Thursday, March 08, 2012

How it all started

The Wiki pages on non-profit and advocacy journalism are interesting, especially the notes about the notion of "objectivity" in journalism, an idea I more or less reject.
Many believe that there is no such thing as objective reporting, that there will always be some form of implicit bias, whether political, personal, or metaphysical, whether intentional or subconscious. This is not necessarily a rejection of the existence of an objective reality, merely a statement about our inability to report on it in a value-free fashion. This may sound like a radical idea, but many mainstream journalists accept the philosophical idea that pure "objectivity" is impossible, but still seek to minimize bias in their work. Other journalistic standards, such as balance, and neutrality, may be used to describe a more practical kind of "objectivity".

"Alternative" critics often charge that the mainstream's media claims of being "bias free" are harmful because they paper over inevitable (often subconscious) biases. They also argue that media sources claiming to be free of bias often advance certain political ideas which are disguised in a so-called "objective" viewpoint. [!!!] These critics contend that the mainstream media reinforce majority-held ideas, marginalizing dissent and retarding political and cultural discourse.

The proposed solution is to make biases explicit, with the intention of promoting transparency and self-awareness that better serves media consumers. Advocacy journalists often assume that their audiences will share their biases (especially in politically charged alternative media), or will at least be conscious of them while evaluating what are supposed to be well-researched and persuasive arguments.

I note that the latter quotes Sue Careless who
gave the following commentary and advice to advocacy journalists, which seeks to establish a common view of what journalistic standards the genre should follow.

- Acknowledge your perspective up front.
- Be truthful, accurate, and credible. Don't spread propaganda, don't take quotes or facts out of context, "don't fabricate or falsify", and "don't judge or suppress vital facts or present half-truths"
- Don't give your opponents equal time, but don't ignore them, either.
- Explore arguments that challenge your perspective, and report embarrassing facts that support the opposition. Ask critical questions of people who agree with you.
- Avoid slogans, ranting, and polemics. Instead, "articulate complex issues clearly and carefully."
- Be fair and thorough.
- Make use of neutral sources to establish facts.

Sue Careless also criticized the mainstream media for unbalanced and politically biased coverage, for economic conflicts of interest, and for neglecting certain public causes. She said that alternative publications have advantages in independence, focus, and access, which make them more effective public-interest advocates than the mainstream media.

It's interesting that many years ago, I spoke with Sue at a meeting of Real Women of Canada in Halifax and said that I was interested in getting into journalism, and asked her if she thought it would be better to go to the journalism school at King's College, where I was already enrolled in Classics, or to just dive in and start writing and submitting things to publications. She said that J-school was a massive waste of time and money, that all they ever did there was indoctrinate young people politically and that graduates from those kinds of schools could barely write a coherent sentence in English.

I took her advice and started writing for the Dalhousie University student newspaper, and submitted a few things for the Interim.

Boy, was she ever right!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for explaining these terms in a precise way. My approach is well blurting out my thoughts., Choosing what is news and therefore what is not is an inherent bias that can never be avoided, but it should be broader than it is now. This is especially true in our age where profit is made by buying up your competition. IF there ever was such a thing as a laissez-faire economy in the media world it is dead now. There were dozens of newspapers published in large cities in the early 20th C. WIth the internet there is not the same space limitations that paper newspapers have, yet the web news sources are more redundant than ever. This I do not understand.