It’s time to hold a lazy journalist to account.
Readers of my column know that journalists never give payday lending a fair shake. Well, maybe one percent are fair. The other 99% are like the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Sheryl Harris. She decides she doesn’t like payday loans, examines the issue from one side only, gets indignant, and decides to devote her life to bringing down this important credit choice – even though doing so harms consumers she purports to “protect”.
I usually write to the “journalist”, and politely point out where they are wrong, and that they really should provide balance, and suggest we have a constructive dialogue on the issue – you know, so they can provide journalistic balance to their story. They usually say they “don’t have the time”. This strikes me as disingenuous, as they appear to have plenty of time to examine one side of an issue, report on it, and then refuse to be held to account.
Not any more.
I wrote to Harris and told her, “I am challenging you to answer the following questions. If you are confident you have support for your position, you’ll have no trouble answering them. However, not a single journalist has ever had to courage to step up and I think we both know the reasons why. So prove me wrong. Defend your position. The public deserves a comprehensive and balanced examination of the issue, and you are a part of that process. I offer to answer any questions you may have in response in order to form a constructive dialogue”.
Her reply: “I just don’t have the time for extended one-on-one debates, so my columns will have to speak for themselves.”
I’m not sure which subtext comes through more powerfully – her arrogance or her cowardice.
You’d think that, purely out of journalistic responsibility, she’d want to get the facts. Because last I heard, journalists are supposed to deal in facts. Unless she actually doesn’t. Maybe she doesn’t want to hear the facts because they are contrary to what she’s been writing about for months on end, and will look like a fool or worse – like a “journalist” who didn’t do her job. Worse, she might find that she was so totally misguided that she’ll look completely ignorant about the topic.
So today I’m going to start a series about Sheryl Harris and payday loans. It’s an open-ended series. I figure if she can write dozens of articles about payday loans, leveling unilateral accusations at the product and never feel she has to defend her position, then I will do her job for her.
I want to emphasize that this is as much about educating the public, and other journalists, about payday lending as it is about Harris’ lack of journalistic integrity.
The first question I asked Harris, and that she refused to answer is: “Have you ever visited a payday loan store, and interviewed customers and/or lenders?”
I believe Harris’ answer would be : “No, I have never once visited a payday loan store. I have never spent any time in a store and talked to a wide range of customers, in order to hear the complete range of experiences. Therefore, I have never spoken to any customer who has had good experiences. I have never spoken to any lenders. I have no actual real-world experience with payday lenders or their customers. I have not done my job as a journalist”.
That’s okay, Sheryl. I’m doing it for you.
Have you had a good experience with payday loans? Why not tell Sheryl Harris?
You can write her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or tweet your feelings to her: @consumerwriter
Why not tell her editor to provide balanced coverage: