It’s probably because you suck

Nobody has ever read an Objective newspaper. If I bother to say this to a journalist, he inevitably froths at the mouth before rebutting:

“You’re only saying that because you’re a socialist.”

Everyone says it, I reply. Leftists, Centrists, Rightists.

“Exactly! Everyone criticizes us. That shows that we’re fair.”

Actually, if everyone hates you, it’s probably not because you’re fair. It’s probably because you suck.

The propagation of the mythical notion of Journalistic Objectivity should be understood as an advertising ploy. Remember that the News Media deals in information, which, before the Digital Revolution, was mostly scarce. To gain their audiences, outlets needed to distinguish their information from their competitors’.

The New York Times cites its relevancy (“All the news that’s fit to print”). Fox pretends it’s fair and balanced. Others play up their speed, the usefulness of their news, the reputations of their contributors and so on.

These are exactly the kind of claims you would expect from information peddlers seeking bigger audiences. When a newspaper says it’s Objective, it’s saying that it contains the Truth. Its reporters and editors are therefore trained professionals in the field of Truth. And they should not be troubled with the irrelevant objections of its Truth-deficient audience. The lay public, you see, will inevitably lapse into undisciplined, subjective thinking.

Fortunately, we get the last laugh. Newspapers are dying. The Internet has democratized Information, and now the public – armed with free publishing – does its own reporting, fact checking and analyzing. It’s foolish to believe the NYT has exclusive access to the Truth when we can read every day about its oversights and misjudgments.

Yes, the reporter and the editor produce articles in accord with professional principles, but those articles are also shaped by imprecise things like intuition, timing, and space restrictions.

News stories aren’t immaculate conceptions. They are subjective interpretations. Like yours. Like mine.

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Flickr photo by rabbleradio

10 Comments

  1. Ian

    From wikipedia:

    “A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.”

    And LOL at: “The Internet has democratized Information, and now the public – armed with free publishing – does its own reporting, fact checking and analyzing.”

    At least newspapers have some general standards of quality. I wouldn’t call 95% of what’s in blogs news that would be “fit to print”. All the internet has done is give every idiot the ability to feel their opinion is worth as much as the next guys. That is true to some extent. Here’s the newsflash: Everyone’s opinion is worth crap, including mine, including yours. Newspapers perform a function beyond simple spread of information. In general that information is supposed to be fact checked and reliable with some standard of quality. A newspaper is supposed to have integrity and be trustworthy. At least when a newspaper screws up, we know who to blame and we can cancel a subscription.

  2. Clint

    “At least newspapers have some general standards of quality. I wouldn’t call 95% of what’s in blogs news that would be “fit to print”.”

    Maybe not, but there are 5% that have excellent writing. It’s easy to read Klein, Greenwald, Yglesias, etc. and skip the ones you don’t like.

    It seems perfectly conceivable that bloggers will have their own quality standards in the near future. There are already movements underway to “unionize” blogs (at least on the Left).

    “All the internet has done is give every idiot the ability to feel their opinion is worth as much as the next guys.”

    That’s a lot better than the alternative — a couple of idiots who feel their opinions are better than everyone else’s. (Ever read Thomas Friedman? Good God.)

    “Everyone’s opinion is worth crap, including mine, including yours.”

    I mean, maybe everyone else’s, but mine??

    “In general that information is supposed to be fact checked and reliable with some standard of quality.”

    That can be true on blogs, especially if they have good transparency (like Wiki does with its sources).

    “A newspaper is supposed to have integrity and be trustworthy.”

    What they should do and what they actually do often have little in common.

  3. Ian

    For every wikipedia, there is a conservapedia.

  4. Clint

    Heh.

  5. Jordan M

    Most blogs (such as ours) are based off linking to and commenting on news stories as they are reported. I do think there are some ‘citizen journalists’ out there that can take on topics and do a good deal of business in regards to depth. There are also those that liveblog from conventions or the press room in Congress and elsewhere. I would have to say that unless those people are finding a way to get paid for it then it’s very doubtful we will see real reportage from such bloggers.

    What blogging did was make the informational less hierarchical and able to be commented on and disseminated in real time. Before we were told by what was on the front page what the news was – now, we’re able to cobble together from stats and interlinking what people care about.

    I think in the near future we will be making a distinction between news and reportage. The news, as it stands now, is a shallow medium, telling you what happened where when. It’s immediate and current. Reportage will depend on going further into depth on a story and linking it up with concepts and ideas from other places. That’s where the hard work and thinking lay and the ability to present all sides of an argument. The wires will be fine as they have local, cheap stringers to help report the news. The real gifts (and hopefully acceptable pay) will be in those who can create a renaissance for long-form journalism.

    The sad thing is that all of it is trumped by celebrity news and gossip. Notice how Michael Jackson’s death overruled the street protests in Iran. Television news is disparagingly yet, IMHO, accurately called infotainment. The new reality is not people on the internet chattering away about a news topic, but the news topics that they are chattering away about.

    But that’s just by biased opinion.

  6. Ian

    “The sad thing is that all of it is trumped by celebrity news and gossip. Notice how Michael Jackson’s death overruled the street protests in Iran. Television news is disparagingly yet, IMHO, accurately called infotainment. The new reality is not people on the internet chattering away about a news topic, but the news topics that they are chattering away about.”

    Please tell me why this is sad? This is specifically what Clint is arguing in favor of. It IS the democratization of information. People are getting to talk about what they want to talk about. The news is only reporting on what the people want to see.

  7. Levi

    The lack of rigorous evidence and argumentation against journalistic objectivity presented by “media commentators” means what? It’s not that hard to provide evidence that newspapers do not provide adequate coverage. FAIR, despite their numerous faults, does a bit of quality work in this regard. If you want to make your case stronger, then present that. Rather than frothing with self-righteousness, present hard evidence. I do not doubt that the data exists, but it certainly isn’t presented here. It’s hard to do this, but to be cliché and use a quote, “…there are too many idiots in this world. And having said it, I have the burden of proving it.” – Frantz Fanon; Black skin, white masks, p. 7.

    It does seem odd when non-mainstream advocates spend more time complaining about the unfairness of the media. As if the mere presentation of the unfiltered truth would convince the masses. This has never been the case nor will it ever be.

  8. Diane DP

    We just canceled our news paper delivery after 19 year.
    Why?
    1. After Dr. Tiller was murdered, they ran a cartoon which treated it like it was a joke. They got a lot of criticism for that.
    2. After Bill Clinton went to Korea to free 2 American journalists, they ran a cartoon that insinuated that he did it so he could undress the women.

    The spelling errors were atrocious. In this day of spell check this was inexcusable. When I spoke with the Editor his only comment was, OK.

    OK? When your newspaper is dying a slow death? The circulation desk was more upset that we were canceling.

  9. Clint

    “It’s not that hard to provide evidence that newspapers do not provide adequate coverage. FAIR, despite their numerous faults, does a bit of quality work in this regard. If you want to make your case stronger, then present that. Rather than frothing with self-righteousness, present hard evidence.”

    I try to point it out when it occurs. I could have run through some examples in this post, but that seems needless and tedious considering the body of evidence already available out there at FAIR, MediaLens, Salon and on this blog.

    This is more about the (worthless) philosophical basis for Objective journalism.

  10. Ian

    This is all about Clint telling reporters they suck, assuming they actually read this (worthless) post.