Media Bias

Welcome, Mr. Brisbane

The new ombudsman for the New York Times just wrote his first substantive column — and it’s pretty good. He notes some readers’ concern with editorialized news in the news section. Articles without the “opinion” or “commentary” moniker are summarizing events and wrapping them up with an opinionated conclusion — material more often found on the op/ed pages.

The newspaper is undergoing changes and everyone’s being given the freedom to experiment. But some think the experiment is messing with the traditional emphasis on objectivity. One observer thinks we should simply drop the cloak of objectivity:

To Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, the whole effort to demonstrate impartiality is wrong-headed to begin with. American newspapers, once home to unfettered political agendas, have labored in the modern period to cull point-of-view out of reporting with the result that “newspaper writing turned into some of the dullest prose on the planet,” in his view. He sees no conflict between “having a worldview and doing great journalism,” and points to British papers like The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph as examples.

The Times is having none of that. Instead, it chooses to play in the mosh pit under the old rules, refining them as needed. The challenge is compounded because The Times, to its credit, has taken the “innovation” bit into its mouth and run with it. New features, functions and capabilities come on stream all the time, requiring close monitoring.

Too bad — dropping the objective perspective would be fine. Besides, the NY Times isn’t truly objective anyway — a point made by a previous ombudsman.

In the end, Brisbane suggests sticking to objectivity and labeling these “experimental” columns. But, he admits that they may have to give up the cloak given the current direction of media and audience fragmentation.

By | September 9th, 2010|Uncategorized|0 Comments

More reasons to love Wal-mart

Great story in Wired magazine aboutWal-Mart:

It started when I read Nickel and Dimed, in which Atlantic contributor Barbara Ehrenreich denounces the exploitation of minimum-wage workers in America. Somehow her book didn’t ring true to me, and I wondered to what extent a preconceived agenda might have biased her reporting. Hence my application for a job at the nearest Wal-Mart.

… Several of my co-workers had relocated from other areas, where they had worked at other Wal-Marts. They wanted more of the same. Everyone agreed that Wal-Mart was preferable to the local Target, where the hourly pay was lower and workers were said to be treated with less respect (an opinion which I was unable to verify). Most of all, my coworkers wanted to avoid those “mom-and-pop” stores beloved by social commentators where, I was told, employees had to deal with quixotic management policies, while lacking the opportunities for promotion that exist in a large corporation.

Of course, I was not well paid, but Wal-Mart is hardly unique in paying a low hourly rate to entry-level retail staff. The answer to this problem seems elusive to Barbara Ehrenreich, yet is obvious to any teenager who enrolls in a vocational institute. In a labor market, employees are valued partly according to their abilities. To earn a higher hourly rate, you need to acquire some relevant skills.

Great stuff. Certainly a different perspective than we’re accustomed to hearing.

By | February 3rd, 2009|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Rather’s Lawsuit Shows Role of G.O.P. in Inquiry at CBS

The headline from the New York Times sounds damning: “Rather’s Lawsuit Shows Role of G.O.P. in Inquiry.” The subhead to the article explains that Dan Rather’s lawsuit over his dismissal from CBS News “seems to have unearthed evidence of political influence in an internal CBS investigation.”

Wow. Pretty shocking. Here’s the nut graph that explains the wrongdoing:

Among the materials that money has shaken free for Mr. Rather are internal CBS memorandums turned over to his lawyers, showing that network executives used Republican operatives to vet the names of potential members of a panel that had been billed as independent and charged with investigating the “60 Minutes” segment.

Through the process of discovery, Rather obtained a memo written after the network pledged to investigate his erroneous reporting on President Bush’s National Guard service. Rather based his story, of course, on a clearly fraudulent memo that he obtained from a known partisan.

After Rather retracted the story and offered his apology, the network created an independent panel to investigate what went wrong. The smoking gun is a memo that indicated Dick Thornburgh, a former Republican Attorney General, would garner approval from G.O.P. critics as an acceptable member of the panel. Thornburgh was eventually chosen for the two-person panel along with Louis Boccardi, a former chief executive of The Associated Press.

Now, the process of vetting Thornburgh does clearly show the role of the GOP in the inquiry and does provide evidence of “political influence.” But, I see no alternative to this type of vetting. When selecting members for any independent panel, ideology must be taken into account. For instance, the 9/11 Commission featured five Republicans and five Democrats. Had one party outweighed the other, its results would not have been as trusted. Independent panels, by their very nature, must weigh the ideological baggage of its members. Otherwise, they aren’t independent.

Andrew Haywood says as much toward the end of this New York Times report:

Asked about the assembly of the panel in a sworn deposition, Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News, acknowledged that he had wanted at least one member to sit well with conservatives: “CBS News, fairly or unfairly, had a reputation for liberal bias,” and “the harshest scrutiny was obviously going to come from the right.”

Well, that seems reasonable … to everyone except Dan Rather and the editors of the New York Times.

By | November 17th, 2008|Uncategorized|0 Comments

"The Week" vs. Time, Newsweek and U.S. News

Interesting that “The Week” is increasing its circulation while other news magazines struggle:

… The Week is set to announce that effective in January it will raise its rate base by 25,000 readers to 500,000. The increase is the third since January 2008 and represents a doubling of circulation since 2004.

… By holding onto The Week and investing in its expansion, Mr. Dennis has bet that the magazine can succeed at a time when so many other weekly news publications are slipping. Time and Newsweek have been forced to cut their rate base and U.S. News & World Report recently announced it will publish every other week instead of weekly.

I would conjecture that part of “The Week”‘s popularity stems from its fundamental premise — that different media outlets report stories from different political perspectives. It’s not a crazy idea but still one that many traditional outlets (and academics) fail to grasp. Newsweek and Time would like to believe that they report from a totally “objective” frame, but of course, they don’t. “The Week” understand this and gives readers a chance to see stories from different perspectives in different media outlets.

By | August 15th, 2008|Uncategorized|1 Comment

This Time Magazine reporter argues that all journalists should tell their readers who they’re voting for:

“There are a lot of reasons reporters don’t reveal their preferences, and they’re understandable. Showing your cards in public can make it hard to get access to sources, the argument goes; it will make readers suspicious; you and your publication/network/website will drown in charges of bias.

Pretty much all the reasons, though, boil down to the fact that revealing your preferences is a royal pain in the ass. But journalistic practices shouldn’t be judged by whether they make our jobs harder; they should be judged by whether they serve you better.

Modern, mainstream, American political reporting is based on maintaining the transparently bogus illusion of neutrality: that reporters do not care about the outcomes of elections that they spend far too much of their lives covering. It is also based in the legitimate, and true, premise of fairness: that people can have preferences and yet not use their work in service of those preferences. Showing one’s voting cards would shatter the bogus illusion of neutrality; but it would not only serve the premise of fairness, it could actually help media outlets convince a skeptical public that fairness is possible…

And one of the best pieces of journalism to come out of the 2000 election was the Alexandra Pelosi documentary Journeys with George, where Pelosi got vast access to candidate Bush and offered a sometimes-scathing analysis of the media bubble on the campaign plane–even though she was not only an open liberal but the daughter of Nancy Pelosi. Bush knew she ws never going to vote for him; but then neither was most of his press entourage. She, at least, was willing to say it. (In a telling section, the press pack gets furious with Pelosi after she takes a straw poll of them–which Gore wins–and it gets leaked to the news.) In other countries and other times, reporters with political points of view have been the rule, not the exception.

Would it make readers and viewers more mistrustful? Ha! More mistrustful than what? One reason that the media-criticism blogosphere is so suspicious and often toxic is that everyone is a tea leaf reader now. The objective of media criticism becomes figuring out a journalist’s motivations and loyalties first, and whether the report is actually any good second. (If a story is a piece of crap, it’s a piece of crap regardless of who the writer supports.) There’s no illusion of neutrality to protect anymore; people don’t believe it anyway, nor should they. The more journalists state their views, the more we can get past the I-know-who-you-voted-for-last-fall game.

I agree.

By | February 8th, 2008|Uncategorized|0 Comments