The job of the journalist?

The NYT published an incredibly interesting piece in the Opinion pages today: a conversation between Times columnist Bill Keller, and Glen Greenwald (who broke the Snowden/NSA story) on journalism – its ideal and its purpose. Although large papers such as the NY Times and The Guardian are still considered by many people to be the most “comprehensive,” “impartial,” and “credible” news sources, more and more people are turning to less traditional and more (often unapolagetically) vocally opinionated sources of news – everything ranging from comedy news shows such as The Daily Show, to online magazines such as Slate and The Huffington Post, to news bloggers, to members of the community of “journalistic activists” such as Greenwald.

I’ve copied what I found to be some of the more thought-provoking quotes, although I would highly recommend reading the entire column, which you can find here.

“The relevant distinction is not between journalists who have opinions and those who do not, because the latter category is mythical. The relevant distinction is between journalists who honestly disclose their subjective assumptions and political values and those who dishonestly pretend they have none or conceal them from their readers.” -GG

“But this model has also produced lots of atrocious journalism and some toxic habits that are weakening the profession. A journalist who is petrified of appearing to express any opinions will often steer clear of declarative sentences about what is true, opting instead for a cowardly and unhelpful “here’s-what-both-sides-say-and-I-won’t-resolve-the-conflicts” formulation. That rewards dishonesty on the part of political and corporate officials who know they can rely on “objective” reporters to amplify their falsehoods without challenge” -GG

“I don’t think of it as reporters pretending they have no opinions. I think of it as reporters, as an occupational discipline, suspending their opinions and letting the evidence speak for itself. And it matters that this is not just an individual exercise, but an institutional discipline, with editors who are tasked to challenge writers if they have given short shrift to contrary facts or arguments readers might want to know. The thing is, once you have publicly declared your “subjective assumptions and political values,” it’s human nature to want to defend them, and it becomes tempting to omit or minimize facts, or frame the argument, in ways that support your declared viewpoint. And some readers, knowing that you write from the left or right, will view your reporting with justified suspicion. ” -BK

“I believe the need for impartial journalism is greater than it has ever been, because we live now in a world of affinity-based media, where citizens can and do construct echo chambers of their own beliefs. It is altogether too easy to feel “informed” without ever encountering information that challenges our prejudices.” -BK

Personally, I’m inclined to agree with Keller as an “informed public” who only chooses to listen to one side of the story can hardly call themselves “informed.” And nowadays, it’s only to easily to exclusively read/watch/listen to any broadcasts that affirm what you already believe or want to believe. My favorite section of the NY Times is the Opinion section, as I love nothing more than a well-delivered argument, but I do like being able to separate the opinions from the news.

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About evajge

A friend once told me that all I eat is chocolate and cheese. I was both disturbed and amused to realize that he was right.
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