Posts tagged view from nowhere

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).”

jayrosen:

How long would you give the “we have no idea who’s right” style in journalism?
Jeremy W. Peters, The Right’s Blogger Provocateur, New York Times, June 26, 2011.

The stories and videos Mr. Breitbart plays up on his Web sites, which include Big Government, Big Journalism and Big Hollywood, tend to act as political Rorschach tests. If you agree with him, you think what he does is citizen journalism. If you don’t, his work is little more than crowd-sourced political sabotage that freely distorts the facts.

Jeremy W. Peters, Andrew Breitbart, Conservative Blogger, Dies at 43, New York Times, yesterday.

Mr. Breitbart was as polarizing as he was popular. On the political right he was hailed in the same breath with Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge as a truth-teller who exposed bias and corruption. On the left, he was derided by many as a provocateur who played fast and loose with the facts to further his agenda.

I’ve been thinking about this kind of passage a lot lately, what with NPR officially backing away from the “he said, she said” style of reporting. Here, I just want to make one observation.
The logic of the “we have no idea who’s right” report involves a flight to safety. Confronted with a figure of controversy, for whom there are many knives drawn, the safe choice is to do the Rorschach thing. “Each side sees what they want.” What the story-teller sees is that: two radically incommensurate views. 
But at a certain point in the public decay of that style, the equation flips around. The once “safe” choice becomes the riskier option. That point is reached when enough people begin to mistrust viewlessness and demand to know what the writer thinks, even though they also know that they may not agree.
For those people, the “Rorschach” device scans as cluelessness or arrogance, or both. The very risk to reputation that the author wanted to avoid by refusing to stake a truth claim is brought on by… refusing to make a truth claim! Which doesn’t mean that the remedy is to “choose sides.” It’s harder than that. One actually has to make sense and nail things down.
And to make it even trickier, who really knows when this flip-over point has been reached?
(Photo by Mark Taylor, Creative Commons License.)

jayrosen:

How long would you give the “we have no idea who’s right” style in journalism?

Jeremy W. Peters, The Right’s Blogger Provocateur, New York Times, June 26, 2011.

The stories and videos Mr. Breitbart plays up on his Web sites, which include Big Government, Big Journalism and Big Hollywood, tend to act as political Rorschach tests. If you agree with him, you think what he does is citizen journalism. If you don’t, his work is little more than crowd-sourced political sabotage that freely distorts the facts.

Jeremy W. Peters, Andrew Breitbart, Conservative Blogger, Dies at 43, New York Times, yesterday.

Mr. Breitbart was as polarizing as he was popular. On the political right he was hailed in the same breath with Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge as a truth-teller who exposed bias and corruption. On the left, he was derided by many as a provocateur who played fast and loose with the facts to further his agenda.

I’ve been thinking about this kind of passage a lot lately, what with NPR officially backing away from the “he said, she said” style of reporting. Here, I just want to make one observation.

The logic of the “we have no idea who’s right” report involves a flight to safety. Confronted with a figure of controversy, for whom there are many knives drawn, the safe choice is to do the Rorschach thing. “Each side sees what they want.” What the story-teller sees is that: two radically incommensurate views. 

But at a certain point in the public decay of that style, the equation flips around. The once “safe” choice becomes the riskier option. That point is reached when enough people begin to mistrust viewlessness and demand to know what the writer thinks, even though they also know that they may not agree.

For those people, the “Rorschach” device scans as cluelessness or arrogance, or both. The very risk to reputation that the author wanted to avoid by refusing to stake a truth claim is brought on by… refusing to make a truth claim! Which doesn’t mean that the remedy is to “choose sides.” It’s harder than that. One actually has to make sense and nail things down.

And to make it even trickier, who really knows when this flip-over point has been reached?

(Photo by Mark Taylor, Creative Commons License.)

Are NPR's new ethics guidelines the way for journalism organizations to handle themselves? NYU journalism deep-thinker Jay Rosen thinks so.

shortformblog:

With these words, NPR commits itself as an organization to avoid the worst excesses of “he said, she said” journalism. It says to itself that a report characterized by false balance is a false report. It introduces a new and potentially powerful concept of fairness: being “fair to the truth,” which as we know is not always evenly distributed among the sides in a public dispute.

Maintaining the “appearance of balance” isn’t good enough, NPR says. “If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side…” we have to say so. When we are spun, we don’t just report it. “We tell our audience…” This is spin! 

shortformblog: Rosen took a particular liking to lines like these: “Our goal is not to please those whom we report on or to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth.” Read NPR’s ethics guidelines and consider it for yourself.

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? — Asked by mybodywasntready-deactivated201

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.