingrassia’s critique of business journalism was “worth noting and paying attention to.”

“That business of seeing around the corner is important and I think it really means we need to recalibrate what we are doing and pay attention to the bigger things that are happening in society,” he said.

Prior to joining the Los Angeles Times, Ingrassia was the business editor and later deputy managing editor for new initiatives at The New York Times. He previously worked at The Wall Street Journal for 25 years, starting as a reporter in 1978 in the newspaper’s Chicago bureau, then working in various reporting and editing jobs in Minneapolis, London, Boston and New York, before eventually becoming an assistant managing editor.

Separately, SABEW announced that Mark Hamrick, its incoming president, is creating a SABEW First Amendment Committee. Hamrick said the committee will go beyond arguing for access and fight for issues specific to business journalists. The committee will be led by Cory Schouten, the outgoing president of SABEW.

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