Monday, April 26, 2010

How to (Maybe) Get it Wrong

My nearby metro newspaper, the AJC, has wrestled of late with declining circulation and a humbling move out of downtown Atlanta into the burbs.  The paper's top editor is quoted in a story here about how the AJC will try a CNN approach and skate down the middle of the partisan aisle in its coverage.
The Journal-Constitution asked readers what they want -- and made a big change. "What we found is they don't want us to be a newspaper with a strong point of view," says Julia Wallace, the newspaper's editor-in-chief. "But what they do want is, they want balance. If we have a view to the right, they want a balance of a view to the left. And they want us to be transparent about how we go about our work." 
So Julia, how's that working for 4th place CNN?

I'm of two minds here.  The hard news journalism guy in me applauds the approach and wonders what the hell you were doing before this that suddenly you've discovered balance.  But the journalism realist in me sees this approach failing.  Why fail?  Well, the little theorist and methodologist in me knows that what people say when they mean balance is they want a balance teetering toward their own preference.  You often find yourself reminding people that a lack of a conservative bias does not equal a liberal bias, but that's exactly what they'll perceive. People see what they want to see.

Then again, Fox is not fair and balanced, yet the slogan remains.  So maybe the AJC is taking the Fox approach.  Clever and sneaky, far too clever and sneaky to be true, but I could easily be wrong here (not on the success of this plan, but the motivation behind it).

It may very well be that advocacy journalism is the future.  Fact-based news, but told from a definite perspective.  At least for a while, until there is some kind of backlash and playing down the middle maybe makes a comeback in the public mind.  Whether anyone can stay afloat financially until this wonderful day, no one can say.

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