In the Grand Forks Herald today Richard Aregood and Richard Shafer have a column rebutting my rebuttal, also printed in the Herald, of publisher Mike Jacobs who griped that there wasn’t enough “discourse” surrounding the two national party conventions.
I pointed out that there was plenty of discourse on social media and blogs, there just wasn’t as much involving traditional media outlets. Which might have been the real source of Jacobs’ consternation. Newspapers, and newspaper editors/publishers, aren’t as important or influential as they once were.
The journalism professors, though complimentary of me in general (who doesn’t like being called talented?), take umbrage of my criticism of what they describe as journalistic “traditionalism.”
(As an aside, the professors suggest that the fact that I occasionally send letters to the Herald is validation of their point. I’d point out that I write letters to the Herald not because I think they’re doing journalism right but because I seek to engage the writers there on their own turf.)
The problem with traditionalism in media is that the public doesn’t like it, and for good reason. Every couple of years Gallup polls the nation on whether they trust the media. Their last poll on the subject, taken in 2010, found that 57% of the public trusted the media (television, radio and newspapers) only a bit, or not at all. Going further, a strong plurality – 48% – felt the media leans too far to the left, with just 15% saying the media is too conservative and just 33% saying the media strikes the right balance.
That level of distrust, and the widespread belief that mainstream journalists slant to the left, is a sorry commentary on the “traditionalism” Aregood and Shafer defend. And there are many reasons why.
Journalists are supposed to be pro-transparency, and yet the ethics these professors teach tell journalists to be the exact opposite of transparent when it comes to their biases. Most journalists will tell you that they are objective. They won’t disclose how they vote, or where their sympathies lie. Yet, who really believes that their sympathies don’t infect the decisions they make while reporting? Of course they do. We’re all biased. Rather than running away from that fact, why not embrace it? Be transparent about it?
It would lead to a more honest sort of reporting, I believe.
Another problem with “traditionalist” journalism is that it doesn’t embrace the two-way street of communications that is possible in this digital age. Many journalists still seem to think they talk/write with the “Voice of God,” as though the way they reported things were the only possible perspective. That is laughable in this age where citizens, through mediums like blogging and social media, can reach as-big or bigger audience than the traditional journalists.
At the end of the day, journalism is about telling the truth. The “traditionalism” Shafer and Aregood subscribe to promotes a sort of tribalism in journalism. Journalists, who aren’t at all transparent about their biases, develop their narratives which match those biases and push them on the public, labeling dissent as “partisanship” or worse.
Let’s hope that sort of traditional journalism dies out soon.