More Journalistic Heresy: Jay Rosen’s List of Things He Doesn’t Teach Anymore

Jay Rosen of PressThink has posted his list of “Things I Used To Teach That I No Longer Believe”.

Jay writes:

“I used to teach that the ethics of journalism, American-style, could be found in the codes, practices and rule-governed behavior that our press lived by. Now I think you have to start further back, with beliefs way more fundamental than: “avoid conflicts of interest in reporting the news.” If you teach journalism ethics too near the surface of the practice, you end up with superficial journalists.”

Jay is talking about the problem of teaching the rules of objectivity as a formula.

It’s a pretty basic premise: Balance does not equal truth. Getting both sides of a story is a basic must-do for any reporter, but the inclusion of a side that is clearly lying to the public or spinning or stonewalling must come with a disclaimer. If a witness in a criminal case would rather not answer the questions asked by the prosecution, the jury notices.

Adding up the references to one source or another might help us study bias in our news media, but as Jay writes, there’s a limited value, these days, to pointing out bias in media. It comes from all sides, and pointing at it proves nothing. Mostly it just provides political fodder for political parties and PACs to sling over the walls at each other. And what does that get us?

I’m not sure how convinced I am of that last paragraph: I think media criticism can be an easy way to get the public involved in politics. If the general public learns to recognize bias in media, they begin to become conscious of the ubiquitous attempts to control what they think. Paying attention to the differences in how our newspapers and television stations try to communicate with us is a logical first step in media consciousness.


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