This link is to a rambling but interesting discussion, which crystallized some thoughts for me.
I have been thinking some about the failure of modern journalism. Yep failure. In every one of the biggest stories of the past nearly 10 years, I think modern journalism has blown it. Clinton Impeachment, The War on Terror, Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, etc.
How? Because the structure of journalism is wrong. The conventional practice is to essentially be a recorder of events. Tell the story. Balance is of course required, and so we have lots of "he said" and "she said."
It is considered wrong, and not the province of news reporting to then go the next step and say, "well, what he said is only partially true and what she said is false in the following respects as well."
There are a number of defects in this approach but two that stand out. The first is, that by taking this so called "neutral" perspective, the profession fails at one of its essential missions -- contributing towards an informed polity.
A balanced report with quotes from both sides cedes public opinion to the better spinmeister. The public is not in a position to hold newsmakers accountable to the facts -- we have day jobs -- but journalists are. Sticking strictly to "he said, she said" leaves the public without any help in parsing the spin to get to the truth, and so the better spin just wins.
The second failure is in serving the reader/audience. Help! I am drowning in information, and much of it is based on original source material created by people with a definite agenda. I need a professional to help me parse it. Sticking strictly to "he said, she said" doesn't' help me.
This sounds like the same point twice, but it isn't. The first problem is that the better spin wins, the second is that it isn't serving the customer's needs.
How do I know what the customer's needs are? Well I don't, but I look at the success of Fox News, or the Daily Show, and I think, "hmmm... Maybe people want something more than just neutral reportage."
I'm not suggesting a left leaning alternative to Fox News. Instead what I am suggesting is that mainstream media embrace the notion that it has to fairly, and without bias, hold newsmakers accountable to facts and history. Perhaps this is analysis -- so what. It's the right thing to do to serve the primary mission of the profession, and its smart business to meet customers needs.