Sunday, October 02, 2005

Objectivity, Shmobjectivity

Objectivity, along with accuracy, is one of the holy grails of journalism. But is it really that desirable? All of my favorite magazines, The Economist, Wired, and Entertainment Weekly are decidedly partial. And I'm not just talking about the opinion columns and reviews. Throughout all their content, these publications make quite clear what developments in politics, business, and culture they like and dislike. And, unsurprisingly, I tend to agree with them. Does that mean I'm locking myself in an echo chamber, and shielding my eyes from reality with hack journalism? Is there any difference between me, and someone who swears by Fox News or The Workers' Daily?

I think there are indeed very important differences. If Fox News seemed to truly want to make the world safe for small government, free trade, or Christian values, and their coverage was filtered through that lens, then more power to them. As long as their values don't lead them to outright lying, I don't see anything wrong with bias in journalism: especially now in the information age, when "the media" is so far from being monolithic. Fox News being conservatively biased is not going to brainwash the masses, as so many leftists fret. What makes Fox News an absolute tool is that it does not seem to truly care that much about small government, free trade, or Christian values. The only thing Fox News seems to want to make the world safe for is the Republican Party, and particularly the Bush administration. Bush tends to receive Fox News' toadyish support even when he's swelling government bureaucracy or establishing protectionist tariffs. The Economist, on the other hand, while it wears its conservative heart on its sleeve, will not refrain from praising the Labor Party when it implements pro-market reforms, or chastising the Tories when they promote excessive limitations on economic immigration.

And what sets publications like The Workers' Daily apart, is that, while they are ideologically consistent, they are also too "on-message." Wired may be libertarian and futurist. But you don't get the impression that every article is geared toward a certain agenda.

A good media source is like a good friend who shares interesting things he's learned. As a human with a brain, he has a certain world view, and certain opinions. That doesn't mean he's being dishonest or cynical in his motivations for sharing his info with you. And just as people are apt to find friends who have similar world views, in the diversified media market of today, it is likely that people can find media sources that jibe with their views.

I'm a classic liberal and so is The Economist. I'm interested in what an organization that has similar views to mine, and vastly superior information gathering resources has to say about the world. I believe strongly in private technological advancement, as does Wired. So I'd rather hear about private space travel from Wired, than from NPR, which is clearly pro-NASA. And I tend to like my music, television, and movies to be smart, fresh, and a little edgy. So I don't mind that Entertainment Weekly will harshly criticize the lame TV show According to Jim, even in a feature article about its star, while a magazine like Time would only find nice things to say.

The "don't offend anybody, but don't inspire anybody either" form of objectivity one finds in USA Today, network morning shows, and most small-town newspapers is not only boring, but intellectually deadening. Most Americans don't have thought-out opinions on very many subjects, because they are never challenged by their media sources. People should bounce back and forth between media sources that offend or annoy them, until they find one that inspires them. And with the explosion of blogs and other web sites, niche magazines, satellite radio, podcasts, and cable channels, that smart and targeted way of learning about the world around us is finally possible.

So, mainstream media, don't be objective. Just be honest. Global discourse would be much more fruitful for it.


At 9:05 AM, Blogger Ron Franscell said...

Most thinkers on the subject of American journalism long ago gave up on the idea that "objectivity" is the true goal of a news reporter. Only a machine can be truly objective. Trust me, if I use the verb "jump" in a story, I'll soon hear from a numbers of readers (probably bloggers) that, in fact, the proper verb would have been "leap" ... or "hop" ... or "danced a jig" ... or "leapt." Consumers only see media through the prism of their own bias, and that is another factor in why a news report will never been seen as "objective."

A human, on the other hand, can be fair. As a newspaperman, my goal is to present as many sides of the story as fairly as time, space and resources allow.

My first job is to provide as much fair and complete information as I can and let the READER decide. Rabid bloggers have different views from that, but that's OK. I simply hope that when the day is done, readers can tell the differenec between those of us who trust them to decide for themselves and those who would shove their opinions down our throats.

Ron Franscell


Post a Comment

<< Home

Site Meter