Saturday, October 22, 2005

Send in the newsclowns

Vin Crosbie criticises mainstream media's attempts to deal with the online world.
Simply reporting who, what, when, why, and how; quoting both sides' statements; and expecting the public to decide the issues from such factoids is no longer effectively satisfying the unambiguous needs of viewers, readers, and listeners.
So what is journalism supposed to do Vin, abandon objectivity altogether? That way lies Fox News. I don't see an alternative to objectivity being postulated in your piece. Philip K. Dick was writing about "newsclowns" as far back as the 60s, and so far objective journalism has not died. O'Reilly and Stewart fit the definition of newsclowns, but they only exist as parasites on the backs of actual journalists - without objective journalism to feed off, they would have no material. If anything, the old journalism practicioners are in the best position to produce newsclowns to parasite off their own material - imagine thousands of Rooneyites who learn to blog about the news (pointing to their employers' stories only) to provide a more palatable entry point for different demographics. All it takes is one outlet to cotton on and the rest will follow.


Blogger redbarren said...

hey get a feedburner feed so i can subscribe thru rss

very easy !!

7:33 pm, October 22, 2005  
Blogger Paul Montgomery said...


8:31 pm, October 22, 2005  
Anonymous Vin Crosbie said...


You're correct that my posting didn't suggest alternatives. However, I'll be addressing that gap during the next two months. Meanwhile, for a fuller discussion, see, where earlier this month I commented a bit more about what I mean.

I don't at all advocate that journalists (I'm former UPI and Reuter) foresake objectivity. Quite the contrary. But what I am advocating is that draw conclusions based upon whatever objective evidence they've found. A judge, doctor, engineer, or scientists can do that. Why should journalists do that, too.

Journos have an unwavering belief that they can inform the public, yet also believe that they shouldn't inform the public about what their own delving into the issues has let themselves to think. Odd contradiction there.

Do bear in mind that I am writing about American media, which is far more colorless and less probative or conclusive than other English-speaking nations' media. Except on the editorial page, you'll never see an American journal report its own conclusions about the story. You'll merely read the ping-pong match of 'this spokesman said this and that spokesman said the opposite.' A form of descriptive stenography.

Here in America, I shake my head when I hear journalists complain that more than a third of the population still thinks that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11 or that 50 percent of the population doesn't know that no WMDs were found in Iraq. I ask those journalists when was the last time that their stories reported the lack of any connection between Saddam and Al Queda or that no WMDs were found. 'Only once, two years ago, when those findings were announced.' OK, when was the last time you reported a government official still claiming that there was a connection or WMDs? 'We still quote them saying that fairly often.' OK, so is it any wonder that so much of the population is misinformed? 'Yes, but we can't write about no Al Queda link or no WMDs unless we're quoting someone saying it,' they respond. Sigh!

Journalists should report what they objectively know, even if there's no one they can quote saying it.

11:53 am, October 23, 2005  
Blogger Paul Montgomery said...

Vin, thanks for replying.

I still don't think journalists should report their own opinion as fact. There is a game to be played here. I suppose it is far easier for a journalist in a Westminster democracy like Australia or England, where a strong public service produces independent, non-partisan institutions. Journalists in these countries can quote the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, or they can report on the pronouncements of independent commissions. For instance, in the case of the 2000 election, instead of the he-said-she-said falderol surrounding the Florida irregularities, we have Electoral Commissions which are not staffed by partisan lackeys so an internal investigation would have been without left-right bickering, and journalists could report the conclusions of that investigation. Similarly, with the WMD issue, a minister whose public servants misled the country so badly on such an important issue would come under intense pressure to resign (as happened in the UK, IIRC), and the public service itself would have the decency to be embarrassed enough by the slipups to try to fix the problem itself - something not possible in the US system where the vast majority of public servants are partisan hacks who are only in it for the term of their leader anyway.

I come from an environment where the fundamental institutions of democracy are sufficiently healthy that a journalist who knows the score can use them to search for the truth... and then let those institutions do their job while the journos report. That those institutions have been corrupted or destroyed in America isn't the fault of the journalist, but the solution is not for the journalist to abandon objectivity: it is for America to rediscover the worth of democratic institutions.

4:12 pm, October 23, 2005  

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