The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

The People Will Know When You Have Failed Them

Posted by Matt on August 16, 2011

With it looking like I have failed to become a student of journalism, why not talk about journalism some more?

The more I think about it, the more I think that journalism is a fucking science. The ADHD news cycle has moved past it already, but there was a good month there where tabloids were being scrutinized for their shitty tactics and scary level of political influence in the UK. In Greater Canadian Motherland, we have no such problem, despite Quebecor’s ubiquity on the newstands of the nations (and yes, I see as many people picking up the Winnipeg Sun as the actual[ly kind of mediocre] newspapers). It has been kind of interesting/amusing to see Sun News end up as the failure pile in a sadness bowl it is, desperate for anyone to pay attention to it. So much for Fox News North, you conspiracy nuts.

I’d like to think most people who buy tabloids know that they’re paying for screeching paranoia for people who want to be outraged all the fucking time, and that it’s really only for entertainment purposes (shitty entertainment, but when has that ever been an issue for most?) That’s way too optimistic of me. Chances are the people picking up the Sun think they’re getting the same level of quality information as readers of the Free Press. But that’s probably because they see the news, in all its forms, as a form of entertainment. Through the fault of the press, who have on a whole dumbed themselves down to reach some mythical rich idiot demographic that keeps getting distracted by shiny rocks or something, and/or the people themselves, who just don’t fucking care, the idea of the news has been distorted into either something you gloss over before you look at the TV listings, or a thing you read to have all your previously held opinions validated.

It shouldn’t be either. For the most part, good journalism is essentially politically neutral (although not really, because most politics involves molding reality in the minds of the people who let you do stuff, and unfortunately truth and information often gets in the way of that). I mean, facts well told may be unpalatable to one person who overly identifies with a political mindset, but facts hold no biases and are equal opportunity. As long as the information is accurate and provided within the proper context, we can be sure that decisions are informed, even when they completely disregard the facts for wild fantasy.

The idea that it has to be either shrieking or bone-dry is a false one. There is style in news reporting, and it involves skillfully and clearly conveying all the vital information of a story. It can be informative and entertaining you know, unless you can only be entertained by bright colours and movement. There is no hope for you then.

Now down to the science part, which is hilarious considering how badly reporters often mangle stories from the world of science (documented pretty frequently by Ben Goldacre). Journalism has what should be a scientific model system built in: science papers have peer review, newspapers (presumably) have editors and/or fact checkers. Now, editors aren’t going to make your reporting go from shit to gold, and poor/manipulative writing can still creep through. Even so, there’s still a level of assurance that a second opinion is being brought in, so we don’t just get straight prose goop from the reporter’s notepad to your table.

Whether or not the editors are doing their job is another issue entirely.

There’s also the issue of transparency. Science has built-in transparency: all published papers are easily accessible, and references and details about experiments are required. Reporting can’t quite have the same level of transparency, what with confidentiality of certain sources imperative. That gets into a whole ethics battle that will likely rage between journalists forever.

This means the comparison isn’t 100% perfect, of course. But in a very broad sense, science and journalism are still pretty close: both are based on reporting real, tangible information, require truthfulness and clarity on the side of the reporter, and need to pass a review process, where hopefully the information is confirmed as legitimate before being released for mass consumption. Both should be readable by everyone, and both are essential to understanding the world and making sure we don’t screw it up further. The dubious examples of both should be easily identifiable for most, and they should be criticized for it. No one should be ‘tricked’ into reading a tabloid, they should be able to detect the sensationalist shit just from the headline.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: