What does it take to be a journalist? A former Republican gubernatorial candidate is ready to find out.
As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, a move from politics to journalism on WVNY Channel 22 raises some questions in the fourth estate.
Ruth Dwyer, television reporter. Your reaction to that statement may depend on your politics. As a legislator and candidate for governor, Dwyer’s job was to express her views. Her new job requires her to set aside her personal opinions. Dwyer says she knows some people will be skeptical, but she’s prepared to do that.
(Dwyer) “It’s pretty hard to be biased. You have to remember that I’m not writing commentary here. All I’m doing is asking questions and letting people tell their story.”
Dwyer’s program is called “A Hard Look with Ruth Dwyer.” She’ll cover issues like education, health care and the environment. A team of producers, editors and writers will help Dwyer prepare a series of three or four minute reports on each topic. She’ll do the interviewing. Dwyer says supporters and detractors who tune in expecting to hear her views will be disappointed.
(Dwyer) “I would hope that the stories and the people that we’re interviewing are so interesting that they forget about Ruth Dwyer.”
Marselis Parsons is the news director of WCAX TV in Burlington, one of WVNY’s competitors. Parsons says it won’t be easy for viewers and the people she interviews to forget about Ruth Dwyer the politician.
(Parsons) “We know right away what Ruth Dwyer’s politics are and that’s going to prejudice the answers, I think, of the people she interviews, and it’s certain going to prejudice it in the viewers eyes.”
Parsons says he doesn’t like it when people travel back and forth between journalism and politics.
(Parsons) “Reporters have a tough enough time, professing, proclaiming and maintaining their impartiality. And here comes a politician, whether it’s Ruth Dwyer or someone else, who’s perceived by the public in a certain way. The reporter becomes part of the story and that’s not the reporter’s job.”
Dwyer’s first report airs January 31. That’s the beginning of an important ratings period for television. Parsons says hiring Dwyer is less about news than it is about ratings.
(Parsons) “It’s an economic gimmick to get ratings”
Larry Delia is General Manager of WVNY. Delia says Dwyer has a grasp of issues that qualifies her for the job. And he hopes she’ll bring in viewers and boost ratings, too.
(Delia) “We want the issues to be seen. We felt that somebody like Ruth could help us not only delve into it, but really bring people to the issues and to watch it.”
Delia says so far the response to Dwyer’s hiring has been positive, both from viewers and the people she’s interviewed. Dwyer says she’s had to study up on the issues. For a long time after the election she steered clear of the news. She has no plans to reenter politics.
(Dwyer) “Didn’t look at a paper, didn’t look at local news, didn’t look at national news until September 11Â¿ . I just sort of got away from it and I don’t have any desire to get back into it.”
Dwyer says she doesn’t expect her job will include interviewing Governor Howard Dean who defeated her in the 2000 general election.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.