Part two of David Folkenflick’s excellent report on the news media is online. And indeed Jay Rosen, who I cited in yesterday’s post, makes the case for reporters revealing more of their beliefs. In fact, it is the focus of this report.
"If they’ve been covering a beat for a while, I’d like to know what fascinates them about their beat, what they think are the biggest challenges facing the nation, who some of their heroes and villains are, and any convictions — deeply held convictions — they’ve developed by reporting on the story over a long period of time."
"We can tell where the person is coming from and apply whatever discount rate we want to what they’re saying," Rosen says. "I also think that it’s more likely to generate trust. And this is the main reason why I recommend ‘here’s where I’m coming from’ replace ‘the view from nowhere.’ "
I agree completely with Rosen’s critique of today’s media and the “view from nowhere.” Peter Goodman, who recently left the New York Times to become business editor at the Huffington Post describes the problem pitch perfectly.
"This is not about ranting; it’s not about working for a particular partisan interest or set of interests; it’s not about getting individuals elected," Goodman says. "It’s about the same mission that I think has been part of quality journalism forever, which is uncovering truths that aren’t so easy to uncover."
He says The Times gave him great leeway to follow his reporting, wherever it led. But Goodman says his reporters at the Huffington Post will have some liberties other news organizations might not afford.
"I don’t want them feeling like they have to hand in [stories that say], ‘Well, these people said this, those people said that; here, dear reader — you know, you figure it out,’ " Goodman says. "I would like them engaged in a process of getting to a satisfying conclusion." [emphasis added]
In other words, “he said, she said” journalism, another phrase that may be Rosen’s. While this type of journalism is well accepted in America (and in the NPR report former Post editor Len Downie vigorously defends it) to other western countries it is laughable.
"I’m rather extreme on this subject," says Simon Jenkins, the former editor in chief of the center-right Times of London who now writes columns for the liberal Guardian. "I find American newspapers boring — and biblical. I cannot believe how dull they are. These are news sheets for a genre of readers who want vast slabs of information and get entertainment in a different way. And they are micro-monopolies, all of them."
Still, I can’t bring myself to agree with Rosen’s conclusions. I object when reports describe even institutions as “liberal” or “conservative,” “left” or “right.” What that does is signal the reader to be ready to discount or embrace the following viewpoint because it tracks (or doesn’t) with their view of the world. Labeling these institutions really does nothing to combat the rampant “view from nowhere.” And having reporters reveal their politics, if that indeed is what Rosen is suggesting, will be an impotent solution to the problem. I think what it will lead to is the same thing we now see: groups from either side demanding that a news outlet add more conservative or progressive reporters to offset a perceived imbalance, as they do now with opinion writers. Then what? Do you have a conservative and a progressive covering the same beat? Otherwise, if it’s one or the other, the opposite inclined reader will not read the stories at all or complain incessantly about them.
Besides, it’s hard to pinpoint where someone is coming from based solely on a few biographical paragraphs. I am a progressive and support many progressive causes. But I also think government is seriously flawed, inefficient and ineffective. I think the age at which one can start to draw Social Security should be raised. Gun control laws are largely ineffective. If I were a reporter, would I need to reveal all my views on each issue?
Let reporters gather the facts, weigh them on the “truth-o-meter if possible, and report the truth as close as they can divine it. The truth is what readers want. The reason newspapers and other MSM are failing is not because we don’t know the ideologies of the reporters and editors. It’s because they are not giving us information we can use. The are stenographers of the status quo, worried more about their continued access to the centers of power than in revealing what’s really going on.