Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Objective Journalism -- Here to Stay?

The last thing I want to get into is one of those tired debates about objectivity in journalism (it's an approach to information gathering, not a verb to describe journalists themselves), but this ABC News piece caught my eye today.  I strongly recommend listening to the audio rather than reading the story (and how often will you find me, Mr. Print Guy, suggesting something like that?).  The author of a study and book, Prof. Ron Jacobs, says there is a "push back" against opinion-style stuff that poses as journalism. One hopes so.

Let's assume for the moment there is a push back against the Foxification of news.  That's a big assumption, but let's go with it.  What are the consequences in terms of what people know versus what people feel or think?  The easy answer is we'd have more fact-based instead of emotion-based attitudes and opinions.  That's the easy answer, but I don't know if that's necessarily true.  The American public has never been terribly consistent in its political beliefs and it's hard to imagine the media make all that much difference, or at least you'd think so looking at most of the political science literature, which tends to view the news and entertainment media as relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things.  Indeed, there's a strain of political science research aimed at downplaying the role of news exposure/consumption, either on methodological or conceptual grounds, in part because the dominant model still relies heavily on party identification and associated concepts.

Back to the supposed push back. It's hard to identify from which segment of society this might emerge.  The chattering political class, those high in knowledge but also in partisan identification?  No, that seems unlikely.  The great unwashed middle part of America?  Maybe.  One would hope so.  But if that were the case, CNN would be improving in its audience numbers at the expense of MSNBC and Fox.  So far, that's not happening.  Hopeful thinking on the part of certain elites?  Probably yes.  Count me among them, except that I hardly qualify as elite.

To be fair, I'm relying on a brief ABC bit and I've not read the book, so until then I can't really truly comment on the premise in any detail, other than to say -- I hope it's right.

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