Posts tagged with ‘objectivity’

In fact, that’s one of the biggest problems we’ve got in how folks report about Washington right now, because I think journalists rightly value the appearance of impartiality and objectivity. And so the default position for reporting is to say, “A plague on both their houses.” On almost every issue, it’s, “Well, Democrats and Republicans can’t agree” — as opposed to looking at why is it that they can’t agree. Who exactly is preventing us from agreeing?

Barack Obama in an exclusive interview with The New Republic, (which was redesigned and relaunched today). Worth the read. Of course, some interpreted and reported Obama’s comments as purely an attack on Fox. We recommend instead, that you read Poynter’s summary and context.

I don’t want to totally lump reporters and pundits in together, right? It’s kind of venial sins versus cardinal sins basically — right? — where reporting is very, very important and journalism is very, very important, and there are some things about campaign coverage that I might critique. Whereas punditry is fundamentally useless.

— Nate Silver, at a Google event in Washington D.C. Wednesday night.

H/T: Poynter, HuffPo.

Since the politically unengaged were not “sufficiently politically equipped to guide their judgments and actions by self-organized mature knowledge, the news article reinforcing political participation exerted profound pervasive impact on their behavioral intent,” the research concluded.

A new experimental study from Sungkyunkwan University finds that opinionated journalism boosts civic engagement. For those already political engaged, however, objective reporting was motivational.

Read through it here

(via Techcrunch)

Should journalists be allowed to have opinions? If so, when and where — and how — should they be allowed to express them? Such questions have been a thorn in the side of the traditional media industry almost since the web was invented, and they have become even more irksome now that Twitter and Facebook and blogs give everyone the ability to publish with the click of a button. Although it involved an open microphone rather than social media, the latest example of a journalist being fired for making an offhand comment is Yahoo’s former Washington Bureau chief David Chalian, who was dismissed for a remark he made about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But social media or not, the underlying question remains the same: why are we trying to pretend that journalists of any stripe are emotionless robots?

Matthew Ingram, GigaOm. Why can’t we just admit that journalists are human?.

Ingram argues that the more we know of a journalist’s opinions, the better: “We need to encourage more transparency rather than less, because there are so many sources of information now that the old “journalist as impartial oracle” approach, or what Jay Rosen calls the “View From Nowhere,” simply no longer works (and was a fiction in any case).”

Meme/Circa leader Ben Huh gets asked about the truth, speaks honestly
Recently, when asked about whether there should be standards for credibility in the news (and online), Huh made his thoughts very clear —

Huh: I disagree. I totally, absolutely, positively, wholeheartedly, absolutely disagree.
[Adrienne] LaFrance: All right, let’s hear it.
Huh: I think — among entrepreneurs, too — there’s an idealistic notion that there is a truth, a singular one truth. Among journalists, there is “the truth,” slightly liberal, slightly populist, but most of the time it’s “We’re the truth.” If you ask the people who watch Fox News who is credible, they’ll tell you Bill O’Reilly is credible. Maybe I disagree. Maybe I believe that he stretches truths a lot, but the fact of the matter is, it’s human biology to seek out shared perspective.
Creating a singular measure of credibility is a slippery slope to censorship. Like, “Oh, these people are not credible, so maybe we should all act in concert to not print their things,” or discard them. The world’s greatest ideas come from the crazies, the people on the fringe. For a while, they’re not credible, but then one day they are. So that’s a very, very dangerous idea. It smacks of centralized mind-control to me. And I’m probably extrapolating from what he’s saying really to the extreme, and I’m sure there are good ideas, but a universal credibility measure? Even if they could create such a thing, why would you? It’s very Orwellian. I don’t like that idea at all.

Huh went on to say that just stating the facts isn’t a viable alternative, and neither is any facade of objectivity. What’s his solution, then? He doesn’t know yet, but one thing he likes is the blogger spirit.
When asked about who he thinks does it right, Huh said the following:

Well, there’s not a specific person but you saw people debunking the birther movement. You had the newspapers who were just banging their heads against one another but then you had bloggers asking really interesting questions, explaining that, “You know what, this is actually how it works in Hawaii with a birth certificate.”
This is the part about being organic. The future of journalism is going to come in from some place really strange. I don’t think we have technology or the platform or the social consciousness, actually, to recognize that that’s the future of journalism. We think that the future will look linearly similar to today, because for the last 100 years, it kind of did before. But it won’t.

See Huh’s new and uncertain news project, Circa, here.
Photo: John Keatley

Meme/Circa leader Ben Huh gets asked about the truth, speaks honestly

Recently, when asked about whether there should be standards for credibility in the news (and online), Huh made his thoughts very clear —

Huh: I disagree. I totally, absolutely, positively, wholeheartedly, absolutely disagree.

[Adrienne] LaFrance: All right, let’s hear it.

Huh: I think — among entrepreneurs, too — there’s an idealistic notion that there is a truth, a singular one truth. Among journalists, there is “the truth,” slightly liberal, slightly populist, but most of the time it’s “We’re the truth.” If you ask the people who watch Fox News who is credible, they’ll tell you Bill O’Reilly is credible. Maybe I disagree. Maybe I believe that he stretches truths a lot, but the fact of the matter is, it’s human biology to seek out shared perspective.

Creating a singular measure of credibility is a slippery slope to censorship. Like, “Oh, these people are not credible, so maybe we should all act in concert to not print their things,” or discard them. The world’s greatest ideas come from the crazies, the people on the fringe. For a while, they’re not credible, but then one day they are. So that’s a very, very dangerous idea. It smacks of centralized mind-control to me. And I’m probably extrapolating from what he’s saying really to the extreme, and I’m sure there are good ideas, but a universal credibility measure? Even if they could create such a thing, why would you? It’s very Orwellian. I don’t like that idea at all.

Huh went on to say that just stating the facts isn’t a viable alternative, and neither is any facade of objectivity. What’s his solution, then? He doesn’t know yet, but one thing he likes is the blogger spirit.

When asked about who he thinks does it right, Huh said the following:

Well, there’s not a specific person but you saw people debunking the birther movement. You had the newspapers who were just banging their heads against one another but then you had bloggers asking really interesting questions, explaining that, “You know what, this is actually how it works in Hawaii with a birth certificate.”

This is the part about being organic. The future of journalism is going to come in from some place really strange. I don’t think we have technology or the platform or the social consciousness, actually, to recognize that that’s the future of journalism. We think that the future will look linearly similar to today, because for the last 100 years, it kind of did before. But it won’t.

See Huh’s new and uncertain news project, Circa, here.

Photo: John Keatley

Something happened in our press over the last 40 years or so that never got acknowledged and to this day would be denied by a majority of newsroom professionals. Somewhere along the way, truthtelling was surpassed by other priorities the mainstream press felt a stronger duty to. These include such things as “maintaining objectivity,” “not imposing a judgment,” “refusing to take sides” and sticking to what I have called the View from Nowhere.

No one knows exactly how it happened, for it’s not like a policy decision came down at some point. Rather, the drift of professional practice over time was to bracket, or suspend sharp questions of truth and falsehood in order to avoid charges of bias, or excessive editorializing. Journalists felt better, safer, on firmer professional ground–more like pros–when they stopped short of reporting substantially untrue statements as false. One way to describe it (and I believe this is the correct way) is that truthtelling moved down the list of newsroom priorities. Other things now ranked ahead of it.

One of the biggest complaints readers have about my work is that I don’t tell them often enough what they can do. I do think this is an area where journalism sometimes falls short. We describe a really grim situation but don’t really explain to people what they can do about it. So, a few years ago I started doing a year-end list of amazing charities. The first time, I had real anxiety about whether it was appropriate. But the response was so overwhelming, it seemed to be a real service to readers and I’ve continued to do it. It also happens when I’m not especially encouraging people to give. For instance, a few months ago I profiled a group called Room to Read and I later learned they raised $700,000 as a result of people hearing about them from my column.

— New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in an interview with Fast Company. Journalism In A Digital World And The Age Of Activism.

mybodywasntready-deactivated201 asked: RE: latest post. But isn't this just an excuse to bash NPR for not automatically supporting abortion? Surely they would be criticized for doing the opposite! The "view from nowhere" frustrates me too, but I also don't believe it's NPR's job to take sides in every story.; merely to add context to why the centers are being opposed. Maybe they didn't do the best job in this case. But it wouldn't it be worse for journalists to assume there is an absolute truth?

Thanks for writing in. You make some good points but I think you are misreading, or overreading, what Jay wrote.

He does not ask for NPR to come down on either side of the abortion debates. What he does say, and believes listeners deserve an answer to, is who has more truth on their side with this specific piece of Kansas legislation.

Listen (emphasis ours):

My complaint is not the usual one that you probably get: biased reporting. No. This is he said, she said reporting, one of the lowest forms of journalism in existence, in which the NPR reporter washes her hands of determining what is true. The new Kansas regulations may be a form of harassment, intended to make life as difficult as possible for abortion providers in that state. Or, alternatively, these rules may be sane, rational, common sense, sound policy: just normal rule-making by responsible public officials.

According to this report, NPR has no idea who is right. It cannot provide listeners with any help in sorting through such a dramatic conflict in truth claims. It knows of no way to adjudicate these clashing views. It is simply confused and helpless and the best it can do is pass on that helplessness to listeners of “Morning Edition.” Because there is just no way to know whether these new rules try to make life as difficult as possible for abortion providers, or put common sense public policy goals into practice in Kansas. There is no standard by which to judge. There is no comparison that would help. There is no act of reporting that can tell us who has more of the truth on their side. In a word, there is nothing NPR can do!  And so a good professional simply passes the conflict along. Excellent: Now the listeners can be as confused as the journalists.

You are correct that journalists and journalism don’t have a priestly hold on capital “T” Truth. Nor would we want it.

But Jay’s critique isn’t about that. It’s about the truth of demonstrable ideas and policies. There’s a difference here.

jayrosen:

Journalists Washing Their Hands of the Truth.

NPR goes all “He Said, She Said” on us. Do they really think that fools anyone?

The audio clip (3:42) is an NPR report about a new set of regulations for abortion clinics that the state of Kansas has tried to put in place. They are currently suspended because of a lawsuit. Among other provisions, the new rules say that procedure rooms must be at least 150 square feet and that storage areas for “janitorial supplies and equipment” must be at least 50 square feet per procedure room. Reuters: “The new law sets minimum sizes for surgery and recovery rooms, has room temperature range parameters for each room, and sets broader equipment and staffing rules.”

Ready for the he said?… In the NPR report, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President and CEO Peter Brownlie says ”[The] regulations are riddled with requirements which do nothing to improve the safety and health of women, make it more difficult for women to obtain a service they need and to which they are legally entitled.”

And now for the she said…. But several groups that oppose abortion say the regulations are common sense and necessary. Cheryl Sullenger with Operation Rescue asked the state to consider 2,500 pages of documents that detail what she descibes as abuses across the country. “If abortion clinics close, then that is for the protection of the public. It’s a good thing…”

Which is only one of several examples in the report. Here’s the complaint I sent to the NPR ombudsman about this method of hand-washing.

I would like the ombudsman to listen to this story because I have a complaint about it. My complaint is not the usual one that you probably get: biased reporting. No. This is he said, she said reporting, one of the lowest forms of journalism in existence, in which the NPR reporter washes her hands of determining what is true. The new Kansas regulations may be a form of harassment, intended to make life as difficult as possible for abortion providers in that state. Or, alternatively, these rules may be sane, rational, common sense, sound policy: just normal rule-making by responsible public officials.

According to this report, NPR has no idea who is right. It cannot provide listeners with any help in sorting through such a dramatic conflict in truth claims. It knows of no way to adjudicate these clashing views. It is simply confused and helpless and the best it can do is pass on that helplessness to listeners of “Morning Edition.” Because there is just no way to know whether these new rules try to make life as difficult as possible for abortion providers, or put common sense public policy goals into practice in Kansas. There is no standard by which to judge. There is no comparison that would help. There is no act of reporting that can tell us who has more of the truth on their side. In a word, there is nothing NPR can do!  And so a good professional simply passes the conflict along. Excellent: Now the listeners can be as confused as the journalists.

It is obvious to me that there’s something else going on here. NPR has, in this case, allowed its desire to escape criticism to overwhelm its journalistic imagination.  ”He said, she said” does not serve listeners. It tries to shield NPR from another round of bias attacks.  That’s putting your needs—for political refuge—ahead of mine as a listener. I don’t appreciate it. It makes me trust you less. And one more thing, a little lesson in realism. They’re going to attack you anyway, and crow in triumph when your CEO is forced out by those attacks. Ultimately there is no refuge, so you might as well do good journalism. 

I think journalists in the mainstream media are largely unaware of how many people are catching on to “he said, she said.” They still think of it as the best way to be trusted when things are dispute, but little by little it’s becoming the opposite: a reason for active mistrust. That’s why I wrote the ombudsman. I want him to know about this shift. And push back against this shit.

UPDATE: Over Twitter, the NPR ombudsman says he will look into it, though he doubts that he said, she said reporting is the lowest form of journalism. Of course, I didn’t say it was the lowest. I said it’s one of the lowest.

FJP: Journalism programs generally drill into their students that “objectivity” is the golden rule. As Rosen points out though, this prevents journalists from calling a spade a spade as they perpetually search for a response “from the other side.”

Rosen calls such reporting “the view from nowhere,” which, in an interview he conducted with himself he writes:

In pro journalism, American style, the View from Nowhere is a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer. Frequently it places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position “impartial.” Second, it’s a means of defense against a style of criticism that is fully anticipated: charges of bias originating in partisan politics and the two-party system. Third: it’s an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view. American journalists have almost a lust for the View from Nowhere because they think it has more authority than any other possible stance. 

We believe doing a proper newscast and telling the story correctly, great storytelling in the tradition of 60 Minutes, are the kind of things that are going to bring in a wide, wide section of the public. Every single day we get together and ask, ‘What are the most important things that happened in the world today? How can we cover them? How can we tell the story and give it a unique insight?’ Those are the standards we use. We do not sit around asking ourselves, ‘Is this going to appeal to a 19-year-old?’ or, ‘Is that going to appeal to a woman?’ We are covering the news.

Scott Pelley, CBS News, Journalism holds up a mirror, tells us the facts

The newest addition to the CBS evening news offers his opinion of how the news should be. While other networks gravitates toward opposing extremes, Pelley aims for the middle where objectivity, fairness and accuracy lie.

First, we should redefine, not abandon, objectivity as one of the principles that define responsible journalism. Second, we should develop ethical guidelines for specific forms of new media — guidelines that are consistent with general principles such as truth-telling.

Does new media require a new definition of objectivity? In this article, Stephan Ward argues that, yes, it does. Ward suggests that in order for ethics to prosper, objectivity must be redefined within the constraints of a new domain. In this case, new media journalism.

H/T: PBS

The decline of traditional media and the rise of viral emails and partisan Web and cable TV platforms has meant the near-collapse of common facts, believed across the political spectrum.
There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job.

The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press? We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.

John Swinton, circa 1880, when asked to give toast in praise of an independent press. At the time, Swinton was an editorial writer for the New York Sun. Previously, he had been the chief editorial writer for the New York Times.

Christopher Ketcham, Truthdig, Intellectual Prostitution and the Myth of Objectivity

We have to reject the tired notion that objectivity means the reader can get all the way to the bottom of the story and not know what to think.

— Peter S. Goodman, Huffington Post, Beyond Left And Right: It’s About Reality.