Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Not what they say they are or what they mean

I should warn you I've got another long-winded (dare we call it Simonesque in length?) post about life without the T-P sitting in my drafts folder right now.  But since Dambala has published his this morning, I'll wait until we're done with his before finishing mine. 

His post touches on several things but centers around the question of "objectivity" in news.  He dissects the concept with lovely precision but, if I may offer one criticism, perhaps he does so to the point of over-complicating things.

The problem with consensus journalism's concept of objectivity is that it asks us to live in a fantasy where incontrovertible facts are laid out for us by a benevolent voice of God narrator. This can result in several distortions but most frequently it downplays the importance of conflict in shaping events.  Communities are diverse and made up of varying interests which stand in opposition to one another materially, ideologically, or culturally.  Most news worth reporting on concerns the faults upon which the opposed factions meet and describing how each wins or loses in each of these collisions. Any such result can be good or bad depending on the perspective of the person telling the story.

Consensus reporters like to pretend they have no perspective... or that their perspective is disinterested to such a degree as to be considered infallible.  This serves the reader poorly for a few reasons. First, denying the reporter's point of view hides from the reader information necessary to evaluate that reporter's conclusions. Secondly, it over-inflates the reporter's sense of authority and treats the reader as something less than an equal.  When Voice of God consensus journalists (Dambala cites Phil Johnson who I think is a good example) editorialize they imply that they have access to some mysterious well of moral truths in which the rest of us need to be instructed.  

The consensus definition of objectivity presumes there is always (or usually) an outcome which best serves "the community as a whole." In fact, this is almost never true. This lie more than anything else is at the heart of most popular complaints against the so-called "mainstream media" which come from all sides.  Too often such complaints come in the form of a demand for more "objectivity" or a more "fair and balanced" approached from the referees. Better, though, that the petitioners ask for more openness about where everyone is coming from.  Better that we just admit the referee is also an actor in the debate.

Objectivity doesn't depend on some pretense that the reporter has no dog in any particular fight. It only requires that he/she describe that fight honestly. Dambala appears to draw a distinction between honesty and objectivity in this passage. 
That brings me to me...and the crew....the blogs (BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW).  We are a slap in the face to objectivity.  But you know what?  I think that’s healthy.  We’re not supposed to be.
Honest?  Yes.  Accurate?  As much as possible.  Fair and balanced?  Not a fucking chance.  And you know what?  I think that is a good thing.  We have no corporate masters.  Nor do we have a corporate safety net.  My news director is my subconscious.  I write about whatever the hell I want to, when I want to...as much as I want to.
My question is, if one can be objective without being honest, then what purpose does objectivity serve in the first place?  Why not just strive for honesty?   For all the talk one hears about the pitfalls of anonymity on the internet, it is the "objectivity" mask from behind which the bulk of our professional journalism has been dispensed that continues to cause the greatest confusion.

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