Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bora Zivkovic Writes About Journalism

Bora Zivkovic of A Blog Around the Clock has long been interested in the role of journalists—especially science journalists—in our society. He writes about the legitimacy of quotations in The Ethics of the Quote.

At the risk of incurring his wrath for quote mining, I give you one of the most important and controversial ideas in his posting.
Even when asked, journalists openly state that their role is not to find the truth, but to register the spectrum of opinions out there. That is stenography at best (not even that, as some opinions are never registered, including some very valid opinions), not journalism.

But that is absolutely NOT what the audience expects. Audience is already aware of the spectrum of opinions out there. They look for you to tell them exactly which one of those opinions is correct, and which ones are bunk. But you never deliver. Which is why people are mad, and the press has an extremely low ranking in popular opinion on trustworthiness.

If you disagree with the above paragraph, think why that is so? Did you hear it from your editors and colleagues? If so, they are dead wrong. If you learned it in J-school, your professors were dead wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!!!

Now think again.

Is everything you ever learned in a professional setting about the role of journalism wrong? Could be. Time for deep introspection.
I agree with Boris when he says that journalists don't deliver, however I disagree with him slightly about what they think they are doing. Many journalists think their role is just what Boris says it should be. They believe that journalists should be able to explain which ideas are wrong and which ones are correct. Many science journalists claim to be able to do this. They claim that they don't just report the opinions of scientists who disagree but provide "value added" by figuring out which ones are correct.

If that's what they're trying to do then they don't do a very good job in the fields that I'm familiar with.

1 comment:

  1. I think Zivkovic is incorrect on this point: "[The audience] look[s] for [journalists] to tell them exactly which one of those opinions is correct, and which ones are bunk."

    Each person in audience (in general) expects journalists to confirm that their already-held opinion is correct, and the others are bunk. If this were not true, Fox News would be losing money.