Mainstream vs Point of View Journalism, Edited
This is largely excerpted from one of my postings to The Future of News blog. Some elements have been changed to make it more relevant to this blog.
Strict objectivity in news does allow the reader to make their own conclusion from the information presented, which I find enticing--it is one reason I enjoy MPR so much. They bring the guests, and ask the questions allowing the listeners to chime in to offer their points of view. I am, however, impressed with the radio journalists, and journalists in all mediums who have research and ask the burning questions of all guests, particularly the controversial ones. I personally feel under-served if these questions aren't asked. I really enjoy the questions that challenge my ideas and make me defend them in my own mind, or change them.
If important questions aren't asked because a journalist is afraid of sounding partisan or losing their job, then they may be just buckling to the grand machine of what they think is public opinion or employment preservation. In this case, they should probably become a politician instead of a journalist. This seems to be the reason that comedian-journalists are having so great an impact since they say what everyone else wants to say, and should say. They address the issues in a manner that shows the absurdity of issues, political statements, and actions and allows the real issue to surface in a more subtle and memorable way. Their jobs are safe. They have huge followings and huge salaries--the best of everything.
I personally have never been one to back down from a well thought-out and supported position just because my employment has been threatened or I might create a stir. I have often treated that as my call to action to try to instill change-- first through thoughtful communication, and if the organization still seems destined to make itself obsolete, I am happy to get out of the way. It is undoubtedly a stressful way to live. Unfortunately, I am not a comedian. While I have lived as I speak, I am also not afraid to make paradigm shifts in thought when new and better information is integrated into my knowledge network, in other words, one can't have tunnel vision. I am always surprised when a politician calls another politician a flip-flopper. To me this means they are able to change their mind when they might be wrong, or re-evaluate their position based on important new information--a skill politicians, especially diplomats, need to have in spades. George W. Bush stuck to his ideas even when they were horribly wrong. He could have done much greater service to the country if he could have incorporated a bit of open- mindedness when it was needed. I digress.
Reporters can play devils advocate and grill their subject on the important questions that need to be raised whether public "says" they want it or not. Advertisers will be more interested in advertising without the "fringe benefits" if they see the readership or viewership has returned. It takes courage though--something that may be sorely lacking in today's newsrooms.
I remember back to the post 9/11 days and at the start of the current Iraq War was big news and none of the journalists that I saw were asking the tough questions that I wanted to know. I remember thinking--"What's going on here--are they on the payroll of the White House?" I am all for deference and respect where due, but not at the sacrifice of progress in the service of the greater good. If the questions had been asked... you can fill in the blank here. This seems to me to be the reason the public respects the news less--the trust has been lost and needs to be regained with the confidence of old-world journalism.
Maybe the public needs to be retrained not to over-react to issues or maybe the journalists are doing a slight disservice in just presenting the sides of an issue without the meat of research and interpretation. In not expressing their own well thought out and carefully crafted opinions, maybe they are leaving the interpretation wide open. Its like putting a frame on the wall and asking people to comment on the art it contains. While many artists have done this kind of work in the past, without the understanding of the artists background or intent, the real communication can be lost.