Wednesday :: Apr 27, 2005

Being a journalist - a quick response

by eriposte

I wanted to post a response to readers who took the time to comment on the question I raised in my post "Be a Journalist, For a Day".

There are two reasons why I posed the question I did.

First of all, we all live in a Misinformation Matrix (like in the movie). Every day we are fed deceptive or false stories about "reality" (much more against the left than against the right) and blogs and other writers on the Left have been trying to educate people about this Matrix. Media reform can take different shapes - but it would be a challenge to reform the media unless we find a way to credibly convince average citizens that they live in the same Matrix that we live in. That's why an objective (fact-based) discussion of the nature of the media (and its inaccuracies = "bias") is important.

Second, my question was posed to make everyone live the life of a journalist for a single day to get a wee sense of the pressures you are likely to face from the Right. Every error will be magnified. Every example of "liberal bias" will be blasted to you and your management. Never mind, a lot of it will have nothing to do with facts. All of it will happen quickly and unless you give up your daytime job to keep debunking your challengers it's tough to fight back and retain your independence in an MSM outlet without interference from your bosses.

Now, I'm not trying to make excuses for journalists who are bad at their jobs and publish tripe just because of pressure from the Right. Having been a rather strong media critic for nearly 3 years, I would hope readers here understand that. Rather, I'm blogging to solve problems. I'm currently trying to build a framework for a comprehensive path to media reform. And you cannot reform the MSM unless you understand the pressures and realities faced by today's journalists. Criticism of media and journalist's inaccuracies alone will not solve the media problem (although fact-based criticism should continue); one needs to understand the journalist's weaknesses against the Right's misinformation machine, and figure out how to provide honest journalists the resources they need to plug that weakness - such that neither wingnuts nor editors can pressure them away from publishing facts.

Now, I'm going to say more on this in the last post of my series on Why the Liberal Media Myth Persists (and even more when I start my series on Media Reform), but I'd like to specifically respond to some of the comments here.

Almost all commentors emphasized that reporters should state the truth or the facts, without shading it with opinions (or "adjectives" as Duckman GR said). Absolutely no argument on making sure that journalists should stick to the facts and the truth. Having said that, my question went beyond that to ask how a journalist, who is trying to be factual, would make readers aware that what they get fed daily today is not necessarily the truth - particularly those readers who think there is no perceptible "bias" in the media.

I think the comments of reader Michael got to the heart of the matter:

...For every example I give of liberal bias a reader could give an example of conservative bias.

Consider the set of all statements made by, say, the New York Times. Some of those statements will generally support a liberal point of view and others will support a conservative point of view. The set of all statements would form some kind of distribution on a liberal/conservative scale. If the distribution is "normal" and "centered" then the times is unbiased. If the distribution is skewed one way or another then bias exists.

There is a second problem though. Statements made by the Times should not only be compared to liberal and conservative philosophy they also need to be compared to objective truth. If it is not true that liberal judges are trying to stamp out religion in this country then it is not bias to report that fact.

So you cannot establish any case for bias with anecdotal evidence, which is what everybody seems to want to do. You have to look at a large number of articles and evaluate them in a painstaking way. The proof must be statistical in nature.

Archibald and David also pointed out the "follow the money" analogy - pointing to who owns the media, etc. This is clearly another point that needs to be emphasized. JJ talked about numbers of conservative outlets...another valid point.

I'm not leaving other readers out intentionally. I want to thank you again for writing your thoughts. I suspect you'll have a lot more to say in the coming weeks when I move on to my next 2 series.

eriposte :: 6:30 PM :: Comments (10) :: Digg It!