Journalism, personality and responsibility in the online world

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 11, 2007, 4:26 PM | comments: 16

Someone called me out in a news item on CoasterBuzz about what my responsibility was regarding my position as the guy who runs CoasterBuzz. I'm pretty comfortable about what that position is (and I spelled it out there, in case there was any question), and I've mostly stayed true to it.

The last year or two has really elevated the concept of "citizen journalism," and there are new players we couldn't have imagined pre-Web. Granted, the part no one talks about is that the citizens morph into companies in the long run (wow, that's an interesting topic to explore), but the point is that the rules are different.

A lot of people, including myself, give Fox News a lot of crap, because they're hardly unbiased in reporting "news" (hint: the literal on-screen flag waving). Not everyone will look around for better sources, let alone try something offering a totally different perspective like al-Jazeera. I'm not naive enough to believe there is totally bias-free reporting, but at least I look for some balance.

With blogs, RSS and all of the socially-powered stuff on the Web today, you almost get a game of telephone where the message can change over time. It's better than that game at least, because there are always links and searches that can get you closer to the real thing. Still, this leaves the question: What is the responsibility of journalists today, and what place does personality have in it?

I took a journalism class in college that covered non-fiction narrative, that brand of writing that covers some subject, but fully involves the author as a part of the story. Look no further than virtually anything Hunter S. Thompson ever wrote for examples. Often called "gonzo journalism," he'd frequently edit the facts but loosely convey the same meaning to tell the story. A lot of that class I took revolved around the moral and ethical implications of this practice.

The immediacy of the Internet is the new variable in this equation of personality and journalism. Engadget caused Apple stock to tank temporarily on a rumor. Howard Dean got excited and kicked in the nuts for it in the 2004 presidential election due in part to video around the Internet. Taste makers can kill a product before it's even released. These are all acts that result in some part due to some editorial decision on the part of individuals.

Is that OK? Most of the time, I'd say yes. It depends largely on how you set expectations though. Publishers of all forms of media, large and small, suck at this. Worse yet, the consuming public sucks at figuring it out.

What all of this rambling means is that when it comes to journalism and the reporting of news, half of the responsibility lies with the consumer of that media. Blaming the nebulous "media" for things is stupid and lazy. You have to do your part to discern the bullshit from the steak. If more people did that, it would force the integrity and hand of news organizations to do a better job. If you're willing to be spoon-fed the bullshit, well, hold your nose and swallow, and be sure to brush your teeth afterward.



October 12, 2007, 1:19 AM #

I'm not so sure about that last paragraph. You are a very bright person, Jeff. But you may be giving the general consumers too much credence as journalistic connoisseurs. I don't think that many people have the ability to discern good reporting from bad reporting. And even fewer have the time. They have to get their news on the fly on the way to work or school or at the end of a day on the local news station. They don't have the time to research various sources.

And besides, isn't that why there is a professional code of ethics and standards in journalism? Like other professions that serve the common public (medicine, law, accounting, etc) journalists have a codes of professional standards for which they should be committed. Otherwise, they need to find a new profession.


October 12, 2007, 1:23 AM #

It's not an issue of researching sources, it's an issue of stopping and asking yourself if it sounds like crap. You don't have to be that bright to see that Fox News is not striving for a balanced view on things.

But as I said, the "professional code" doesn't really exist if you're not the professional, and today we get our information from sources that are not straight news. I mean, I'll admit that I learn more from the Daily Show than most places! :)


October 12, 2007, 3:21 AM #

"You don't have to be that bright to see that Fox News is not striving for a balanced view on things."

You say that because you disagree with them. What about the people that do? It isn't about intelligence, it's about opinion.

(not that I watch Fox news, I'm an MSNBC guy)


October 12, 2007, 3:32 AM #

My opinion is irrelevant. What they do isn't news. Hell, it borders on entertainment.


October 12, 2007, 3:57 AM #

Yes and once one determines that what they offer is crap, then what? I don't think their crappy journalism is the public's fault, even by half. I think they are accountable to the public and their profession for what they are passing off as news, especially during the prime time when average folks usually tune in.


October 12, 2007, 5:40 AM #

Like I said, I think that's only half-right. They wouldn't be serving up the crap if people weren't ready with their spoons.

October 12, 2007, 2:06 PM #

When I was in high school journalism, we were taught to report facts, not opinion, and to report all facts for both sides, not just one side or another. But as Jeff has mentioned, there many in the media who do not follow what I was taught nearly 40 years ago.

I will not say there has never been biased reporting, nor are people any smarter about not believing everything they hear or read. I don't think people are any less "sheep" now than they were 20, 30, 40 years ago.

The difference is there is so much MORE media at our fingertips now, especially with the web and cable. When you only had 5 or 6 TV channels and each town/city had one or two newspapers (and those two newspapers generally were of two different opinions), information was limited.

Now, people are surrounded by media of all types and each is vying for the attention of the public. People are drawn to sensationalism (is that a word?). And those same sheep who believe everything that is written are getting a lot more crap fed to them.

Media and the way it's presented can and does affect public opinion. And sadly, I don't believe there are that many people who question what they are being fed because it's much more difficult now to sort through the crap and get to the facts.

I learned to question what was presented in the media in the late 60's and early 70's. There is a lot of history I grew up with and remember, history that many people younger than I are not aware of because they are either not taught that history, are provided a biased history, or more often than not don't pay attention to it.


October 12, 2007, 2:08 PM #

And that was my post. I keep losing my login credentials when I'm on my work PC.


October 12, 2007, 2:34 PM #

Yeah, people believed there were weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq had something to do with 9/11. Nevermind there was no evidence.

Indeed, people will believe whatever they're told.


October 12, 2007, 3:37 PM #

So, just out of curiosity (and this is not a smart ass question), what do you guys propose as a solution? If folks can't trust the information they receive in the "news", what do they do given their heavy time and resource constraints in today's culture?


October 12, 2007, 3:49 PM #

I'm too busy is a bullshit cop out. It's an excuse for being apathetic. It's your world, and if you don't have time to look at what's going on, I think that you have the wrong priorities.

You can trust what you see/hear/read when you take a moment to look past the headlines from one source. That was my point.


October 12, 2007, 4:09 PM #

Alright, take it easy there, pal. I hear your point: people are stupid, lazy, shit-eating, sheep.

The only problem is that you don't really know what people are reading or listening to, only what their behavior is. And clearly, you are unhappy with people's behavior.

So let me ask this, what have you done with the information you have sought out from multiple headlines?


October 12, 2007, 5:18 PM #

We do know what people are consuming because it's well measured. Ask Eric. ;)

Your question is too broad. Everything I do is based to some degree on the ideas I derive from the information I process.


October 12, 2007, 6:06 PM #

Sadly, Carrie, there isn't much that can be done. Even if journalists and networks were not biased, even if what the government feeds us were actual truth instead of sly propaganda, it's ultimately up to each individual person to do their own research. And as you said, many people do not have time, or wish to take the time to dig for the truth.


October 12, 2007, 6:43 PM #

There's nothing wrong with my question, Jeff.


October 12, 2007, 7:29 PM #

Well I can't answer it because the scope is too broad for me.

Post your comment: