August 14, 2005
"Things I Used to Teach That I No Longer Believe" Was the Title of the Panel...
...at the journalism professors' annual convention. "To learn, when you are ready to pass the torch, that some of the best and the brightest don't want your torch, because they think it went out a while ago, counts as a sad day for J-schoolers of a certain generation."
San Antonio, TX: Back in October I accepted an invitation from David T. Z. Mindich, who runs a journalism historians’ list-serve, to be part of a panel at the AEJMC convention, an annual event for journalism teachers. The panel had a clever title, “Things I used to teach that I no longer believe,” which had a curious affect on me and three other panelists. The result was that we each spoke openly of our disillusionment.
First up was Carl Sessions Stepp, a contributing writer to American Journalism review, a former national correspondent and editor for the Charlotte Observer and USA Today, and a professor at the University of Maryland’s J-School. He said that most of what he believed when he began teaching in 1983 he still believed, with one big exception.
Then he would have said that nearly all journalists employed in the field were people “on a mission.” They saw their work as a noble public service, and shared a sense of duty that helped them define what the service was amid a hectic news environment. Students quickly picked up on this creed, and newsoom culture supported it.
That was then. Now, he said, the sense of mission is not the same. He didn’t say it was gone; plenty of journalists still heard the call. And young people still showed up in his classes ready to believe. But changes in the news business and “workplace culture” have turned the mission into a fairy tale much of the time. There is no universal sense of calling any more, Stepp declared. Journalism as a whole isn’t “on a mission,” but journalists as individuals still can be. Stepp said that is where he placed his hopes.
Next was Dianne Lynch, dean of the School of Communications at Ithaca College, a journalist, and former executive director of the Online News Association. She told us a startling story about an exceptional student who gave up a four-year scholarship worth over $200,000, including tuition, room and board, even travel money. The student came to the dean’s office to let Lynch know that she was quitting journalism and switching to sociology. “I decided that I just can’t be in such a terrible profession,” the student said, adding that it did not seem to her a field where a young person could “make a difference.”
There was a slight gasp in the room at that. This was because the phrase used, “make a difference,” though tedious and vague, was once the very thing that identified to journalists their own idealism. You didn’t do it for the money, and it wasn’t the wonderful working conditions, or a chance for advancement. For a certain generation (whose mortality was lurking about the panel, way under the laughs) journalism, at its best, was all about “making a difference.” Speaking truth to power, and all that implies.
But for one of Ithaca College’s best students this was a joke. Lynch to crowd: “she gave up a $200,000 scholarship just to get out of journalism.” We let that sink in. To learn, when you are ready to pass the torch, that some of the best and the brightest don’t want your torch, because they think it went out a while ago, counts as a sad day for J-schoolers of a certain generation.
Lynch thought the 24-hour news cycle had trivialized everything; the constant updates demanded by the Web were part of it, she said. For me the story was about her own reaction. “Well, I think you are making a mistake,” the dean in her said, “but I accept your decision and wish you the best.” Could she honestly say—here in San Antonio—that it was a mistake? Lynch sat down with that question hanging.
Then there were the hilarious stories ruefully told by Maurine Beasley, who also teaches at Maryland. (The first woman to gain tenure there.) She’s a past president of the AEJMC, a former Washington Post and Kansas City Star reporter, and a book author. Beasley to pleading student: “It seems me that you’re simply looking for three cheap summer credits, for which you intend to do almost no work.” “That’s it exactly,” student says, “Professor Beasley, you understand!”
Each of her tales showed how a vast gulf was starting to open up between her and many of the students she saw in her classes at Maryland. In some cases, mutual incomprehension had set in. Beasley teaches a course that is featured at other J-schools, “Women in the Media.” It’s basically about what happened when second wave feminism met the American newsroom and media power structure.
Opening up the workplace to women professionals was a key demand for Beasley’s generation; and she has chronicled the fate of that demand in her written work. But now the problems for women were elsewhere, the opening up was considered ancient history, and the J-School students (who are overwhelmingly female these days) were not so much third wave as no-wave feminists.
On my own list of “things I used to teach that I no longer believe,” I had:
- When I started I would commonly say to students, “it’s not the content, it’s the form.” (Or: the medium is the message!) I thought this was very wise. Then I learned that content is king, sort of an opposite lesson, and it seemed wise for its time too. Now I don’t see either statement as useful or wise. To figure out when content is king you don’t need slogans like “content is king.” They hurt more than they help.
- I used to teach it implicitly: journalism is a profession. Now I think it’s a practice, in which pros and amateurs both participate. There were good things about the professional model, and we should retain them. But it’s the strength of the social practice that counts, not the health of any so-called profession. That is what J-schools should teach and stand for, I believe. I don’t care if they’re called professional schools. They should equip the American people to practice journalism by teaching the students who show up, and others out there who may want help.
- I used to teach that the ethics of journalism, American-style, could be found in the codes, practices and rule-governed behavior that our press lived by. Now I think you have to start further back, with beliefs way more fundamental than: “avoid conflicts of interest in reporting the news.” If you teach journalism ethics too near the surface of the practice, you end up with superficial journalists.
- The ethics of journalism begin with propositions like: the world is basically intelligible if we have accurate reports about it; public opinion exists and ought to be listened to; through the observation of events we can grasp patterns and causes underneath them; the circle of people who know how things work should be enlarged; there is something called “the public record” and news adds itself meaningfully to it; more information is good for it leads to greater awareness, which is also good; stories about strangers have morals and we need to hear them, and so on. These are the ethics I would teach first. And I would teach the ideas that these ideas overcame. For example: Politics as the king’s mystery—“le secret du roi,” the French called it—is an idea that journalism stands against, and helped to overcome. (See Robert Darnton on it.)
- For many years I taught in my criticism classes that pointing out bias in the news media was an important, interesting, and even subversive activity. At the very least an intellectual challenge. Now it is virtually meaningless. Media bias is a proxy in countless political fights and the culture war. It’s effectiveness as a corrective is virtually zero.
- Alas, I used to teach that the world needs more critics; but it was an unexamined thing. Today I would say that the world has a limited tolerance for critics, and while it always needs more do-ers, it does not always need more chroniclers, pundits, or pencil-heads.
- In courses on the press and the political system I used to tell students that the White House and the press corps struggled and even warred at times, but also needed each other. That’s not accurate any more.
- I never taught this explicitly, I said, but I am certain I believed it: reality always bites back, and there are limits to how fungible the facts are. This is one reason the press cannot be overridden. I couldn’t say that today. The scary thing is, I don’t necessarily know what to teach instead.
What Carl Sessions Stepp and Dianne Lynch and Maurine Beasley talked about in San Antonio was discussed in two earlier PressThink posts, plus the comment threads after. First is my Deep Throat, J-School and Newsroom Religion. (June 5, 2004)
Investigative reporting, exposing public corruption, and carrying the mantle of the downtrodden [are taught] not as political acts in themselves—-which they are—-and not as a continuation of the progressive movement of the 1920s, in which the cleansing light of publicity was a weapon of reform—-which they are—-but just as a way of being idealistic, a non-political truthteller in the job of journalist. (Which is bunk.)
In reply came Orville Schell’s “We Have Been Bull-Dozed Aside,” (July 21) in which the Dean of the School of Journalism at Berkeley wrote:
What I worry about is not so much that the next generation of journalists will be swayed by or sell out to press mythology, but that they will end up so bereft of good models and so despondent about the state of their profession that they may lose all hope and idealism. Then what? After all, if you are going to be a journalist, repayment must come in some other currency than dollars. One of those alternative currencies journalism trades in is “able to make a difference.”
What I have lately been trying to say to my colleagues in J-school is clearer to me now, after the panel in San Antonio. Here is what I believe. The official religion has run out of gas. The tribes that are out there chasing Pulitzers and Duponts (plus market share, advertisers and ratings) do not know what to believe about themselves, their future, or their present value in the world. As I wrote in June:
When the New York Times had to decide recently what goods to charge for at www.nytimes.com, did it choose good old fashioned shoe leather reporting? No. It chose the columnists. The religion we teach them in journalism school cannot account for this.
Similarly, “making a difference” was never a good enough standard for teaching or doing journalism. It was a lazy idea, the press putting one over on itself. For the liberal journalists and professors who were the believers in make-a-difference journalism were babied by their profession, and their J-school training, which allowed them to believe in agenda-less journalism at the same time.
And in fact, they wanted the innocence (we do just the facts journalism) and the power (we do make a difference journalism) but this could never be. We in the J-schools failed to catch that. The people on a mission never got around to justifying their mission in the language of democratic politics. They talked about it as a neutral public service instead, but speaking truth to power isn’t neutral, and making a difference isn’t just a service to others. We in the J-schools didn’t do well with that, either.
Later the language of politics took its revenge, and overwhelmed “mission” talk, which had failed to impress the public, as well, because it was increasingly non-descriptive. Natalee Holloway mocks the mission night to night. Culture war mocks the mission left to right. And in the mutually incomprehensible classroom encounter the mission is clearly expiring. It seems to me we’re better off knowing that. How does it seem to you?
: Notes, reactions and links…
These notes are for Mark Hamilton (of Mark on Media) who couldn’t be there but wanted to be.
DON‘T SHOW ME THE LOVE… The Anchoress responds to this and other posts she sees as related. “It is the fault of the journalists who have lost control of their own objectivity.” She explains:
If journalism wants to redeem itself, regain some credibility and attract bright, energetic writers, perhaps it needs to rein in its passions a bit, stop continually writing from a place of hate or love and begin to re-embrace objectivity. Or… at least a move to moderation. Can the press still, consciously, force itself to be moderately—rather than stridently—biased? I think that should be do-able. And yes…a thing is always doable if you want it badly enough.
There’s more in her Coupla interesting pieces on Journalism. See also this interview, On the Couch With The Anchoress.
PressThink’s odometer rolled over to a million visits last week, according to Sitemeter. That’s since September, ‘03.
David Wineberger interprets this post:
I want to head off what I think is an unwarranted conclusion based on Jay’s statement that if you put together enough accurate reports, the world is intelligible. The wrong conclusion (not Jay’s) would be that we all come to the same intelligible world. Nope. The PoMos are right: Narratives don’t get built out of facts. Narratives tell us which facts matter. Within a narrative, it’s important that journalistic reports be accurate. But accuracy is not enough to bring about intelligibility or to tear down an existing intelligibility.
As Glenn Reynolds might say: Yep.
Bill Quick at Daily Pundit:
Journalists go to work and do their jobs to earn a paycheck and provide the necessities for themselves and their families. The notion that their job is something intrinsically greater than that is, well, silly. If you don’t think so, ask all the journalists in the US to work for nothing more than the chance to “make a difference,” and see how many you have showing up in the newsroom the next day.
Of course, there will still be many, many journalists who are willing to do exactly that. We call them the Blogosphere. And that is the New Thing that is shattering the clay foundations of the journalism myth.
Steve Lovelady of CJR Daily in comments:
This statement leaves me clueless: “And in fact, they wanted the innocence (we do just the facts journalism) and the power (we do make a difference journalism) but this could never be.” — JR. Where along the way did the facts lose their power to make a difference? See my reply here.
The scary thing is, I don’t necessarily know what to teach instead. Mark Hamilton comments:
I read some despair in that last sentence. And the fact that Jay doesn’t necessarily know what to teach instead makes me feel like retreating to my bed and pulling the covers over my head… I want to fire as many students as possible with a passion for journalism: I want to produce newspeople who are as engaged with the world around them as they are with their craft.
And we can’t do that (or at least I can’t do that) without a grasp of what journalism should be, what of its past is worth keeping and which of its understood principles are no longer valid. It’s no longer enough to repeat old words by rote.
Susan Mernit comments on this post: “Maybe this is the moment that a new journalism can find its way, one driven as much by search results and link laws as by craft. Maybe craft is something more of us can learn to own. Maybe we need to admit the world is pressing re-start and that’s going to be okay.”
With all these journalists “on a mission” and “making a difference,” is it any wonder why there is so much bias in the press? Notice that no one talked about fairly and accurately reporting what they see, they would much rather change the outcome. I hope you take a second to stop and let this huge admission sink in. Journalists don’t go into the profession to impartially report what they see, they go into it to steer where society goes.
Mark Tapscott of the Heritage Foundation thinks Rosen has let the cat out of the bag.
Journalism teacher Andrew Cline: “Yesterday, I put the finishing touches (almost) on my syllabi. Jay Rosen’s discussion of journalism education sends me back for another look at them this morning…” Read the rest, and Cline’s earlier post about the AEJMC:
Modern journalism and journalism education just isn’t set up to connect with communities. It’s set up to shoot for the big enchiladas in Washington D.C. or New York…
This is me, in the comments:
Odd: 155 comments, many of them reacting to what I wrote about “making a difference,” but not a single mention of another of my lessons: how I used to believe that reality always bites back, and there are limits to how fungible the facts are. No more.
The Administration of George W. Bush, with its retreat from empiricism, its doctrine of infallability, its hostility to science, its attack on the press, its manipulation and intimidation of intelligence, its philosophy of “we make reality” and the amazing innovation of the Bush bubble (which protects the president from the American people) have forced me to doubt that. Reality can be put to one side, as with the case for war, or global warming, and there are no limits to how fungible the facts are.
These are political innovations for which Bush does not get enough credit. Each one of them goes well beyond what previous presidents—who may have longed for the same freedom from fact—thought they could get away with.
Read the rest.
From a 2002 essay of mine in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Taking Bollinger’s Course on the American Press.” (Before I started blogging or knew about it.)
Think of All the President’s Men and its success in casting journalists as heroes of Watergate, which of course recasts Watergate. Think about polls and the way journalists have helped write them into politics. Bollinger sees how the common practices of journalism—which include common lapses—shape the contours of the public arena and make the world what it is….
What’s different about stepping into Bollinger’s world is that, in it, the press not only observes and reports freely, it acts upon us with its freedom. It’s an institution with a brain, of sorts. It has ideas and priorities—not just information—that it wants to get out into the world. It is always forming, as well as informing, the public, framing debate as it relays the news. It can be reckless and brainless, and must be watched.
Related: See PressThink, Journalism Is Itself a Religion. “The newsroom is a nest of believers if we include believers in journalism itself. There is a religion of the press. There is also a priesthood. And there can be a crisis of faith.”
Posted by Jay Rosen at August 14, 2005 1:27 PM
Another thoughtful post, Jay, especially as I make plans for my own journalism class in a couple of weeks. The list of things I'm no longer sure I believe has gotten so long that it might be easier to try to list what I still do believe.
But I think the biggest thing I no longer believe is the notion that journalists somehow serve as proxies for the public: that we sit through tedious city council meetings, fill out baseball box scores and wade through piles of police reports to winnow out all but the most interesting and pertinent items, which we then fashion into brief, readable and reliable news stories. Then, occasionally, with luck and diligence, we stumble across a story that people don't even know they want to read until we show it to them.
That notion of journalism seems to be just about gone. People who really care about an issue can go to source materials: agendas, official reports, websites, expanded cable game coverage. People who don't really care won't take the trouble to read a digested version just so they can feel like informed citizens.
That change is neutralizing some of the industry's oldest bromides:
1. Keep it local. But an amazing number of people no longer much care what's going on in "their" town. Their lives rotate from Wal-Mart to fast food to cable TV. A community is just a place to collect a paycheck.
2. Follow the money. Hell, we can't even get 20 percent turnout for million-dollar mill levies.
3. Just report the facts, and people can make up their own minds. But argument precedes, and all but precludes, the facts. Partisans aren't looking for truth; they're looking for ammunition.
Maybe I'll just try to teach them to write punchy ledes and forget the rest of it.
Jay says, "There were good things about the professional model, and we should retain them. But it’s the strength of the social practice that counts, not the health of any so-called profession."
And Terry Heaton notes that "A journalism degree has become an MBA with perfect hair, a self-centered "job" instead of a community-centric vocation, and it's terribly sad. And the thing most of us refuse to see is that our viewers and readers know it."
I agree and here is what I find in my teaching.
I teach at an open admissions college that is being "gentrified" by rising tuition and vanishing loans and grants for higher education, but we still have a pretty diverse student body. We have many kids from the middle and lower classes in terms of family income. These students don't always have the perfect level of academic or social skills of the rich, but they are hungry to be journalists and will work for nothing at internships to try and get their foot in the door of a newsroom.
A colleague from Medill recently told me he envies me my students because they haven't "grown up with a sense of entitlement." He said where my students were willing, even eager to meet real journalists and go to news-related events, his students couldn't be bothered.
Professional journalism today is dominated by the interests of the corporate if not the rich. Look at what is covered, how stories are framed, who reporters interview, the faces we see in print or on the screen.There are folks of color and various genders, but as far as economic class, the stories are told from the perspective of the rich and powerful.
Dominated discourse is a form of bias that occurs when the social position of the actors in any situation determines the truth and weight of their arguments, not the facts of the matter.
Notice that the majority of the stories about Cindy Sheehan include quotes from Pres. Bush, but don't include even a single quote from Sheehan. The press's deference to the President based on his status automatically skews the story. Instead of a story about opposing claims to truth which could be evaluated with good reporting, it becomes the story about how a powerful man is bothered by a nobody who apparently can't even speak for herself.
As economic diversity disappears from our country in the face of an increasing divide between rich and poor, the number of folks who can find news they can use from professional journalism outlets is shrinking.
Media can ignore large segments of the population in its reporting, but it can't make them read/listen/tune in to it.
I try and teach my students the practice of journalism and alert them to problems in the profession these days.
Man, Jay, do I need to get out of the Deep South.
Teaching journalism is not even an issue at colleges of communications in these climes.
All the students are into PR. And the deans who give promotions and tenure want research, not teaching anyway. Maybe there are professional journalism schools out there somewhere, but not around here.
As for the professional argument, I have revised my thinking of late. Journalism has turned into a profession, a 9 to 5 job. It is no longer a calling or a craft, because the corporations which own the presses require safe little professionals who can, among other things, pass a spelling test, a drug test and a psychological test to get hired. The best journalists I have ever known were way too crazy to get hired today by the Newhouses of the world.
Then take the public editor's column in the Sunday New York Times. They are so obsessed with free-lancers meeting the ethical guidelines imposed on staffers that they are losing the good will of the best free-lancers in the country, myself included. Even good corporations understand the concept of goodwill.
When the business editor of the Times e-mailed me the pdf file of the guidelines, it was so fat I could not even open it on my Macintosh computer. Luckily, I also own a PC. When I read the guidelines, most of the document is not about ethics anyway. It is a gigantic tome to the corporate control guidelines to protect the New York Times Company, not a guide to practicing ethical journalism.
The best way to practice journalism that makes a difference today is to publish your own Web site (or blog) and kick some ass. Screw the corporate professionals. They will be obsolete soon enough.
If you find a student with some real talent who wants to make a difference, send them over to me. Maybe I can put them to work. I've been kicking ass and taking names for years, which hasn't done my long-term professional career prospects that much good.
But you know what A. J. Liebling said in 1960.
"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."
Glynn, I read both these links, and I am not certain that the definition of profession is accurate.
When I think about professions, I often start with the easy ones, like medicine. Physicians didn't actually look to government for professionalism; actually, they looked inside their own ranks and focused on the training of physicians, on the standardization of skills and practice and "technology" in the sense of practice, and then raised the standards for all these. For a source, look to the Flexner Report from early in the 20th century, which was financed by the Carnegie Corporation.
Other professions have had similar transformations. Law, for example. Lawyers are certified by the bar association, not by the government. Physicians are licensed by the state, but it is physicians who design the tests and set the standards. Likewise with actuaries and architects.
How do journalists stack up here? Are their standardized skills that all must know, and a high standard of entry into the profession? Is entry monitored by other professionals (beyond the decision to hire a newbie)?
Here's another question: How could you distinguish the work of a professional journalist from a non-professional? Clearly you could do that with, say, surgery. How about an appendectomy done by someone who has never been to medical school? Or a build designed by non-trained architect?
Opening up the question in this way, rather than getting emotional about ethics or bias or whatever, exposes the weakness in the entire structure of journalism and journalistic enterprises.
I have to say, though, that I love debating about this stuff. Thanks for opportunity.
You see, this is why I don't like news driven by focus groups.
Here, in a short time, we've had a mini-focus group on the future of the media. And if we count votes, the media lost. We in the biz can all shuffle off to retirement. Or find job as 'content providers.'
But the findings are contradictory and self-referential. The order is in for news that isn't biased but has an opinion; that is fact-based but not too many facts. Straight-forward but feisty.
OK. You win. But first a question: those of you who get your news from blogs or Yahoo or news sites, where exactly do you think the reporting comes from?
Somewhere behind the verbiage and flash art, you'll likely find it was reported by a MSM reporter.
That's not to say the web isn't a good source of news. It is. But if you think you're leaving the old media behind, you're in serious denial.
I'm all for gathering news from as many sources as possible - all received with large amounts of critical judgment. But reliance on blog news too often leaves you in affinity-group land, where you hear the things that justify your own beliefs. If that's how you want to learn about the world, that is, I suppose, your choice.
David Crisp asks where the Hannity's and Instapundits fit into the media equation and it's a good question. Largely, the cable talk shows and many of the political blogs are the triumph of opinion over news. We all have opinions much as we all have belly buttons.
As for the folks who confuse bad journalism with reports that challenge their own political/cultural bias, they have always been with us.
A few folks have mentioned that the "make a difference" desire has been journalisms undoing. I agree. Think about what making a difference means, in nuts-and-bolts details, for a journalist and compare it to other professions.
A doctor makes a difference by patching up people who would otherwise die. A fire fighter makes a difference by pulling a kid out of a burning building. A tow truck driver makes a difference by getting you home when your car breaks down on I-90. But how does a journalist make a difference?
By convincing people of "the truth." As you see it anyway (propagandists convince people of stuff you don't agree with). Isn't "making a difference" just a polite way of saying "convincing people to believe the right things?" Which is fine really, but it's not journalism - it's advocacy. So if the NYT decides to charge for columnists and give away the rest, they're just deciding to charge for the folks most up-front about doing what "making a difference" really means.
Jay was right with his observation that simultaneously wanting innocence and power was a contradiction that couldn't hold up. For those of you (not "you guys", just "those of you") who got into this profession to "make a difference", look into your heart - what did that mean to you then? Does it still mean something to you now?
If so, does it mean "giving people the best information I can so they can make their own decision, even if I disagree with it?" Or does it mean "convince enough people to make the right choice that the world will be better?" If it's the second one, if what you really want out of your professional life is to get people to adopt your moral convictions and change the world because of it, then square up your work with your desire and become a columnist. Or a pundit. Or a politician. Maybe even a priest. But don't call yourself a reporter, because a reporters job is to report, not convince.
If you want to be a reporter, then do like Rob Read suggested - try to make the future less surprising to your readers but stop worrying about their morality. Yeah, I know - that makes it harder to make a difference. But decide what you want - innocence or power.
Or rather, ask your students what they want, and guide them as best you can one way or the other. Let them know they can't have both. Nobody is innocent if they intentionally set out to change public opinion. Because the truth will never quite be perfectly on their side, and they'll need to hide or massage a few bits of it here and there, or else the "higher truth" might not be received quite as well.
I chose to be an engineer in order to make a difference.
I have the honor of desiging the I/O board for the worlds first BBS. (a precursor to the www)
Did I make a difference?
Reporters can make a difference by the stories they choose to write.
The difficulty always is that such stories can easily turn out to be half truths.
Take the current attitude towards Islamic terrorists (ooops - insurgents).
So called content neutral journalism is not content neutral. It objectively aids folks who wish to enlarge the scope of tyranny in the world.
I'd like to see an anti-fascist journalism. One that promotes self government over the rule of thugs.
And the commenter who said bloggers have no fact checkers.
Every one of my readers is a fact checker ( I have open comments) so on average I have 100 fact checkers every day. On really good days I have 2,000 fact checkers.
What DM (Dinosaur Media) organization has even 100 fact checkers on a given story?
Journalism as a profession is shrinking. Journalism as a public art (any one can join in) is growing very fast.
A scary time for those in the old media. Exciting for those in the new.
It is all about the money. Ad revenue supports reporters. Where is ad money going? Targeted marketing on the internet.
i.e. computers and communications are changing everything.
As an engineer I have helped design a system that puts me in competition with engineers in India.
No one is immune.
I do have one thing in my favor. It takes a lot of effort and time to learn the engineering trade. Journalism has no such barriers to entry.
Darn it M. Simon, *I'M* supposed to complain about Vietnam!
Fact: the US press wanted to "make a difference".
Fact: Cronkite, most others in the press, wanted a policy of US out of Vietnam
Fact: the US, under Nixon, left Vietnam.
Fact: after the US left, there was nobody to stop evil genocide -- so evil genocide happened.
Logical conclusion: everybody who wanted the "policy" of the US to leave Vietnam, was supporting the result of genocide.
Fact: no major news proponent, including Jay Rosen, has accepted their advocacy "made a difference" in Vietnam -- and the difference was ACCEPTING, instead of fighting against, genocide.
That's the "most important" narrative of Vietnam; and it is THAT narrative which, unspoken and festering, is rotting out the moral core of journalism.
As of Nixon's re-election in 1972, either it was good or bad that America left Vietnam.
In the comment about partisan's using news as ammunition -- I suggest the goal of a good journalist is to give THE BEST ammunition, to BOTH sides.
I'm trying, above, to give more ammo to the side that wanted to stay in Vietnam and fight genocide.
And there's the easily confused of issue of "what is being done" with "how" it is being done.
Nixon's illegal bombing was a bad "how"; his lies were bad "how" (plus he was arguably very unpleasant); his purpose was good -- fighting evil commies.
The "make a difference" comment struck a chord with me too for it explains both why I entered the newspaper industry and, ultimately, one reason I left it.
I thought that by being a journalist I could stop or reduce apathy in the communities in which I cover. I wanted to comfort the afflicted and help the poor and homeless and make readers think and all the other litany of things many journalists want.
Over time I found myself believing this less and less.
Were there times when I felt I really made a difference? Yes.
Did they seem to be coming less and less often? Yes.
At my last newspaper, in Hagerstown, Md., I was put on the education beat. I come from a family of teachers and had always thought I was too unorganized and too shy to be a teacher but being a reporter had forced me to address those weaknesses.
The more I wrote about teachers in the classroom the more I wanted to BE that teacher in the classroom.
It prompted the question: Which occupation makes
a difference, really, in the big scheme of things?
Yes, I may indirectly make a difference by pointing people to a public hearing or controversty they may not know about or exposing some lie but most of the time any difference made was indirect.
Whereas teaching.. well, you are directly affecting the present and future.
So now I'm in a masters program to teach elementary school. I worked special education for four months and realized how much of what I knew - from journalism and elsewhere - about the topic was so wrong and inadequate.
So now I'm not a full-time reporter - only doing freelance writing during breaks between classes like this week - but started my blog to still opine on journalism because whether it's a craft or a profession it's still tremendously important.
Especially to a news junkie like me.
But it's also a profession that can be tremendously draining and without rewards and hard to feel like you're doing something that matters.
Blogger here: I use the hell out of journalism's own sources. When I was a kid, this is what I believed about journalists at large: they knew what they were talking about. Now I use those same sources to blab at people who think I have a clue. My "circulation" is low: maybe fifty people a day or so. There's not many folks who care about, say, the geopolitical ramifications of the metadebate between Huntington vs. Palmer. ("Clash of Civilizations" vs. "Ridding the world of tyrants.") But when they think I'm full of it, they call me on it. The press at large seems to react to "being called" as if they were 17th-century nobles looking down upon the rabble.
Which is sad, because the rabble is frequently Eating Your Lunch (tm) when it comes to quality journalism. Now that I have better than a junior high-school education, I routinely shriek, at the radio newsfeed, at the newspapers, at news commentary both on the left and the right, because of the sheer historical ignorance being presented as fact... and journalism's assumption that the public is simply too stupid to see the difference.
If Journalism as a "profession" doesn't think that the public is stupid, it certainly has a funny way of showing it. Some examples:
1. Balkan war footage showing the downed F-111 jet in Serbia. Well-known t.v. international news anchor working off Serbian t.v. images saying "we're not allowed to tell you where this is happening" .... while the city of Novi Sad is clearly written out in Cyrillic at the bottom of the screen. This wasn't clandestine news being shunted to a grateful public: this was lazy journalists being too self-important to tell the truth of their utter ignorance of cyrillic script.
2. Similarly, a recent news show overseen at an airport, where a major network's Moscow correspondent visibly strugged with the pronunciation of Russian names. Well, there's credibility.
3. Similarly, a radio newsfeed with a reporter from a major service, describing tensions between the between the Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia ethnic groups. Which, as any teenager with an interest can find out, is totally incorrect: Kurds and Arabs are ethnic groups, Sunni and Shia are religious sects... or is "Kurdish" some new flavor of Islam about which the public hasn't yet heard?
That's off the top of my head on a random Tuesday morning. Believe me, I could go for pages if I really tried.
The debate between facts and narrative is meaningless, because the assumption seems to be that it can be debated in a vacuum, blithely context-free. I'm not talking political bias here -- there's plenty of that to go around. I mean the basic story. If mainstream journalists can't do the basic homework required of any history undergrad -- a.k.a. tie their grandiose "journalistic narrative" to that collective meta-narrative the rest of us call historical reality, why should they be surprised to find that the public, which is frequently as-or-better-educated, holds the MSM in contempt?
Can't sell your paper? Stop whining and blaming the public. Because the public has had a bellyfull of it already. Instead, try this very simple advice: assume the public is just as smart as you are, and might actually know when it's being sold a crock of crap.
Many news reporters have become aggregators of quotes, rather than aggregators of knowledge. Soundbites are for 5 second clips on TV and political ads.
Okay, I've been on both sides of the fence. Taught one semester of upper level university journalism (making me in no-way-shape-or-form an expert on the education side of the argument). Have been a full-time television journalist for the past 13 years. Been in the business for 18.
The above quoted statement sums it up nicely. We all too often run two opposing soundbites and call our story balanced. Well, what if it's not? What if the official soundbite for one party (not talking political parties here, although that can sometimes be the case) is factually, and demonstrably false. The gutsy thing would be to call them on it. This would be factual reporting. With proper context. But gutsy.
We in newsrooms rarely cast the light on ourselves. And rarer still can we withstand it. The quality of journalists entering the profession is sadly lacking. I won't say more so than in the past because I don't know. But I do know, that graduating with a 4-year-degree in both Journalism and Radio/Television, I quickly realized how under-educated I was. It became my job to educate myself about world politics. My job to learn about the stock market. My job to understand various religions and their core beliefs. My job to give myself at least enough exposure to subjects to recognize that in fact I didn't know anything about them.
Unfortunately, I see too few of my colleagues willing to devote the same effort. Their sole source of information is the local paper (if they read it- you'd be suprised at how many do not) and the Associated Press wires dropped into their computer terminals every day.
As I've moved into management I've tried to rectify this. Self-education becomes a subject of annual reviews. It becomes a daily discussion topic within our newsroom.
And still honest mistakes are made. We are human. But I fear, the culture of not appearing to be a lapdog of the establishment has created something just as bad. We practice "gotcha" journalism at almost every level. How can we trip up the president? Let's show this "everymom" camping outside his ranch in Crawford. All she wants is a chance to talk to him.
Oh, wait, he in fact has already met with her. Oh, wait, she said at the time how healing the process was. Oh, wait, should we re-work our original story? Should we have done a little more legwork before running it? Should we issue an updated story, making clear there were facts not reported in the original and get both sides reaction to that? The answer to all three is usually no. That would be to admit we made a mistake. Bury it on the corrections page. Or sweep it under the rug. We don't meet the same standards we expect of those around us.
And it's this attitude which has indirectly fostered the disconnect between ourselves and the public. It's contributed to the charges of bias. No-one likes a hypocrite. And in age of the internet, hypocrisy (or it's appearance) is easy to spot. Sometimes it's through ignorance (back to the beginning of my post). Sometimes it's through laziness. Sometimes it's through bias.
It's been touched upon here; the 80/20 liberal/conservative split within newsrooms. The biggest problem this creates is fighting for balance. Since we've been practicing advocacy journalism and victim journalism (every story through the eyes of a victim- "little johnny can't read") for so long, challenging the tenets of our co-workers makes every day a battle. Not out on the street of your community. Not within the halls of city government. A battle at your desk. A battle while getting a cup of coffee or wolfing down a sandwich at your computer. If you advocate what you percieve as balance, and what your co-worker percieves as bias that day and many more to follow are incredibly unpleasant. Not to say it shouldn't be done. But you pick your battles. You decide "Is this a ditch worth dying in?" If you don't, then you run the risk of turning into that droning noise that everyone finally stops hearing because it's so constant.
The great irony is as I look around my newsroom, we run pretty close to 50/50 in terms of political beliefs. Yet we hold a reputation of being a conservative shop. For trying to take our corner of our profession back to basics. For trying to get back to reporting the news. Give the facts, not two screaming heads, not a series of talking points, just the facts.
So Jay, what belief did I hold that I no longer do? It'd have to be that we exist to tell what happened, who was involved, where and when it happened, as well as how.
On Making a Difference
Everytime I see a discussion of teaching "just the facts" journalism or people say the do not want journalism to make a difference, I scratch my head and say there are many different kinds of journalism.
The just the facts folks and those who just want to know what's going on in the world can turn to the wire services all day long every day, along with headline news sites like the Locust Fork News or the Drudge Report.
Sometimes just the facts reporting can make a difference. Just by going to an ignored country and doing a story about poverty or AIDs, for example, can galvanize public interest and spur politicians to act.
But there is more to it than that. As a journalist who has considerable experience making a difference, when I went into teaching journalism I taught something called the "red flag lead." This came out of my experience covering environmental issues on the Gulf Coast in the late 1980s. It was a new beat after the Exxon Valdez, you may recall.
Not just to toot my own horn but to contribute to the knowledge of how this works, here's the deal. There are some of us who recognize that modern journalism is a direct, evolutionary descendent of the night watchman whose job it was to warn the tribe of eminent danger back in our hunter-gatherer days.
Part of the job of journalism, profession or not, is to warn the public of eminent danger, whether it is a threat of a terrorist strike, a downturn in the economy, a corrupt politician, or a plan to put a hazardous waste landfill in your neighborhood.
My own experience with this kind of journalism resulted in a number of successes, one of which inspired the name of my newest Web site. Because of my investigation about 13 years ago, the people of Blount County learned about a plan to dam The Locust Fork River and flood their property. They fought it and won. That is making a difference.
If you like dams and don't think people have a right to know what the government is up to and should not "fight city hall," you may be for facts only journalism that does not try to make a difference. It says more about your political point of view than a bias of journalism, but it is probably just beating a deader than dead horse to say it here.
TV journalism does this in a different way than print, and national news organizations do it differently than local news outlets. Sometimes criticism of "the media" or "the MSM" tend to paint with a broad brush. This Web site is about "the press," not "the media," although Jay is defining "the press" - as I do - to include "the blogosphere."
I think the folks who hate "the media" need to spell out which media you don't like, specifically, for starters, and what exactly you don't like about it in terms of specific stories and cases.
The sooner journalists are evaluated based on their own "credibility, narrative, [and] information in the form of both raw data and anecdote" the better (to borrow Matt Stoller's phrase.) This happens somewhat, mostly in magazines like The New Yorker, but sadly not enough in day-to-day reporting.
The problem, I think, is that most J-schools train young journalists for a profession that will do its best to obliterate POV, passion, concern, etc. But if we teach them the craft (writing, verification, disclosure) and the background knowledge, and then send them out to write on their own they will be more honest in what they write, and thus, perhaps enjoy more credibility than the faceless professional reporters who rely on their publication to give their voice authority.
I don't subscribe to the "rampant bias" critique; I think there are professional norms that confine writing, fitting it into some colorless, triangle-shaped notion of news that is, really, boring as hell.
Perhaps then we will also get rid of the whole whole uber-category of "journalists", which to my eyes is a less-than-constructive way of thinking about the craft (same goes for the uber-category of "bloggers".)
And Steve, I too read that NYT quote ("Anyone with a blog is a performer. And all theatrical forms are blogworthy, from diarylike realism to explosive sature") but I think it is quite reductive of what you find out there. Sure, RudePundit is theatrical, but I can also point you to hundreds of other who are serious writers and thinkers. It is not always some grand performance (and when it is, it is usually because it is something someone believes passionately about.)
I think you got it, TA. Seriously: "Nobody is innocent if they intentionally set out to change public opinion." That's exactly what I was trying to say.
The closer you get in journalism to "intentionally set out to change public opinion..." the less innocent your journalism is, and so it doesn't matter if you stop just short of some fantasized "line," you still need to defend the journalism you are doing by realizing the politics you are crafting "with" it.
On the whole, and certainly at the top, the American press has declined this challenge, clinging instead to ideas of neutral professionalism, and a contentless public service standard. These I treat as official claims to innocence (no agenda other than to "serve.")
And if you listen to "make a difference" talk (as I have, obsessively, for 15+ years) and you observe things like the Pulitzer Prizes (and what they honor) you do find a model of public service in which the highest good is work that a.) tells the truth, b.) exposes problems and c.) leads to reforms, action of some kind.
We do not find a "highest" good like: work that exposes problems so profound there are no reforms imaginable, just sober contemplation. Because that doesn't make sense in the public service grammar elite journalism chose for itself.
Of course, defenders of the grand newsroom tradition of enterprise reporting would say: Jay, we don't "try" to cause reforms. No. We uncover problems and lay out the facts, and it is public pressure, public outrage (or the threat of it) that causes action to correct a problem. It's at best indirect, and willy-nilly. Not a plot.
My current answer to that is: fine, let's say indirect. The press is clearly trying to change public opinion if the desired reaction to a properly done investigation is civic outrage, and public pressure, which leads to action by someone else. "Nobody is innocent if they intentionally set out to change public opinion."
And that, Steve, is why I wrote, "... they wanted the innocence (we do just the facts journalism) and the power (we do make a difference journalism) but this could never be."
But I have to add: there is life for the press after its political innocence is "over." You don't have to claim chronic agendalessness to be respected and good. That's what the transparency revolution is trying to say to journalists.
... simply that the best of them are great performances, easily accessible, quickly digested and strangely addictive.
I too think performance (and maybe performance art) captures something about blogging. I agree that stand up comedy is closer in spirit than column writing. Steve's various suggestions are fertile. I do know this: a while ago I started thinking of a PressThink "set" or cycle as taking place in three acts-- well, stages really.
Act One: A Post (plus date, plus title: Rollback!)
Act Two: "After..." (what they're saying out there about and around the post)
Act Three: Comments (what happened to the post in the thread.)
A post is really a performance of that cycle. It works when all three acts speak to each other, etc. I would not want to take the comparison too far, and it could get out of hand. The whole point of doing PressThink the way I do it is to create an arc of thought that sustains itself over a few days, maybe a week at most. Then it "falls" to the archive level, where it is accessed in a different way (Google.) So that's a performance cycle-- kinda.
What is this page? It's PressThink's stored performances when the blog's show moved temporarily to Boston. (Pretty good record, too, if I say so myself.) There's something to this idea by way of Jefferson.
Finally, I know for the writer of a blog--and I'm pretty sure for the readers, too--one of the more elusive attractions is that a blog is, for all human purposes, "alive." If you go away and come back, it has likely changed, and could even have "gone" somewhere in your absence.
I think this is part of what attracts us to reading the blogs we know well-- these things are growing whether we're there or not. We know this, and it keeps us coming back.
I might as well add, even though I said "finally," that this is already one of the 4-5 most trafficked PressThink'ers ever, (Instapundit and Romenesko) and the quickest comment thread to 100 replies ever.
That which reflects what they want to see is good journalism. That which doesn't is bad.
It's a very depressing thought.
Probably because it is a very wrong thought. But I'm sure many journalists find it quite comforting.
The thread I see running through a great deal of the criticism here is not that it doesn't "reflect me," but that it is factually in error. And despite all the belittling of a "just the facts" approach to reporting, getting matters of fact correct must be the starting point. Putting the facts in context, or explaining what they mean is secondary to the primary necessity.
I found this discussion mesmerizing, but, like much of what was taken for granted as unchangable near the end of the last millennium, discussions like this remind me of the retirees sitting around discussing why the buggy whip industry failed.
We have entered, and are rapidly penetrating deep into a technologically altered landscape where the old notions of print-based journalism will become meaningless.
I predict a new division of labor: An infrastructure of some sort - with an inbuilt collective fact-checking capacity similar to that of the Blogosphere - that provides commoditized factual reporting. It may not come from large corporate enterprise, either. The costs of delivering such a commodity have dropped to the point almost anybody can generate it - witness cell phone pics of disasters now being sought by mainstream journalism operations.
Various other divisions will use this commodity news as grist for contextualization, analysis, propaganda, corrections and additions, and jumping-off places for new investigations and commodity factual reporting.
The lines will be blurred here and there, but the end result will, I think, be a considerably higher level of factuality, contextuality, and understanding that the current system exhibits today.
Liberals stealing government money from children and the elderly is kind of man bites dog don't you think? The destruction of a service organization that was paid $10 million a year for its services.
Kind of like conservatives who favor embryonic stem cell research.
Well how about something that completely discredits a conservative position? How about the outbreak of a prohibition war in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico? The Texas papers are hot on this but the national media seems uninterested. What if it crosses the border?
We never see articles on Republican Socialism: price supports for criminals.
Most papers see prohibitions as a positive good except for abortion.
Where are the stories of harm caused by various black markets?
It is not just left vs right. It is conventional wisdom (mostly left) combined with historical ignorance.
Did I mention the pedeling of moral panics? Meth use went down for the last two years. Meth reporting is hitting new highs. (heh)
Let me see now wasn't the last Meth Moral Panic of this proportion in '68 or '69?
A lot of mental health folks are coming around to the notion that drug addiction is a symptom of other problems. Yet all we get from the mainstream media is based on the "drugs cause addiction" model.
Now the funny thing is you can find out about this stuff if you just look. Google is an impressive resource. However, very very few want to buck the conventional wisdom.
Reporters don't seem to know what questions to ask.
One of my favorite recurring stories is: teen use of X is (up) (down). Depending on the particular funding requirement du jour.
And yet the press keeps falling for these stories like a pig with a ring in its nose.
It is not just a left vs right thing.
No, I don't see the thread of 'factual' errors being the problem. I see the interpretation of error of being the problem.
Reports don't align with someone's beliefs on abortion/voting/military action/race/etc. and it's interpreted as being erroneous and biased.
That's not exactly critical thinking.
Dave, when fact and belief clash, belief loses. It's that simple. I may believe that the world is flat, and so if I object to you reporting that it is round, I am basing my objection on a non-factual proposition, and you are basing your reporting on fact. However, if you report the world is flat, and I object and point out that it is round, than my factual "belief" trumps your erroneous fact. However, my flat-world belief is not, in the end, a problem for journalism. Facts do have a way of intruding on belief, which is why flat-worlders tend to be in the distinct minority.
I think you exaggerate (perhaps understandably - they are throwing darts at you, after all) the public's dissatisfaction with reporting as being a matter of facts clashing with beliefs. There is an element of that, sure, but the true rage comes from a multitude of instances where that is not the case: instead, something is reported as being a fact when it is not, and then upon that report, journalistic analysis proceeds to build edifices of erroneous conclusion. A major example would be the Rather fiasco, where forged documents were presented as factual, and in which some journalists have still not managed to admit the papers were forged, apparently because the fact of their forgery conflicts with journalistic beliefs that wish otherwise.
A minor example would be the local reporter on the courthouse beat that misquotes, or selectively quotes, a city councilman and ends up presenting as fact a view that entirely misrepresents reality.
You must start with fact. Where you go from there is almost wide open, but without that foundation, you are lost before you begin.
I said I thought many journalists would find your opinion comforting, because it permits them to tell themselves that they aren't the problem, their uncritically-thinking readers are. But what use is that? Mainstream media is still hemorrhaging readers and eyeballs. Blaming the readers may make you feel better, but in the end, it will still put you on the porch with the other fogeys, discussing the end of the buggy whip business.
What is it being replaced by?
This is an interesting question because it touches on the entire issue of factuality.
I made a prediction as to the nature of the structure I thought would replace it (which you apparently ignore). Of course my prediction is not factual, because it cannot be. It hasn't occured yet. That which has not occurred cannot, by definition, be factual. It is an educated guess, based on a long career spent making educated guesses about things like this. (I am a much-published science fiction writer and novelist, as well as the author of a major non-fiction book on e-publishing).
Now, I am perfectly happy to make that prediction and then - with the caveat that it is a prediction, nothing more - erect towers of speculation, prediction, analysis, and context upon it.
A journalist, faced with an answer to your question, would have to either ignore it entirely (no factual answer presently available) or - much more likely - would pick a prediction like mine, or perhaps an entirely different prediction - and present it as fact because it was offered by some "authority."
Forget that it would not only be most likely factually in error, it wouldn't even be factual in the first place.
Yes, the third option would be to present a prediction as prediction - but is that journalism? And it it journalism as it is generally practiced today on the news pages of most papers?
You tell me.
This is a grab bag after about a million comments, but here goes.
How about a less high-falutin' sense of "make a difference." Getting the right information to the right people.
A small, everyday example. Write a story about a free welding training course. Instead of the dozens that were expected, hundreds apply. The state brings in extra instructors. Lots of people get welding certificates, which are a route to a decent-paying job. A good deed that only a mass medium can accomplish.
A bigger example. Somewhere in a rural Alabama county, a school district will be building a new school wing sometime soon. The money they use to do that comes from a pot of money the state had largely forgotten. A reporter covering the state Senate saw a lawmaker waving around a list of how much money is owed to each district. It turns out the governor was trying to take the money and plug up a hole in the state budget. The morning the story was printed, a lawyer appeared from the district with the most to lose. "We didn't know about it until you called the superintendent yesterday afternoon for a comment," the lawyer said. The district sued, and eventually won. That whole school will not be my monument, but at least one of those bricks belongs to me.
It's rare to get a win like that. That's why I've ceased to be surprised when people leave journalism to go directly into politics, teaching or the ministry. They want to have a direct impact, not the indirect one you have when reporting.
Now, it is more than possible that I mangled some of the technical terms regarding how welding works, or the legal background of the school money. I, and most reporters, are basically generalists when we first come to a subject. Subjects we don't write about a lot, we may never develop much expertise in. However, I quickly build up a body of knowledge on subjects I write about frequently. Good reporters try to read widely and deeply on their coverage areas. It would not surprise me to find that those economic reporters for the Washington Post and New York Times who were disparaged earlier are bearers of advanced degrees in that field.
Part of the problem is that general-interest journalists don't write for specialists in the field. We write for the folks who know even less than us. So specialists may often be unimpressed with how we translate their world to the bigger one outside.
Errors are wrong, and should be corrected as soon as possible. We print all our corrections on the front page.
But when I hear from experts, I generally find that the information is not so much wrong, as not right enough -- that I've glanced over the nuance they've spent years mastering
Sorry guys, but even if I am a newbie to your field of endeavor, I would argue that you, citizen, are also a generalist when it comes to the life of the republic, unless you are an elected official, paid lobbyist, or government employee. The newspaper is one of the last holdouts for the wonderful notion of a well-rounded person, that you should know a little bit about everything. Antiquated though it may be, I find that idea worth preserving.
Jay, this hasn't done much to advance your original question, which is what's to be done about the crisis of faith in journalism education. But it's clear the generalist versus specialist debate (which is part of what Bollinger was talking about) remains thorny.
There are very few general-interest publications in our society big enough or rich enough to support highly specialized journalists, reporters who have been formally educated in law, economics, architecture, art, music, engineering, cuisine, etc. So I'm not sure that folks who invest years of their life to get an education in those specialties can count on finding work in the chosen field, or keeping it over the long term.
Now clearly, some cable channels and web sites are doing something like speciality journalism. Maybe Discovery Health has picked up the torch from Science Times. And the world of trade magazines lives on.
But if the great newspapers, wire services, magazines and television news outfits crumble, we're likely to end up with fewer deep specialists than we have now. That's something that the critics who assail those institutions with such vehemence might want to keep in mind.
As for teaching journalism to everyone, that's an intriguing idea. Maybe I need to write up a grant application to Knight Foundation. Maybe we can't go back to every decent-sized city having two newspapers, but the more the merrier. At least, dear citizen, you might get a clearer understanding of what the inside of the sausage grinder looks like. You might stop confusing time pressure, lack of resources and human imperfection with a big political plot.
So far down so much to say...
I am not sure what to say except that maybe "j-school" isn't the best place for anyone to learn how to become a journalist, at least not right away. I checked Mr Rosen's Bio and I am pretty sure "j-school" was not on his list, but being a journalist was for a short time was.
I spent 12 years in student journalism, first as volunteer, then as an employee for 3 independent student newspapers. These independent newspapers competed with the "j-school" papers on campus, but it wasn't really much of a competition, in so many ways.
The "j-school" paper was always on time, their copy-editing was excellent, the stories were always excellent examples of current journalistic styles and yet our paper put together by student volunteers was always more exciting, albeit ripe with amateurish mistakes that come with caffeine addled nights. Our circulation was larger, our ads sales were greater and our mistakes were sometimes very big.
The fire and passion that was bred in that one small office, with it's collective structure taught these "unofficial" journalists what it really takes to become a journalist, dedication and trial by fire. These students would usually have a fulltime course load, most were getting great grades and scholarships in their official curriculum yet they would spend 40hrs a week working on the independent newspaper.
Journalism is really more of a philosophy than a profession, a philosophy that can only be learnt through the boiler-room that is a editorial meeting, one without boundaries. I believe most j-schools have too many boundaries and breed passive journalists.
J-school students never have to fight, really fight, argue, call names, hijack the copy desk, threaten palace coups, burnout to the point of tears, the way most students who worked for independent newspapers did. They never learnt the most important skill of all, the conviction to fight for what you believe in.
The most committed writers that came out of the independent papers went on to write (and win many awards) for the mass media, and many went on to create the alternative media revolution that came with desktop publishing. It is sad to say that the rise of J-schools in the 20th century was the start of the death knell of journalism.
You can't teach passion of beliefs, you can't even teach the beliefs if the student doesn't get to experience it in their training.
I'm not a teacher, but here's what i used to believe about journalism that I don't believe now: "The reporter isn't (shouldn't be) part of the story."
You're always part of the story, even when you're doing your level best to be objective. The story you produce will be shaped and limited by your perspective, your intelligence, your grasp of larger and connected issues. As the original (valid but limited) conservative critique explained, reporters who don't understand a related concept will never grasp that their story has omitted it. It's always what you don't know that gets you.
So for those here arguing for "just-give-me-the-facts" reporting: You try it, and then get back to me. Unless your report begins with the sentence "The Earth cooled," you've left out something that's important to somebody.
And for those who say "See? Even this guy says you can't be objective": I think the discipline of objectivity in one's thinking and the creation of objectivity as a process are valuable and worthy goals for anyone who wants to do journalism, be it for corporate media or your own local blog.
Here's what I believe today: The most valuable journalism is reporting that cuts through the artificial self-defense of "balance" and tells the reader exactly what's going on and what it means. And the problem with that model is, most journalists really aren't qualified to do it.
This isn't a critique of the model (its value is connected to its rarity), and it isn't a slam against journalists. It's just a recognition that a J-school degree does not confer special wisdom. The ability to see a subject clearly and thoroughly and with insight is rare, and it comes only after much study and experience. And it isn't going to make you popular.
In the Old School, the owners of printing presses and transmitters annointed such Wise Men (and they were almost always men). That's not true today.
But judging by the victimized political rhetoric and blanket condemnations of the press that I've read on this thread, such wisdom is just as rare in the public as it is in the newsroom.
The "make a difference" comment struck a chord with me too for it explains both why I entered the newspaper industry and, ultimately, one reason I left it.
I thought that by being a journalist I could stop or reduce apathy in the communities in which I cover. I wanted to comfort the afflicted and help the poor and homeless and make readers think and all the other litany of things many journalists want.
Over time I found myself believing this less and less.
I think those lines are very telling. "Make a difference" was a lazy creed, and a misleading one. In some ways it oversold journalists on the effect they can have. It permitted you and many thousands colleagues to believe in "comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable" without thinking through the actual politics of that statement.
You ought to follow the work of Jenny D., Scott. She was a journalist for 15 years and quit to go into education, and she blogs about it.
Odd: 155 comments, many of them reacting to what I wrote about "making a difference," but not a single mention of another of my lessons: how I used to believe that reality always bites back, and there are limits to how fungible the facts are. No more.
The Administration of George W. Bush, with its retreat from empiricism, its doctrine of infallability, its hostility to science, its attack on the press, its manipulation and intimidation of intelligence, its philosophy of "we make reality" and the amazing innovation of the Bush bubble (which protects the president from the American people) have forced me to doubt that. Reality can be put to one side, as with the case for war, or global warming, and there are no limits to how fungible the facts are.
These are political innovations for which Bush does not get enough credit. Each one of them goes well beyond what previous presidents--who may have longed for the same freedom from fact--thought they could get away with.
I find it amazing that people in the Bush coalition and the Republican party aren't more alarmed by these things. In fact I believe they are quietly alarmed, the smarter, less ideology-soaked ones, but like the rest of us have no idea how to combat something as deep and anti-modern as a flight from empiricism. They're just hoping it doesn't lead to a major scandal or disaster, and they think the alternatives (to Bush) are worse.
Their silence is creepy. If any one of them saw a corporation being run this way (the CEO in a bubble?) they would recognize signs of danger immediately. What I say about it, what the Democratic Party says, what the press says, what allies say is irrelevant. W. towers over them all. The only dissent that matters at this point is from within the Bush coalition itself.
It's actually a character test for those people. Do they hate the left more than they love the world? So far the answer is yes, they do. That's sad, it's also disturbing. And I have no idea what to do about it. So I write.
Mr. McLemore (quote): "Not being able to read signs written in Cyrillic or mislabeling a Bradley for a tank or a F-111 for something else, while annoying and correctible, isn't the most egregious of journalism's problems."
No sir, it's not. The haughty, holier-than-thou reaction to being corrected, and concomitant refusal to accept and act upon those corrections, on the other hand, is among its worst.
If you're at a desk in Atlanta, reading Cyrillic is pretty arcane and unnecessary. I can understand that, I'm a generalist, too. But when you're covering a war in Southeast Europe, and you're an international news agency with global reach, having staffers who can read the local script is suddenly not arcane. Similarly, a **Moscow correspondent** should be expected to at least be able to pronounce words and names in the language: otherwise it's clear that at best he's a talking head passively reading a script. Correspondent != news anchor, right?
This is why I said that "Facts vs. Story" is meaningless without context. The context makes what is required quite clear.
The story: F-111 shot down.
The Question everybody wants to know: where was it shot down?
The Answer: right on screen. Novi Sad, up by the Hungarian border.
The Maddening Lie: "We're not allowed to tell you where this is."
(This is how all those lofty sentiments are expressed? One serves the public by treating them as if they were idiots?)
Your objection has nicely illustrated my position: if the response of the press (to this long-mummified horse) was some press-appropriate version of "we've got a reader out there who reads Cyrillic and says Serbian TV says it's Novi Sad (perhaps then throwing up a quick map pic)... no problem. Hell, local journalism does this with style and aplomb every day for the traffic reports! But the response of the press at large seems to be disdain that the public would demand competence in the manufacture of a product.
Similarly, to use your own example, when you're in a war zone, reporting on a war, you need to be able to distinguish between an M1 and a Bradley. It's not like they're hard to distinguish! If some editor back stateside who's never held a bullet, let alone an assault rifle before blows that while he's arranging photos, then sure, who cares. Put it down as one for the corrections page, where it'll never see the light of day again. But when you're reporting on action in the field... that counts, and the credibility of any journalist who can't tell the difference between the tank (with the huge cannon), and the Bradley )with the pop-gun and troops), has now begun to approach zero.
In context, facts that are basic and essential to the story aren't trivial facts at all, and one does a terrible misservice to one's students if one allows them to think that. And if J-school continues to pump out grads whose response to the notion that there might be critical facts is disdain... then why should the customers care to purchase said product, let alone hold these faulty practitioners up as somehow deserving of special status and respect? Since when did basic competence become regarded as such a lofty bar to hurdle?
An example of journalist 'haughtiness'? Where are the stories on the Air America funnt money issues? Where are the stories on Cindy Sheehan's inconsistancies- all of which are documented? It wasn't journalists that made the Dan Rather story.
Where are the stories of journalists agreeing cooperating with the PA's code of conduct, so that Palestinians are only seen in an 'approved' light?
Speaking of the Palestinians- where are the stories on the final disposition of the Mohammed Al Dura matter? Not even discussion in the MSM.
Why is it that only MEMRI.ORG can be depended on to accurately report what is said in languages other than english, in the middle east?
If there were anti black rhetoric spewed in the same way anti Jewish remarks are made in the Arab world, you guys would be all over it. If there were anti black and racist agendas taught in schools, you guys would be having a field day.
In fact, when certain issues are discussed in the media, you guys don't give a damn. Your agenda is far more important than your honesty- and everyone in America knows it. Why do you think journalists are regarded so poorly?
No doubt many of you will take offense at my words- and you cannot question the veracity of my remarks. Many of you just think you and your work are above criticism.
That very few of you even admit to the reality and veracity of many criticisms, will only ensure your marginalization- and will only guarantee the influence of this generations pamphleteers- bloggers.
You see, you, in your hubris, have created us- and we are a lot smarter than you give us credit for. In the end, bloggers have and will have a lot more influence than you might care for- and the zero sum game of truth and reality, that ought to scare the living daylights out of you.
Jay said, in part, ... "I used to believe that reality always bites back, and there are limits to how fungible the facts are. No more.
"The Administration of George W. Bush, with its retreat from empiricism, its doctrine of infallability, its hostility to science, its attack on the press, its manipulation and intimidation of intelligence, its philosophy of 'we make reality' and the amazing innovation of the Bush bubble (which protects the president from the American people) have forced me to doubt that. Reality can be put to one side, as with the case for war, or global warming, and there are no limits to how fungible the facts are."
Now you are talking, Jay. We have talked about this before, although no one else picked up on it, back when discussing "faith-based knowledge" vs. "empirical knowledge."
Remember, Bush doesn't read the newspaper, he gets his information from God and Condi, in that order.
Members of the vast right-wing conspiracy, many of whom like to harass us here on a regular basis, get their information from God and Rush and O'Reilly.
Here's a segment from my Sunday column this week, in which I objectively took on The Problem With Liberals.
A lot of conservatives I know are what you might call "complete dumbasses," defined by the mere fact that they form their opinions out of thin air, with a little help from other dumbasses on talk radio and Fox News.
They take their talking points on faith, just as they take their faith-based religious views into the political realm and argue for dumbass things like teaching "intelligent design" alongside the theory of evolution in science classes. Intelligent design is not a scientific theory. It is a political argument to continue the dumbass fight we've been having in this country since a Tennessee high school teacher had the guts to challenge the religious dumbasses in court. . . .
Many of them have never read a newspaper or a magazine or an entire book, not even the Holy Bible they like to push in other people's faces to justify their bigotry and hate.
The problem many on the left have with the MSM these days is that journalists sometimes simply report what people say, even if they know it is patently false. Remember the line from the movie All the President's Men when Jason Robards, playing Ben Bradlee, said: "We don't report the truth. We report what people tell us."
That includes the religious zealot Jerry Falwell, or the president, even if we know they are completely full of it. Cable TV talk shows are the worst about this, not so much the New York Times. But that would fall under the category of criticizing "the media," not "the press."
Also, it has to do with the perversion of how objectivity is defined by the press. We must print both sides, whether they distort the facts or not. That's why I have argued for a new definition, but it's going to be hard to change 100 years of journalism education history and a long string of text books that got it wrong.
The Big Chill
Blogs are the best thing to happen to journalism since the First Amendment.
Seems that nothing, not the move from yellow journalism to objectivity in the first half of the previous century, not the take over of MSM by journalism taught in school instead of learned on the job, not the impact of radio and then television news reporting, nothing has affected journalism as much as blogs. And this is only the beginning.
I dreaded the influence of “All the President’s Men” had on young people who thought journalism would be a “cool” course of study. They could dream of becoming Robert Redford or Dustin Hoffman. I feared the journalism market would become crowded by the time I got back to my studies after my hiatus brought on by low grades -- in other subjects -- and the draft.
Anyway, the chill in enthusiasm for journalism in young people may be the shift away from the idealism brought on by Woodward’s book and the movie. (Who wouldn’t want to have a shadowy Hal Holdbrook illuminated by dramatic indirect light and the red glow of his cigarette as a source? Sorry Mr. Felt, you’re no Hal Holdbrook. The truth doesn’t measure up.) That and the right wing campaign to paint anything in the MSM that doesn’t agree with them as liberal bias may have had an impact in young people’s mines. You know, if you are far enough to the right, the center looks liberal to you; objectivity is seen as bias; the truth as a smear. The campaign is working as indicated by the chilling effect on campuses.
Jay, as your post argues, there is much that is wrong with journalism. However, as we all know, it is nothing so noble as partisan politics. The competition for the news consumer and personal ambition can and has lead to many failures in professionalism which, as part of the terrain, are aired in public for all to see. This washing and exposure of dirty laundry may give journalism the appearance of the same taint as business had in the 1960’s when the capitalist dream appeared more like some gross exploitation instead of recognizing the latest disclosures as the shake out of bad journalism.
To me, the worse offence is the use of unnamed sources. I was taught that no bit of information should be used that is not attributed to some source. In Washington, this is especially ignored -- which is in violation of a journalistic rule since the most important newsbyte in a story like this is why the bit of information was leaked. I can understand why it’s published. A juicy bit of un-attributed news that would move the story onto the front page, above the fold, or lead off the broadcast is hard to resist. Reporters will always maximize their position; it is the duty of editors to see that first draft of history is accurate and in context as much as possible.
And who comes to the rescue to see that what is taught in schools, bragged about at seminars and ensconced in pundits is actually fulfilled: blogs. Blogs may be the savior of journalism more than any letters to the editor, ombudsmen or previous forms of feedback such as tar and feathers could ever hope to be.
By the way, have you thought about other disciplines and the dislocation between what is taught and what is practice? The medical field? Law enforcement? Political Science? Are journalists better or worse than these in practicing what they were preached? Context anyone?
Kilgore, I appreciate the effort to define terms. Maybe we can now work at consensus on what's included in MSM.
I assume you mean the Washington Post, the NYTimes, Time and Newsweek and the old Big Three networks: NBC, CBS, ABC. Does MSM also include CNN? The Washington Times? LA Times? Fox News? How about upper end of the cable or the talk shows?
As for content, what constitutes MSM failings? Does it include when the coverage supports the Administration or corporate powers, i.e., when Judy Miller's furthered the White House's war plans with her reports on WMD? Or it largely when the reports are critical of the president? (It can be any president and any ideological bent, BTW.)
I ask - and I'm dead serious here - because so much of the allegations of MSM failings addressed here appear, indeed the criticisms of those hometown newspapers we all love, depends so much on perspective.
When they report the mayor, the alderman or the president acted unwisely/foolishly or illegally, the media - hometown or MSM - is either dead-on accurate or hopelessly biased.
Now don't get me wrong. Getting stuff right is important. Getting the facts available on deadline and reporting them correctly and fairly is the goal. And the media - all of the media - have signficiant concerns with the work of sloppy, lazy or ignorant reporters and editors.
But how can facts presented, even though unflattering, be a matter of bias.
It used to be that if we pissed off folks on both sides, we were doing the job right. But that's vainglory. Now, you never know what the reaction will be.
But when someone says 'the media are liberal' I want to ask, 'compared to what?' For all the readers/viewers out there, there are some who are more liberal than you. And some who are much more conservative.
So thanks for the effort to define the terms. It's a valuable and necessary thing. But we've only just begun.
Jay, thanks for some great thoughts.
You're really wrong about folk believing Rather -- I'm sure lots of folk who voted for Kerry believed him.
"how I used to believe that reality always bites back, and there are limits to how fungible the facts are. No more."
That's because facts ONLY have meaning within a story, a narrative; and primarily with respect to some political policy. (OK, in sports it also is true -- a "bad trade" means a bad season, and the following year the sports writer will point that out. If he was right.)
Policy that is implemented has effects, and it is the bad effects of policy that should bite back -- bad effects relative to the plausible alternative.
For instance, IF there is a Leftist media bias (policy), "reality" should bite back, anti-Leftist news should gain market share, and Leftist media (like CBS?) would get discredited. Less biased media (Fox?) would become more popular.
Um, I think reality DOES bite back, still. I think Leftist media-elite who deny bias are in the bubble, and "hoping" for no bite back. I think you, Jay, see reality biting back, but are in continual denial of the facts. This is called "cognitive dissonance." (oops, I forgot. You think I'm psychotic. How...special.)
You're in a bubble far more than Bush.
Steve L. asks "what more do they want?"
tax cuts AND spending cuts. Actually smaller gov't, not just talk about it "in theory." [The economy, with low inflation, low unemployment, is GREAT. Media bias ... little coverage.]
Partial birth abortion made illegal in a way that the courts accept, rather than a continuation of killing 6 month old human fetuses that could be delivered except that the mothers find them inconvenient. [Media bias -- NO pictures!]
School vouchers all over America, so parents have real choices for their children, rather than just a few experiments and bigger gov't pushing some program -- though more focus on results is good.
"Winning the war" in Iraq; whatever that means.
Bush actually hasn't given conservatives much; but Kerry was worse. Which reminds me. Kerry testified to the Senate that he was: Illegally In Cambodia at Christmas -- but there are no facts to support this claim. I'd say reality bit him back; a bit. If the Leftist media was really more interested in facts, Kerry's Lies would have been used more against him by one of the other 8 dwarfs running for the Dem nomination.
One idea of a primary is to get all the dirt out there while still "in house". Try Marc Cooper, he hates Kerry ... but hates Bush even more!
With candidates, as with policies, alternatives matter. With global warming, Kyoto costs a huge amount (for sure), for very small benefits. (I support a Hart-type gas tax, up a cent every month until the budget is balanced.) Better tech is lots more likely to work, sooner, and long term cheaper. Not certain though.
Finally, back to "making a difference".
Why not measure it?
Like, in number of US lives lost in Iraq?
Minimize; Maximize; or neutral (no difference)
The patriot above, essentially wanting Public Relations for Bush and the war effort, clearly wants the US to win with the MINIMUM of US casualties.
The Moral Hazard you nearly get to is this: a "neutral" press position means more US soldiers will die than a PR pro-war position, if it makes any difference. (Nobody knows how many. Nor if Casey Sheehan died for press "neutrality" or not.)
But the real issue is PR against the war, against Bush, against America -- because that tends to MAXIMIZE the deaths of US soldiers.
Unless you mean something else about "making a difference".
M. Simon, I'm confused. You say the media are ignoring the violence along the border. How so?
The AP, Times, Christian Science Monitor, Atlanta Constitution-Journal, as well as the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News have covered the most recent outburst of border violence in Nuevo Laredo since April.
Were you referring to the violence against reporters? On Aug. 14, Susana Hayward of Knight Ridder reported on "Mexico's drug gangs silence newspapers by killing reporters' It ran many newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.
And just for fun, I went to the New York Times website and did a search on border violence. I came up with this in the first of 20 citations.
August 17, 2005
Citing Violence, 2 Border States Declare a Crisis
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL
August 16, 2005
Mexico's Fox Tells U.S. To Help Out in Drug War
By REUTERS (Reuters) News
August 16, 2005
U.S. Defends Crime Fighting Near Mexico
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (AP) News
August 11, 2005
Texas Town Is Unnerved by Violence in Mexico
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL
August 6, 2005, Saturday
World Briefing | Americas: Mexico: U.S. Consulate To Reopen; City Official Gunned Down
By Antonio Betancourt
August 2, 2005, Tuesday
17 Are Killed in 2 Incidents, Fueling Mexicans' Fears of Violence
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
FOREIGN DESK | July 30, 2005, Saturday
World Briefing | Americas: Mexico: U.S. Shuts Consulate In Lawless City
By Antonio Betancourt
July 28, 2005, Thursday
World Briefing | Americas: Mexico: Local Police Return To Streets Of Violent Border City
By James C. McKinley Jr.
July 5, 2005, Tuesday
Corruption Hampers Mexican Police in Border Drug War
By GINGER THOMPSON
June 28, 2005, Tuesday
Mexican Forces Rescue Dozens Apparently Held by Kidnappers
By GINGER THOMPSON
How is this ignoring border violence?
Jay, just so I understand - does that mean you think blogging can't be effective as a media watchdog? That MediaMatters and others are just spinning their wheels?
I didn't say bias criticism is ineffective, Karl. It can be a very effective way to mobilize resentment at an institution, and activate hyper-politicized feelings of victimhood, as we saw repeatedly and pathetically in this thread.
I said that bias criticism is not "truth-seeking." That doesn't mean that no one ever found and told a truth while hunting for bias. It means that on the whole and as a matter of practice, this is a point-scoring (philosophers would say "instrumentalist") discourse.
We don't need fancy words. We remember a lot of it from the playground: "Oh yeah? Well what about..."
Media Matters was created because, in the opinion or the founders and funders, the right was outdoing the left in the bias wars-- successfully "working the refs" as Eric Alterman put it. David Brock and company wanted to counteract that. Yeah, I'd say they have been effective at what they wanted to do. One might even say that a group like that is necessary.
Oliver Willis (who works for Media Matters) said at this very blog that the press is beat (limp, cowardly) and "has to be played," a version of: they do it, so we have to do it. Here what he said exactly:
Right now, the right’s megaphone is loudest which is why I’ve been trying to get my side to get equally loud…. Frankly, we can do all the hoping and pining for the long lost responsible media but it isn’t ever coming back. The press is useless and has to be played.
Willis at his blog (in a post called "Beat the Press") says he agrees with the Bush White House: the press is just a special interest: “... it should now be clear to progressives that the media is most definitely a special interest group that you need to slap around in order to get democracy accomplished.”
This is the logical result of the bias wars, which are mostly about tactical battles fought for inches of ground in a game of who can discredit whom faster. It is taken for granted by both sides that one side deals in "facts," "truth" and "what the record shows" while the media (and of course the enemy) peddle only lies and distortions.
Have you ever noticed how frequently bias talk includes terms like "obviously," "blatantly," "no reasonable person can deny.." and "can you imagine if the circumstances were reversed and it was a Republican who...?" Those are signs of what's up. Not ultimately but obviously and blatantly do reason and truth belong to us, and no person willing to reason can deny it. That is the message. That is also the appeal.
My own view (unprovable) is that participants in the bias discourse are somewhere aware of their own distortions, feel unclean about it, and to avoid cognitive dissonance they have to puff themselves up as totally justified, totally right on both the facts and the law, just as the media is totally set against them. They need to believe that they are fighting people totally shameless, blatantly one-sided, etc. Listen again: "No reasonable person..."
Or just look at the pathetic post above this one, where rosignol says the news media applies "innocent until proven guilty" to liberals while "the standard applied to conservatives is 'guilty until proven innocent.'" That's the victimized, hyper-politicized, comically self-righteous discourse I refer to. And it happened while I was typing my answer to you!
The example you gave of a similar crime the news media isn't looking into because the victim isn't a white girl may have been effective, and necessary, and even just, but in making your points did you also say that these kinds of stories, when television news gets ahold of them, are overdone and manipulative no matter what the race of the victim (they exploit the suffering of the families, so as to bring the audience in on the drama) and we should have less of them? That's what I mean by truth-seeking.
Steve, very nice use of Hitler -- he effectively used PR for Hitler Germany ... but he LOST.
Minimize/ Maximize issues are dependent on agreement of what the desired outcome is.
Does the Steve Lovelady "narrative" assume or desire a US loss in Iraq, and thereby want to minimize the US soldiers lives lost (wasted), by withdrawing early? This IS the right strategy, I'd say, for all on the side of Hitler...
I'm assuming the US will help Iraqis WIN, and have a democracy. Of course it's less expensive in lives to stop fighting than to LOSE. (Perhaps the S. Vietnamese, Cambodians, Tutsis, and Darfur Sudanese don't fully agree.)
The fact is, we don't know if the US/ Iraq democrats will win, or lose; nor if the terrorists will win.
I think you're being simultaneously condescending and yet unbelievably dense when you say, about pro-war PR: "I honestly don't see how you get from A to Z. Seems to me it would just as likely lead to more American casualties -- a lot more, in fact."
I thank you for at least acknowledging pro-war or anti-war "PR" can have an effect on the number of casualties, perhaps a big effect. (In fact I do NOT believe you fail to see my logic, I think you just disagree, in the most lazy way you can think of. It IS a long thread already)
So let's talk about 3 more real examples: WW II - Hiroshima, Vietnam, Iraq.
I claim dropping the bombs ended the war sooner, and saved US lives; and even Japanese lives. It was dropped in a very pro-war PR campaign. How much publicity for the B-29 bombers crashing days before? How much for details about D-Day prep with some 879 soldiers drowning in training? How many "Private Ryan"-type German soldiers executed by advancing allied forces? How many fotos of allied soldiers, disgusted by SS guards at death camps, just murdering the guards? Not much; not much criticism of the war. The current news, of the time, was prolly around 90-95% on the pro-war PR side.
More anti-war PR press might have caused a delay in Hiroshima, increasing by some 2000/ week the US casualties.
Is this in agreement with your narrative?
Vietnam -- of course it's too late to invade; is it too late to LEARN? Oh wait, facts & reality, like the KILLING FIELDS, haven't bitten the anti-war protesters (like you and Jay, who wonders why reality doesn't bite anymore). Anti-war support FOR commie victory has been a disgrace for 30 years. But I have to admit, if you want the commie victory at the fewest US soldier lives lost, the way is to oppose Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin resolution, oppose any action to escalate, and support surrender, er, "peace with honor" as soon as possible for the "senseless" war.
ONLY if you accept genocide as better than fighting against genocide was Vietnam senseless, or a mistake. (How we fought there -- LOTS of mistakes. Estimates of early “victory near” were especially terrible, over time; Pentagon Papers shows lots of mistakes.)
Had the press remained pro-war PR, and accurately predict a coming genocide if the US leaves, so that the US was still engaged there when Nixon was booted, I think Ford and even Carter could have avoided letting the commies win (-- like with more funding for the S. Vietnamese defensive Army, and more air power to fight against N. Viet tanks.) [I think the press did pretty good in booting Nixon, but terrible in getting the US to leave Vietnam – yet also that, without the anti-war/ anti-Nixon energy, Nixon wouldn’t have been booted. It’s hard to separate the post-68 anti-war from anti-Nixon.]
My narrative has the press, after '68 & Tet & Nixon winning in 68, taking an anti-war PR position with few stories of the likely outcome if the US leaves. And virtually no front page NYT stories at all a month after the US did leave, thereby omitting reports on the reality that should be biting the anti-war folk – until the great Killing Fields movie.
Is this in agreement with your narrative?
Now in Iraq. When there are 90 front page NYT stories about Abu Ghraib & Gitmo, to 10 stories about Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg, and other victims of Islamofascist terrorists, I think the MSM is acting about 80% anti-war/ pro-terrorist.
This results in more potential terrorists seeing all this anti-war, anti-Bush energy, so there is a belief they really can “win,” in any case it is certainly possible to strike a blow against the Great Satan of the USA. When the potential terrorists are told how bad the US is, the “guiding” Imam can merely read aloud from the NYT quoting, perhaps like the National Enquirer with only one source, somebody saying how terrible Bush is – and then say, “see, even the people in America know how terrible it is.”
My narrative has such anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-America publicity increasing the number of terrorists actually joining.
Does your narrative really have the anti-Bush news decreasing the number of new recruits? Or no effect? Or perhaps you lack the courage or intellectual integrity to say the effect on terrorists of your narrative?
Too much PR anti-war, anti-Bush is, inversely, PR on the pro-terrorist side, so there are more terrorist recruits. If more potential terrorists actually join the terrorists and become active, this increases the number of US casualties, as well as Iraqis.
(And you expect me to believe you honestly didn’t know this before?)
Once again I'm amazed y'all keep this going as long as you do. I go away for awhile and do some real work and come back and find all kinds of distortions, however.
So just for clarification purposes, I didn't lose two-thirds of my blog audience - because conservatives do not read my blog, the best I can tell. The Locust Fork is for smart people : ) Can conservatives read? (Just kidding people. Get a sense of humor).
And just for the record, I am a liberaltarian on the blog and on the radio. You see, down South even liberals do not want the government in our bedrooms.
And I am not just a blogger. I am a free-lance journalist who also taught journalism for nine years, including tenure track at Loyola University New Orleans for two. After 9/11 I wrote Howell Raines a masterful letter and did a considerable amount of reporting for the New York Times, most of it uncredited of course. But I did fulfill a lifelong dream: A page one byline in the Sunday Times. So there.
I am also a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and was the New Orleans bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News for about four years.
I blog now because I am tired of being told what the angle of the story should be by editors in New York, and because I like being in business for myself and controlling what I write about and how I write about it.
We are about to put out a print version of The Locust Fork Journal, so I will be the editor and publisher of a smart, progressive print publication in about a month, complete with print advertising as well as Web banner ads and blog ads. But the main purpose of the print product is to promote the Web site, a novel approach to be sure. The Web site is now getting almost a quarter of a million hits a month after only five months.
I like Press Think primarily because I have an interest the debate about the blogosphere versus mainstream journalism, or my term for it, corporate journalism. I am also still interested in journalism education, because I dabble in it on a free-lance basis too.
During the fall semester, I will be putting together a seminar for journalism classes and the public on using the Internet. The first booking is already in the works for Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
What I am finding after moving back to Alabama from Washington, D.C. and New Orleans is that a lot of people are online using e-mail. But the MSM Web sites are so bad around here that they leave a hole big enough to drive a mac truck through for someone to grab the online news audience with a fast and tasteful Web site.
So we don't just blog. We scan the headlines from the major papers and wire services and produce a news page that looks like the New York Times - without the pop up ads.
And if you have never tried to read the Washington Post online through a dial up connection, you may not understand that we use the print version of Washington Post stories and help our readers to those stories without having to go through the main interface. It's a real service that people appreciate, especially the poor Democrat activists in these parts who are very frustrated with the conservative media.
Yes, I said conservative media. The three largest circulation newspapers in this state, as well as Louisiana, are owned by the Newhouse chain. They have a long history of union busting, and always, always, endorse the Republican candidate for president. I am sure there are a few liberal reporters working there, but they have no power and mostly show up and crank out bad copy to fill the space between the ads and keep their mouths shut.
For example, when blogs were brand new, and one staffer posted a letter to Romenesko about Rick Bragg, the publisher of the Times-Picayune passed down an edict in the form of a memo banning any staffer from "participating in blogs."
As far as I'm concerned, and I've said this for publication before, the sooner the corporate chain papers stop killing the trees the better. Unless they start standing up for science and democracy and holding public officials accountable again, they are useless to the enterprise anyway. In five years they will be hard-pressed to keep making a 20 percent return on investment, because NOBODY is going to be reading them accept a few 80-year-old hard corps religious conservative Republicans.
Many of the chains are just now investing in new printing presses and new buildings, including papers like the Knoxville News-Sentinal, even though the staffers have signs on their desks showing the number of days they have been working without a contract. The days add up to years now.
When I challenged the vice president of the Washington Post company about this very issue about five years ago, he said he was not worried about what would happen in 15 years.
He smiled and said, "I'll be retired by then anyway," and walked off.
On a political note, it is obvious the Bush administration doesn't care about the future. Because of the war, they are gouging us for every penny they can make on gas, knowing they will all be retired and wealthy soon.
Does the press care? They don't seem to show it. They are hunkered down in fear of a church-led circulation and advertising boycott.
Sorry for the length. But those are the facts.