The Structure of Conventional Journalism is Wrong

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.

There's more...

Broken news: Media off target, again

Moving into a new place, as most of you know, is a massive pain in the ass. So much to do, so little time. So many important tasks falling through the cracks if you forget. So much packing, unpacking, assembling and disassembling before you can finally settle, before you can let out a sigh of relief. If you don't keep your eyes on the prize, completing one task at a time, moving in can soon seem like an almost impossible goal, an unreachable destination left only to those with proper time management skills and the necessary stick-to-itiveness. Minor distractions so deviously take you away from what needs to be done, occupying your time when there are many, many more important things left to do. And now, thanks to an easily-distracted media led astray by the high-calorie, low-content story du jour, the American public is paying the same price for the Fourth Estate not staying on target.

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Guerrilla Vlogger: People Powered Media - Edwards, Lamont and Deval Patrick

Cross-posted at DailyKos

I've been getting more and more into this citizen journalism thing all summer at OAC blog. I think this is more than just a new kind of blogging for me. I think the next presidential election cycle will witness a whole new kind of emerging media. We're seeing glimpses of it now, but in 2008 this new YouTube people-powered journalism could take off. The new media will be the kind that uses websites like this and sites like YouTube to deliver Citizen Generated Content, stuff that we make and not the campaigns.

A reporter at the Gnomedex conference in Seattle last June asked the room, "Blogs were the big story the last time around, what will the story be next time around?"

Video: What's Next? (2:34)

Follow me below the fold to discuss how we become the story next time around.

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The Maturing of David Brooks

crossposted on DailyKos

Meet David Brooks, fictional journalist.  To clarify, he's not fictional, but he engages in a style of fiction posing as journalism--also shared by former NYT colleagues Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair.  This University of Chicago educated writer asserts that he used to write based on facts, but now considers it "dishonest".


When his first book "Bobos In Paradise" was published in 2000 as a sociological journalism book, a sharp and enterprising reporter named Sasha Issenberg ("Boo Boos in Paradise", Philadelphia Magazine) thought the data cited rang false.   He decided to do a little of his own research.  What he found was that David Brooks wrote a book of made-up-facts, known by those outside the public intellectual pantheon as fiction.  


I will begin with the end of the story.  Issenberg called him up regarding his research of Brooks' research.  This was Brooks' response,

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The Ghost of Joseph McCarthy

by Michael Stearns Suskind
June 18, 2006

Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? 

This is the question that I heard as a litany in my childhood.  One by one I watched people of great integrity being nailed on this and other questions.  They were given a choice, to out their friends, or lose their ability to live and work in the United States.

Lindsey Beyerstein of Majikthise agrees with Steven Spruiell of Nat.Review.Online that outing a prominent anonymous blogger was newsworthy.  She says, "I'm sorry that Armando of Daily Kos got outed, but there was a real story there: Wal-Mart lawyer front pager at major liberal blog." However, Beyerstein notes that malicious outing is not cool:  "Some bloggers, like T of M-C, have been outed for purely frivolous malicious reasons. Piss off the wrong person and put your career in jeopardy."

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