Toledo Talk

How objective do you really want your media to be?

A close acquaintance in a Yahoo! public relations group posted an interesting opinion about how much value newspapers readers place in newspapers' objectivity:

"I have always believed that readers don't care nearly as much about objectivity and newsroom independence as journalists seem to think they do."

So, I'm asking: How much do you value the objectivity of the news reporting of newspapers? I assume we can include TV and radio news reports in the discussion.

Having worked for two small dailies and one weekly early in my career, I'm of the opinion that "hometown newspapers" are seldom liked, much less appreciated. There's always ample (often justified) amount of criticism aimed at the "local" newspaper -- no matter where it is.

So, no matter how objective newspapers really are, they can't win. But, they are still read.

And, its readers are generally intelligent enough to see when a story is slanted. So, we can make up our own minds about the news topic.


-- Mike

created by miked918 on Oct 25, 2007 at 11:42:56 am     Comments: 17

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Comments ... #

Maybe the reason why conservative talk radio and a Web site like Daily Kos work so well is because they don't attempt to be objective. You know where they're coming from.

I thought I had bookmarked a recent article about opinion journalism, but I can't find it. Here's this Slate article from March 2006 titled How opinion journalism could change the face of the news. Some excerpts :

Objectivity—the faith professed by American journalism and by its critics—is less an ideal than a conceit. It's not that all journalists are secretly biased, or even that perfect objectivity is an admirable but unachievable goal. In fact, most reporters work hard to be objective and the best come very close.

Journalists who claim to have developed no opinions about what they cover are either lying or deeply incurious and unreflective about the world around them. In either case, they might be happier in another line of work.

Or perhaps objectivity is supposed to be a shimmering, unreachable destination, but the journey itself is purifying, as you mentally pick up your biases and put them aside, one-by-one. Is that the idea? It has a pleasing, Buddhist flavor. But that's no substitute for sense. Nobody believes in objectivity, if that means neutrality on any question about which two people somewhere on the planet might disagree.

Would it be the end of the world if American newspapers abandoned the cult of objectivity?

Most of the world's newspapers, in fact, already make no pretense of anything close to objectivity in the American sense. But readers of the good ones (such as the Guardian or Financial Times of London, to name the most obvious English-language examples) come away as well-informed as the readers of any "objective" American newspaper.

Opinion journalism can be more honest than objective-style journalism because it doesn't have to hide its point of view. It doesn't have to follow a trail of evidence or line of reasoning until one step before the conclusion and then slam on the brakes for fear of falling into the gulch of subjectivity. All observations are subjective. Writers freed of artificial objectivity can try to determine the whole truth about their subject and then tell it whole to the world.

Abandoning the pretense of objectivity does not mean abandoning the journalist's most important obligation, which is factual accuracy. In fact, the practice of opinion journalism brings additional ethical obligations. These can be summarized in two words: intellectual honesty.

posted by jr on Oct 25, 2007 at 02:31:20 pm     #  

A lot of things are tacitly taken for granted as true, despite evidence to the contrary. Therein lies the fatal flaw.

It's Garbage In Garbage Out. No one can make legitimately good decisions on poor information.

The lines between conventional conservatism and liberalism are so blurred, they're essentially one in the same.

posted by charlatan on Oct 25, 2007 at 03:01:14 pm     #  

I'd love to have objective media...where facts are reported, balanced, etc. (note - I exclude op-ed writers, pages of opinion and talk radio/tv commentaries)

I've got a degree in journalism and what I was taught 20 years ago seems to no longer apply to today's reporting when the reporter interjects speculation or other such 'opinion' type comments into a news story.

While most reporters don't do this, there is no way a reporter can not be biased or not have an opinion...but the good ones don't let it show in their NEWS articles.

I recall recently reading an article and pulling out a sentence, copying it and asking if anyone else thought the sentence was an opinion that really didn't belong in the article....I couldn't find where I this, but I remember that no one responded...

Another point is when a reporter will quote someone who is lying. There is no attempt to determine if the statement is true or not and, when challenged on it, the reporter falls back on the 'but I quoted him/her accurately' ... Yes, but without context or balance, the lie stands as if it were true. I was taught this was poor journalism, and was just as dangerous as expressing an opinion in a news piece.

posted by MaggieThurber on Oct 25, 2007 at 07:27:58 pm     #  

***correction..."I couldn't find where I DID this"...

posted by MaggieThurber on Oct 25, 2007 at 07:34:24 pm     #  

O.K., let's take a specific example:
WSPD 1370
Morning "News" with Fred (we know it's opinion).
Afternon Drive with Brian (again opinion).
The Motto: "Fair & Balanced" (is that done for comic relief?).
If not, "Fair & Balanced" according to whom? Libertarians?
Or, since it is a talk show, does "Fair & Balanced" mean that for every negative, there will be a positive? (Not on this show!).
But, since it is a "Talk" show, why does it call itself:"The Morning News"?

posted by lew on Oct 25, 2007 at 08:45:56 pm     #  

I no longer expect objectivity from reporters, since they are no longer "journalists". They are just journalism-trained, paid advocates. Those who try to be objective and thorough are either restricted by the economics of their profession, or they're warned off, or through their own stubborn persistence they are eventually fired out of the profession.

Investigative journalism died during the 1990s. Now, that was caused by the increasing rise of the American Empire. However, it did return the news media to a form of existence known in its infancy. News media started out being partisan and biased, and the American people knew what they were getting. Since I don't anticipate that we can stop the re-formation of this kind of news media, I accept it, and have adjusted my expectations accordingly.

posted by GuestZero on Oct 25, 2007 at 10:03:13 pm     #  

lew - good question about the 'morning news' initial reaction based upon my own interpretation is that it's the morning 'news' with Fred doing the talking in the talk show portion...but I understand your perspective - just hadn't thought about it the same way.

Afternoon drive - talk show - opinion - not billed as 'news'

Fair and Balanced. Interestingly, most people with 'liberal' leanings find it sarcastic while those with 'conservative' leanings think it presents a more 'balanced' version of the news (note - news portion only) than the other MSM. Perspective plays a big role, I'm sure, on both sides of the aisle. And I'm certainly not one to account for Fox News'

I've not heard the 'fair and balanced' term applied to any talk show host or program ... it's the 'logo' of Fox News which is the news feed that WSPD uses.

I don't think opinions, talk shows, news commentary, etc. have to be fair or balanced. But the straight news portion should be.

posted by MaggieThurber on Oct 25, 2007 at 10:11:49 pm     #  

I think there should be a greater emphasis placed on objectivity in broadcast TV news, and in AM radio news since these are finite commodities (and since these outlets are free and therefore reach more people). Print journalism and cable TV are different, since in theory there are countless resources. So even if you have a biased newspaper, it can easily be countered with a start up newspaper.

posted by Chris99 on Oct 26, 2007 at 08:38:42 am     #  

Chris - were (are) you one of the participants in the UT radio program? I was just wondering - and may have you confused with someone else. But, if you are, I was wondering if you had some perspective to share on 'start-up' radio shows. There are a couple of conservative radio programs like TIB radio and WideAwakes that are like 'start-ups' ...

posted by MaggieThurber on Oct 26, 2007 at 08:46:29 am     #  

If you're referring to The Nookular Option, yes. By the way, anyone can still download past episodes by visiting this site. We had some great interviews, including Glenn Greenwald, John Perkins, Ken Silverstein from Harpers Magazine, Brian Rothenberg from Progress Ohio, Brian Mellor from Project Vote, Cliff Schecter, Rob Boston from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Christy Harvey from the Center for American Progress, and a funny 30 second interview with Greg Palast.

As far as advice for starting up a radio show, I don't really have much info. My best guess, is to do podcasting on a blog and promote the hell out of it and send the show to any interested radio stations.

posted by Chris99 on Oct 26, 2007 at 09:36:19 am     #  

The focus about objectivity is usually on what is reported, but slanted journalism can exist by what's intentionally NOT reported. By choosing to not cover a story that probably should be covered, a media org is expressing a bias. Leaving out some obvious facts in a story can cause the story to be bias.

I wish the Blade investigated the Toledo Public School system with the same zeal it has shown with its useless coverage about the Seneca County courthouse.

posted by jr on Oct 26, 2007 at 09:45:40 am     #  

Chris - my question, then, is whether or not you think it's easier to do an alternative radio show or an alternative newspaper, in light of this comment:

So even if you have a biased newspaper, it can easily be countered with a start up newspaper.

Since you've done an 'alternative' radio show, I'm interested in your perspective.

posted by MaggieThurber on Oct 26, 2007 at 11:30:29 am     #  

I don't know. I've never looked into starting a newspaper.

posted by Chris99 on Oct 26, 2007 at 12:05:14 pm     #  

In a court of law if you say something untrue or outwardly biased, people tend to discount all your testimony and your character.

In media/reporting it's just a blemish to cover up or forget. Journalistic integrity is the ability to wear the team uniform objectively.

Where were the reporters/news media during the bay of tonkin?
Oops, they were out selling a war like obedient hucksters.

posted by charlatan on Oct 26, 2007 at 12:41:48 pm     #  

Oct 23, 2007 Guardian article about its new Web site Guardian America :

Guardian America will, yes, promote the liberal interest. Not with a sledgehammer; one of the most important liberal interests, after all, is in free inquiry, debate, scepticism, even about one's own positions. But I suspect that, among the Americans who like the Guardian, one of the things they like is that the paper expresses its view of the world a bit more openly than American newspapers do. This will mean looking at the events of the day from a slightly different angle than US papers, and focusing in on some matters that they might ignore.

posted by jr on Oct 27, 2007 at 12:00:11 am     #  

Yeah. Char, you'll note that the NY Times said "oops, our bad, we believed the administration when they sold us a pile of bullshit about Iraq" ... and then they just continued quoting Darth Cheney about Iran. It's like very few Americans actually have reading comprehension or memory.

One thing the newspapers have missed is that Americans started to work too many hours (to keep up a wholly unsustainable standard of living) to stop and read their silly Imperial propaganda. You'd think that THAT would be a topic of interest, but no.

At any rate, if newspapers really wanted to get me to buy one of their dead-tree forms, they should equally bother to run what are essentially "storylines" or "topic watches". The newspaper would run sections like "retail business", "general economy", "politics" and "crime", and then follow the Usual Suspects in each of those areas as topics. But that would mean following around folks like Konop and businesses like Wal*Mart and reporting on their activities. Goodness! We can't have that, can we? The public mind might be focused on certain topics and suddenly recognize how many promises get broken.

posted by GuestZero on Oct 27, 2007 at 12:00:20 am     #  

Lenin reads Pravda. So that must be objective.

posted by charlatan on Oct 29, 2007 at 07:49:19 pm     #