A Question of Balance

On the other hand…..

A disgruntled cameraman posting on Medialine has found a quote from someone who claims to be one of my past students at a station conversion. Says the student:

I was a victim MR and was forced to become one of his VJ’s at a station that I have since left.
He once explained to me that I didn’t need to get both sides of an issue in the same story.
It was that moment that I started to look for another job.

MR doesn’t know what he is doing and he has no business training random people to become “journalists”.
End of story.

Well, of course, this is hardly the ‘end of the story’, but it does raise some interesting questions about ‘balance’ in reporting and journalism, as well as the right of ‘random people’ to become journalists.

Let’s start with the harder one: balance.

This desire for balance in every piece, or ‘getting the other side of the story’ creates, in my opinion, a kind of banality in reporting. I call it ‘The Oatmeal Effect’. On the one hand this… but on the other hand, that. It waters every statement down with its counterpoint.

This notion of ‘balance’ is a relatively new phenomenon.

As the great journalist HL Menken said, our mission is to ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’. Mencken, you will note, did not say  “to afflict the comfortable but also point out that perhaps the capitalist mill owners do indeed have a point in paying people  8 cents an hour to work in their factories”.

Most people who are great writers, and particularly those throughout our history who have been great journalists have been driven more by their passions than by a desire for ‘balance’, and this is no bad thing.  Edward R. Murrow, for example, in going after Senator Joseph McCarthy did not exactly present a ‘balanced’ report. The attack was entirely one-sided.  Murrow then offered McCarthy his own half-hour in which to respond – something McCarthy did, but to little avail.

Friendly and Murrow are also well-known for Harvest of Shame, another piece of television journalism that hardly strove for ‘balance’. (“Let’s face it, most of these sharecroppers are  either poor people or illegal immigrants and are lucky just to have a job!”……not exactly); yet it is regarded, properly so,  as an icon of outstanding journalism. Balance overall in a network over the course of a year, great. Balance in every piece… insipid.

Our ‘quest for balance’, is little more than a dogma we now repeat, without really examining where it came from or why we subscribe to it

In point of fact, we generally offer little in the way of true balance. Reports on Al Qaeda, for example, never offer Al Qaeda’s side of the story, the fundamentalist Islamist side,  and trust me, there is one.

‘Madman dictator’ Saddam Hussein rarely if ever got his side of the story told, (and nowhere near equal time) on any reporting about Iraq. When we do stories about the Holocaust, we never ever go near ‘the other side of the story’ (ie, maybe Hitler had a point). And it is not as though these perspectives don’t exist. If you would like to read Hitler’s side of the story, just pop over to Stormfront.org and you can read all about it, distasteful though it is.

We elect to be ‘balanced’ when we want to; when it is easy. In truth, it is nothing but lip service.

When we reported on Soweto in South Africa, we never felt it necessary to present the South African government’s apartheid point of view – “of course, all this segregation may be justified if blacks and coloureds are  racially inferior. Here’s Mike Wallace with that point of view”.  No way!

When we report on Israel and Hamas, we never present the Hamas perspective – ‘here to explain how the Jews stole all this land from the Palestinians – Bob Simon’. I don’t think so

So where did this notion of ‘balance’ (when it does not offend anyone) come from?

Like much else in our business, it is derived from the limits of the early technology of television.

In a world where the electromagnetic spectrum limited the number of channels, and hence the number of voices, the world of public discourse was left in the hands of a few ‘anchors’ and networks. They became, because of their small numbers and deep penetration, the voice of God. A kind of authority all their own.

And how could we trust these ‘voices of God’? How could we know they would be fair?

Only if they showed all sides all the time. Equal treatment to everyone (except the truly repugnant, of course).

And so was born the idea that Walter and his ilk were above reproach. Much like the King. They carried with them a sense of nobless oblige. All wise. All knowing. All seeing.

This, of course, is pure nonsense. But like much of early TV, it quickly became part of the accepted dogma of the new medium. Newspapers had never hesitated to take a political side and make that side loud and clear (see William Randolph Hearst or the McCormicks).

But in TV it was going to be different. Every story balanced. If this… then this…



Now along comes the web and its millions of websites covering every point of view in the world.

A real free press (unlike TV).

The balance is there, its just overall. Don’t like Huffington Press? Go see Stormfront.org.

There is something for everyone.

Same thing happens to video now, when 100 million people get their hands of video cameras. A 100 million different perspectives. It’s healthy. We like a free press.

The only people who don’t like this whole thing of course, (to bring this argument to its logical conclusion) are those whose careers are suddenly evaporating as fast as ice in July. The so-called ‘professionals’ of our industry, who are increasingly finding themselves in an incredibly open and competitive market.

Now, the ‘random people’ (as in We The People) are starting to express their opinions in the public domain,

Good for them!

“These bloggers” the ‘professionals’ complain, “don’t know journalism. They refuse to present the other side of the story”.

On the contrary, the bloggers, the people are the other side of the story.


34 responses to “A Question of Balance

  1. You’ve clearly stated your point of view, and as Murrow would, I smile knowing what it exposes about your position.

    Bloggers are their own worst enemy.

  2. I can only hope that it elicits some discussion over there at Fox, which is clearly known only for being ‘fair and balanced’. (terrorist fist jabs all around) 🙂

  3. Balanced, objective reporting is a fallacy at best. All news is filtered by political agendas set by the ownership/management of said media outlet.

    You can’t tell my Faux news has balanced reporting. Neither does MSNBC, or CNN, or…

    They all have agendas.

    To even remotely declare a position of balanced, fair reporting is a bold face lie.

    The detractors live in a fantasy world of the notion that journalism is fair and balanced.

    Bloggers, Citizen Journalists, etc. in many ways, provide a better forum for reporting and discussing current events than the superficial pablum given by the various corporate news media outlets to its sheeple viewership.

  4. Michael,
    What is the role of Media Law and Ethics Codes for Journalists in your new world order?

    My point in this debate is focused specifically on this idea: The identification and support of journalists who adhere to media law and ethics codes.

    When hundreds of thousands of citizen journalists produce millions of videos and stories…. how will viewers identify which are following “the laws” governing the media -(as Nino states) such as Libel, Privacy, Fair Trial, etc… and also which “journalists” are following ethical codes? Viewers in the future might want to know which outlets are at least TRYING to be legal and ethical.

    Or do you think “Journalism” by current definition and for all practical purposes will become obsolete?

    I mean, if things happen the way you would like it to happen…. there will be nothing distinguishing journalism, from free speech. Freedom of speech will thrive. People can say what they want. Freedom of the Press will thrive. People can publish and produce and distribute. Will these meld into a new definition of “journalism” or will some of the legal and ethical definitions still prevail?

    That is the crux for me, and I am certainly open to thought, ideas and debate (I enjoy it.)

    What will the role of Media Law be in the future? What will the role of Journalism Ethics Codes be in the future? Will it be wise to identify yourself as a “journalist” who abides by laws and codes? Will it be wise for network and local TV news to identify themselves as practicing “journalists” as defined by media law and ethics codes? Or do you you throw all the laws and ethics codes out the window as useless? THAT seems to be where you are headed with your model. Right?

    Here is the Preamble of the SPJ Ethics Code: How does this apply in the future?

    The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.

    And more:

    Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

    Journalists should:

    — Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
    — Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
    — Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
    — Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
    — Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
    — Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
    — Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
    — Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story
    — Never plagiarize.
    — Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
    — Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
    — Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
    — Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
    — Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
    — Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
    — Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
    — Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.

    I will stop with that.

    Do you see my question? What is the future role of media law and ethics codes in your new world order of journalism?

  5. Hi Eric
    I was hoping to elicit some discussion on this topic and you certainly have come back with an extremely thoughtful response with much to think about.

    I doubt we will reach any conclusions here, but it is an interesting start.

    Without a doubt the impact of these new technologies will change the way in which both traditional journalism has been done, and the way in which we define the craft. There will surely have to be new definitions, but I am not sure the old ones will continue to hold water.

    As the invention of the printing press begat a whole cascade of new issues (such as the rules of punctuation, let alone who you could trust), so too will these new technologies.

    As best I can imagine, as we begin to witness an explosion of self made journalists, there is little point in trying to hold back the tide. The question of what then the public can trust as true and valid probably has a lot more to do with the ‘brand’ under which that information appears.

    Thus, if The New York Times certifies your blog (a not too unimaginable future, looking at places like Huffington now), then it becomes a kind of stamp of approval for a certain level of truth and integrity. If, on the other hand, Fox News certifies your blog, well, that then tells you something else. If no one certifies your blog, we are in the world of Caveat Emptor, which also is not so bad. It is, after all, a free market of ideas, which I think is healthy,

    As a member of SPJ (I think i am still a member), I think these codes are nice, but rather quaint as they are self-enforcing. It is always nice to have standards, but as an cursory look at most journalistic outlets will attest, they are rarely if ever upheld. “ie, avoid undercover or surreptitious methods of gathers”… well, there goes Dateline NBC and their ‘To Catch a Preditor” series, (not to mention the outtakes they love to put on the nightly news).

  6. Eric – I understand your position and why you are experiencing trepidation around this “new world order” of journalism that is coming to light.

    IMO, one needs to make a conscious decision to be as integrous as possible in light of the changes taking place. As Michael pointed out, many of the codes of ethics aren’t even being adhered to by main stream media – so as much as I can understand your position about these codes, and knowing now what I have seen by many so called professional journalists, I think this itemized list has been more or less – round filed for the sake of viewership ratings.

    There are some journalists who truly are making a concerted effort to abide by these ethics, but I have a feeling that Michael is right, they are quaint and more or less need to be self enforcing. For self enforcing to occur and knowing human behavior, that will depend solely on the character and integrity of each individual.

  7. Absolutely. Ethics Codes have become quaint. That is the problem. And that is why I think they need to be reevaluated and reenforced. That is why the idea is being floated… to certify those who abide by codes of ethics. The reason is to identify those who are serving the public via ethics… and those who are not. Right now, many scoff at the idea. But the new world order of journalism…will be much different, we all agree. The theory is… some think (I do) that at some point, some news outlets MIGHT find it valueable to distinguish their product and brand themselves as ethics abiding outlets. They can certainly use information gleaned from citizen bloggers, etc… But they will identify them, and seek balance and facts and fair presentations… that follow the media laws and ethics codes.

    I could, and have, listed a number of instances in which current TV stations and networks are not serving the public, but rather serving themselves, their promotions department, their network, their advertisers, their partners (pro football teams), paying cash for content, etc… These practices by current news departments have already erroded the trust in TV journalism. With the internet and new economic pressures… the examples, I think will increase. The first underlying principle of journalism is to serve the public. That is an area I think that will need to be thought out more by any company or organization.

    Individuals will do what they want. That, I think, is freedom of speech and the press.

    Again, I separate the term “Journalism” from speech and the press.

    Have a good weekend. I am going to get some ribs on the BBQ.

  8. Just wanted to throw in that one of the reasons the notion of “balance” gained so much traction in TV and elsewhere is because of the drive for profits.

    If you use the “balanced” approach, then the rich industrial corporations that are paying for advertising in your publication or broadcast can be assured that even if you point out something bad you’re doing, you’ll also explain why that bad thing might be good in another context. It makes your media outlet “safe” for their advertising dollars. And you get rich as the publisher.

    Truth is, major corporations that buy mass advertising do many things in the world that hurt someone, somewhere. They make and sell products that damage our health, our environment, our political society and so on in one way or another. Sometimes the damage is incidental, sometimes its careless and callous. But there’s definitely a down side.

    If a journalistic outlet does a story on the evils of strip mining and environmental damage, it has to point to the mining corporation, the corporation that might be buying air time on your network. So chuck in some references to jobs, include some corporate shills that explain just how great a company it is, or whatever. Then you’ll be “balanced” and the money will flow to the media outlet even when the story *should* be Murrow-esque in its one-sidedness.

    The only journalists that can afford to tell the “truth” (as they see it) are the ones that aren’t beholden to these economic treaties.

    Blogs, independents, citizen journalists, all these are more likely to tell the truth as they see it because they are free from the corporate money trap.

    The job for us, as citizens, is to learn how to sort through all this media and form thoughtful opinions and then act accordingly.

    The bad news for the big media companies is not just that we’ll spend less time with their packaged pablum and more time with bloggers, but that we’ll learn for ourselves just who’s been calling the shots for the last 50 years and we’ll penalize “the media” for their supplication at the feet of industry.

    The White House press corps backlash of the past few years — in which everyone asks why no one in the press called Bush on his bullshit — is only the beginning.

  9. Really interesting and no doubt depressingly accurate insight.

    Alas, this desire for ‘balance’ also infects public television. Many years ago, I did a documentary for WNET/13 called Chemicaltown USA. It was an expose on the Ciba-Geiga chemical plant in Toms River, NJ, and its potential connection to a cancer cluster there. The DEP had given Ciba Geiga a variance so that they could pump raw chemical waste 100 ft off shore; off a public beach. We shot and cut the whole film – a devastating indictment of Ciba Geigy.

    Alas, it turned out that Ciba Geigy was also them major funder of The Brain, a big PBS series, and was, to say the least, not happy with our film. We were called on the carpet by Jay Iselin, then president of WNET/13 and instructed to ‘balance’ the film. What was to balance? That carcenogenic chemicals where you swim are good for you? Massive and highly overseen rewrites followed with a lot of interviews with Chemical Company PR flacks and the insertion of lots of ‘could be’ and ‘not proven’ and ‘scientists are uncertain’.

    you bet.

  10. If you’ve been paying attention about the fist jab controversy at FOX, you will note the person responsible for the controversy has paid the price.

    Bloggers should also pay a price when they make grievous errors as well.

    No different than any other news media outlet.

    Whether it’s an internal or external/legal price.

  11. While I think that is indeed admirable, I look forward to seeing Fox exercise the same degree of enforcement as the campaign progresses. As mentioned above, in a world of millions of voices, a reputation for honesty and quality has to be earned every day.

  12. John hit the nail squarely on the head.

    IMO, this is a critical thing regarding those who choose to open their world view of what it means to report the news as a service to the general public. Those involved in corporate news media truly believe that they are doing a service to the community.

    Denial – it’s a river in Egypt.

    It’s these “nobles” who truly fear the idea of the masses creating content that, in many ways, is on par in technical quality and can be done with affordable equipment and not be held hostage by the gatekeepers known as corporate media and their advertisers.

    As I see it, the corporate media gatekeepers, who are beholden to their advertisers demands, are doing the general public a disservice. But you gotta buy all that expensive equipment and pay all those specially trained operators and reporters their inflated salaries. The flip side is the cost of living is going up (especially for those who need to keep up appearances) – and we all need to survive. So it’s a catch-22 situation.

    This is, I’m sure, going to smack against all that is holy in mainstream broadcasting – but maybe those involved need to quit worrying about all the technical BS involved with producing video content and get lean and mean – shoot and edit as the solo vj paradigm allows us to. Create professional quality content for crying out loud. None of the content I’ve seen come from many of the local affiliates in my part of the country justifies the cost for the equipment they use. There is a balance though, but the bottom line is reduced overhead means less of a chance of being held hostage to an advertisers whim and their revenue stream to support these monolithic broadcast entities.

    As you’ve stated Michael in your radical comments 😉 – Burning all the stations down to the ground may not be such a bad thing. Remove all the specific broadcast technological obstacles and replace them with content distribution via the net. New tv’s can be hooked up to HTPC’s that have direct access to the internet. The chain reaction for access to the net would in turn be forced upon those who provide net access to invest in even better methods of delivery, thus allowing even more content to be created and distributed. Its a freeing of shooters and content being created for those consuming even more hours of content on a daily basis. We’re no longer tied just to TV’s – content is being consumed on portable web enabled devices – iPhones, PDA’s, even cel phones – who gives a Rats A$$ if that content was shot on a shoulder mount Beta or XDCAM???

    Old habits die hard – that’s been clearly evident in the detractors unwillingness to look outside the walls of their self imposed citadels up on their hill tops looking down on the masses.

    But as you’ve commented on, the revolt is happening.

  13. Yet that same enforcement is what you disagree with in your above posting.

    A goal you feel FOX should achieve yet you, yourself, don’t feel is important for bloggers who claim to be journalists.

  14. I don’t think, nor do I even understand how bloggers can be ‘self-enforcing’. The whole notion is rather antithetical to a free and open press where anything goes (which I think is very very healthy).

    In a world of millions of voices (which technology now allows), the question of who can you trust become paramount.

    As I stated above, the public in this very messy yet vibrant marketplace will begin to search out those they can most trust. Brands such as NY Times, Huffington Post or Fox have their future carved out for them as ‘publishers’ as opposed to ‘producers’ of this new content.

    (this model also far better fits the economics of the web),

    Yet for them to maintain their viewership or readership it is critical that THEY, not the vast masses of bloggers, become the enforcers of standards of accuracy. What those standards are is now very much in the hands of those who would become the publishers.

  15. $ – You’ve missed the point entirely. I don’t disagree at all with EB’s post about adherence to ethics. If anything, it needs to be done more now than ever. I don’t see that kind of thing occurring at Faux News.

    Michael said:

    …it is critical that THEY (the publishers), not the vast masses of bloggers, become the enforcers of standards of accuracy.

    That’s where the integrity issue comes into play. On more than one occasion, I’ve witnessed the so called “Professional Journalists” of Faux News breed FUD daily in the name of “balanced journalism” when in reality it’s all in the name of Neo Conservatism and the advertisers who espouse the same political and societal viewpoint.

    The catch word promo’s of various news entities is laughable at the very least – “Integrity”, “Balanced”, “Fair”, blah, blah, blah. Some of the best news/informational content I’ve seen is produced by indie doc shooters who dig for the truth without fear of reprisal from some station manager who’s feeling the heat from some senior corporate executive for fear of pissing off some cash cow advertiser. That is the breeding ground for compromise to take place. Lived it – hated my JOB for it – refuse to live/work that way again. Some have no issue living that way. My experience indicates that one day you wake up realizing that’s lost time you’ll never get back. And it tarnishes your professional reputation in the process. No thanks.

    What those standards are is now very much in the hands of those who would become the publishers.

    I hold to this notion as how I would want to be treated with respect and dignity if I were the receiver of such information. Don’t insult my intelligence with selective information to meet some advertisers agenda. Tell me the truth whether I want to hear it or not – I can either listen to what is being presented or turn to something else. I may not like it, but I respect someone who takes that position over the adherence to some pseudo-journalistic principles – all in the name of some alterior agenda set forth by corporate news media organization executives to fill their coffers.

    IMO, the code of ethics that EB has referred to can only be adhered to when all threat of reprisal has been removed at the job level if a piece doesn’t tow the corporate party line.

    eb said:

    Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

    This is where bloggers may find they are out of their element. Most have a viewpoint that is more analysis and commentary than factual reporting. That’s neither good or bad – they just need to know the difference and state it as such – and that can be learned either through practical experience and mentorship or through formal education – or a combination of both.

  16. That’s very nice…

  17. It’s the “definitions” that becomes important.

    There are a number of different reasons for “communicating.” And with the internet, communicating to the masses throughout the world, or your community, becomes fast and easy.

    Why are you communicating? Are you advertising something? Selling a product? Giving an opinion on something? Giving a review of a restaurant or concert or political speech? Are you being paid by a corporation to present a public relations image, or promote a book, movie or idea? Are you being paid by a campaign, or are you promoting a candidate you simply like? Are you marketing a product? Telling someone they are full of sh#t? Promoting anti semetic or racial hatred? Giving religious views, evangelizing? Are you promoting and advocating changes in laws, or inciting a riot? Are you making fun of the fat ugle teenager in your class? Or writing about your plans to blow up your school? Have you created a beautiful piece of video and music and are promoting it on YouTube? Do you have something valuable, dangerous, creative, obscene, artistic, libelous, vicious, or important to say? Is it true?

    These things can and all will be communicated. The internet is wide open.

    Yet – are these all “Journalism?”

    That is the crux. What defines journalism?

    The answer has already been given. Journalism has already been defined by Codes of Ethics. Following ethics has been voluntary and should remain voluntary. Yet the blurring has already occured. And will continue to blur to the extent nobody knows anymore what is opinion, what is fact, what is true and what is lie.

    Unless efforts are made to identify, certify and strengthen the adherence and enforcement of journalism codes of ethics.

    Radical and Reactionary?

    Or Practical and Proactive?

    I support freedom of speech, and the press. This is not about control. This is simply about “Definition.”

  18. Dear eb
    Again, a very thoughtful post.
    I agree that the primary question here is ‘what defines journalism’, but I am not sure that the answer is as easy to answer as it is to ask the question.

    The definition of a journalist from the SPJ, while interesting did not come from Sinai carved in stone tablets.

    In my opinion (for what it is worth) journalism covers a far wider range of opinion and content. Journalism can be as objective as one can try to make it, but it can also be equally powerful as a tool of naked advocacy. I don’t think this is not journalism, just journalism of a different stripe. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, a searing indictment of the meat industry. Journalism, for sure. Balanced and objective? Hardly. Nor should it be. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Powerful journalism? I think so. Balanced and objective? Not at all.

    Like anything else rich and textured, it aint so easy to define. Which is probably a good thing.

  19. Michael and EB – again excellent dialog on this topic and a refreshing change of pace.

    EB – I see your concerns about the true sense of journalism, and for some, this is the path they feel compelled to take. Others may feel that they need to take a reactionary, advocacy approach to their journalism and swing to the opposi8te side as a result of what has been perceived as selective news reporting to meet some unknown agenda.

    Journalism as a platform for advocacy has been used throughout its history. Michael’s examples are a clear indication of that. Balance and objectivity has its place – but it has been my personal experience that there is always a slant to a news piece depending on the journalist – they are fallible human beings and will feel strongly about what they write about.

    The Iraq war was sold to the mainstream news media – and the general public – to justify an agenda that is now being seen as a war for oil to feed America’s addiction to the automobile. And in the process, the spin doctoring pro war rhetoric was a powerful motivator that has resulted in thousands of American military personnel and tens of thousands of Iraqi’s being killed in the process.

    Would citizen journalists have fallen for the snow job that came from the White House proposing war with Iraq? More than likely not. These journalistic ethics didn’t seem to be in practice, specifically the first four items in EB’s list above when the American Press got duped. Now I’m not saying that the new CJ/Solo VJ/Blogger arena is perfect and there will be those who will be apt to make the same blunders, but there will be those who won’t be tainted by those who are a part of corporate news media and will, IMO, view what’s being stated with a more critical eye and a healthy amount of skepticism – and will do what they can to report the facts. Or they won’t. Either way, it’s the changing face of journalism – just as those who are striving to work as solo vj’s are changing the face of the video journalism profession.

    It will probably require a campaign of advocacy by those who hold to the true foundations of journalism – which, if done properly, may very well bring credibility back to the profession.

    As you said Michael:

    …(journalism) aint so easy to define. Which is probably a good thing.

  20. Maybe it’s time to re-read “Future Shock” – remember “information overload”?

    Blogging, YouTube, TV shows with UGC video, webcasts, webchannels, etc… are creating a new, rapidly shifting communications landscape. Eventually there will be some structure, because the flow of information will require it. It may be an individually defined structure – like how you can set up your isp home page, or, it may include some large technology dictated infrastructure. Either way, people will have more choices of how to get info, will decide what streams of info are reliable, entertaining or worth paying for, and the market will sort out who actually makes money and therefore survives.

    I think we are moving from the years of “mass communications” to a time of more personal communications. We can choose, on an individual basis who we get our info from. As a practical matter, it’s unlikely that large masses of people will not be flocking to irresponsible blog sites for important info so worrying about regulating blogs is probably not very practical.

    Just because people don’t buy printed newspapers anymore, that doesn’t mean that the professional staff of the newsroom will not provide news using the new technology. Look at the Newark Star Ledger, great print reporters are beginning to make great videos. Their videos will reflect their professional ethics. Hopefully other newspapers and broadcasters will jump on board.

    The big component still missing from this entire discussion is how all these new channels of communication will be monetized. That will determine who stays in the game long term.

  21. Cliff, Even you were unable to do anything different when you covered the Obama train as it came by your home town.


    You went out, for free, and produced an exact copy of a low budget one man band news story.

    Not one thing different or imaginative from any other inexperienced solo effort.

    In fact less imaginative than most since even a simple wide shot of a record crowd in attendance was beyond your abilities.

    But that didn’t stop you from setting up side by side with those other journalists you feel do lesser work than yourself, only to produce something which showed just how little you know.

    EB is dead on target about the definition of what is and isn’t journalism.

    And how too many don’t know or understand the differences between opinion and balanced journalistic efforts.

    I have faith in our legal system that bloggers will be finding themselves in court more often as lawyers build cases against those who don’t understand libel and slander laws.

    Others, like Cliff, will remain unemployed due to lack of ability and understanding about what it takes to run a business covering news.

    Instead of mistaking a non paying hobby for a career.

  22. $ – I’m sorry – did you say something that was suppose to be relevant to this conversation?

    Go back to the fake news and let others participate in an adult discussion of the topic at hand – mmm k?

  23. Opinion Journalism?
    Advocacy Journalism?
    Balanced Journalism?
    Editorial Journalism?
    Sports Journalism?
    Entertainment Journalism?
    Advertising Journalism?
    Campaign Journalism?
    Corporate PR Journalism?

    Perhaps there is no one definition.

    Or perhaps they should just be labeled as they really are: “Editorials” “Opinions” “Sports” “Advocacy” “Advertising” “Campaigning”

    and “Journalism.” (as defined by media law and ethics codes.)

    The problem could well be…. that many who practice unethical Journalism…. are now trying to redefine journalism to fit their unethical practices. Is that the case?

    Sort of like redefining marriage. Proponents of gay marriage attempt to take an established, traditional, respected institution… which according to their Biblical scripture, beliefs and consciences is a sanctimonious, obvious, holy, legal and moral truth — and redefine it to fit their immoral homosexual lifestyle (again, according to their Bible and to their moral or ethical truths.)

    Why did I use that analogy? It just seemed to be a good comparison, perhaps…. for debate.

    Why do I bring it into this debate? Is it to open a can of worms… or to start a debate about gay marriage? Not necessarily.

    It is to make this point: |

    Both instances seem to take the traditional definition of one word: Marriage and Journalism and change the meaning… to fit the definition of a class of people who were not included in the original definition.

    Gays were (are) not included in the original definition of marriage. And they were not given the legal protection by society.

    Opinion bloggers and citizens were (are) not included in the traditional, professional definition of journalist.

    Both are trying to change ….. the definitions of the words.

    Free speech?
    My opinion?
    Or journalism?

    What did I just write?

    Define it. 😉

  24. Steve you raise an important point:

    The big component still missing from this entire discussion is how all these new channels of communication will be monetized. That will determine who stays in the game long term.

    That is the critical component missing.

    Was watching the documentary “Crude Impact” and one of the sections covered by Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodwin is the complicity of media in NOT reporting the inhumane actions of large corporations that if the citizens of this country were informed about, there would be a huge outcry against those large multinationals.

    What does this have to do with your comment?

    Corporate News Media companies are beholden to these corporations by being held hostage to their advertising revenue. If news organizations were to go back to their original purpose of public service, things would be different. Now all they are is just another infotainment division of larger media conglomerates.

    The subsidization of true news outlets is probably going to require something similar to how Public broadcasting works – being underwritten by benefactors who see a true need for news reporting that lines up with their core values and mission statement.

    Personally, I would prefer to see news content supported in this fashion and maybe there will be sources for this kind of business model – funded by philanthropic people who see news as a public service that needs to be supported by sponsorship via foundations with core mission values of social justice, equality and who have a belief in the news being more than pablum to be fed to the sheeple masses.

  25. My last post – posed a trick question.
    It took an issue and tossed out some facts, opinions, advocacy, and asked you to sort out the difference. There might even have been some errors in my post, some half truths, or some lies. Yet there might have been some truth, some facts, as well? Can you tell which is which? Is this journalism? Does it deserve to be labeled as journalism? What defines journalism?
    If you agree that blogging and individually produced “content” can produce inaccuracies, lies, staged video along with truth….then you must also agree that these things cannot “all” be Journalism under the current definition.

    Traditionally, media law and ethics codes have defined journalism. I think that defintion will become more valueable in the future.

    A Journalistic approach is not to give an opinion, but to report on the facts as presented by those knowledgable and affected directly. On both sides of the issue. Fairly. Without a hint of promoting one side or the other. Let the public be the judge. Not the journalist. Factual statements would be verified and double checked.

    My point was not to hit a foul ball out of play. It was to throw a curve ball to see if you can hit it.

    Don’t mix the discussion of Journalism… with the discussion of all media production in the digital revolution. Anyone can produce video, give opinion, or present one side of an issue. That includes programming, entertainment, advertising, etc…

    I think it is perfectly possible that in the future, Journalism associations could Certify journalists who consistantly practice legal and ethical journalism, as defined by media law and codes of ethics.

    The alternative is for journalism societies to whither away and their codes of ethics to become useless. At some point, news outlets will need to commit and define journalism. Otherwise, their journalism product will lose all value. At some point viewers will WANT to know which is which. When the public can’t find ethical journalism, then ethical journalism dies… (as defined.)

    Maybe that is going to happen?

    In the past, it was much easier to recognize and weed out lies in the media…because there were only so many outlets. In the future, there will be unlimited number of “journalists” – “bloggers” – ‘entertainers” “programmers”.

    At some point the definitions will be more useful and valueable. These defintions will not hinder the free flow of information or speech. They don’t have that power, nor do we. That is not the issue. The flood gates are opening. You can produce all the content you want, on whatever issue. But I think the public will want to know where the water is safe to swim in, and where the rapids are.

    Defintions will serve as a road map. People travelling need to know where to turn to find where they want to go. In the past there were only three roads. It was easy. News programs had a reputation of being “journalistic” (as defined.) The future, we all agree, will be different. When niche and individual video content supplants network news on the internet/TV set…. viewers will still want to know where to turn to find what they are looking for. And they might just want to find fair, legal and ethical “Journalism.” Hence the need and value of defining it, or certifying it.

    I understand that sometimes, a “journalist” will uncover the truth about a corporate illegality, or a flaw in a politicians statement. The assumption is…. that Truth will prevail. Perhaps truth will actually be stronger in the future? Or perhaps lies will be stronger? I think the free flow of information is a good thing. But I also think fair, truthful “journalism” needs to be respected, and defined as a product.

    When somebody produces a video and shows death in a war zone, or whatever, they should also present the other half of the story. Because often times, controversial issues… are a matter of balance. Society and public officials, and corporate leaders and individuals often need to make choices based on how they balance an issue. When a “journalist” presents only one side…. sure it might seem obvious to the viewer that that particular side is the correct side. But if they were given the other side of the issue to think about… they might actually see the question of “balance” and be faced with the actual, factual truth. Not one side of it.

    The need for Journalism to be defined is real. The definition of ethics codes should not be changed, it should be re-evaluated and reenforced. And certified journalism should be considered. As voluntary. Perhaps not today, but in the future, I think it will become more of an issue. I’ll try to stop on this issue now.

  26. I don’t think it is the responsibility of the journalist to provide ‘the other side’. Often there are a dozen ‘other sides’. (Try explaining the ‘other side’ in Lebanon, for example). That having been said, I think it is the responsibility of the system to provide opportunities for the ‘other sides’. Let all voices speak. Let them say whatever they want, whenever they want. This is real balanced reporting.

    The problem at the base of this is that there is no ‘truth’, nor should there be. There is your truth and my truth and his truth and her truth. There is no absolute ‘truth’ for which we can search. (Just ask any Israeli or Palestinian).

    A free press let’s all truths present their case. It is up to the intelligent reader or viewer to draw their own conclusions, and that is no bad thing.

  27. Advocating the lack of need to show others sides just sounds lazy to me.

    Another word that fits would be propaganda.

  28. Umm… lemme see…
    How often does Fox News give Al Qaeda’s perspective on the news? Just out of curiosity. I mean, or is it just not ‘valid’? Of do we just show the ‘other side’ when it suits us to do so? I mean, from an Islamist perspective, the invasion of Iraq was just western aggression and imperialism. I don’t think you guys showed that ‘other side’ too often (or did I miss that part?). Or would you say you just do propaganda? Just curious.

  29. Actually, if one watches, you would see their views as part of the stories.

    But you don’t watch.

    You promote, strongly, there is no need to show more than one side of any issue.

    I disagree.

    Showing only one side of an issue is nothing more than propaganda.

    There are times it is impossible to show every facet of an issue.

    But to only display one side, with out anyone else’s side being mentioned or given the chance to respond?

    That’s where you and your beliefs fall well short of what is acceptable.

  30. Ah, but you are wrong, I do watch.
    As you may not know, I was a PhD candidate in Islamic Studies before I got into the TV business, so I know the Salafist perspective extremely well, and believe me, no US network comes anywhere close to presenting that point of view.

    That having been said, it is not that I don’t believe in balance, but balance comes as a function of a free press where all voices are heard, not where one voice presents all points of view.
    That is, I think, almost impossible.

  31. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get a balanced news report from a professional, ethical journalist on these topics?

  32. You know, I understand that this is an ideal, but first, I don’t think it possible. We all bring our cultural baggage with us when we report on anything. For how long have we sent middle class white people to Africa or Asia to report from places where they don’t speak the language, don’t know the history or the culture and in fact are a bit lost themselves. Try though they might, they carry their own prejudices and perspectives.

    All this is fine, so long as we acknowledge it and accept that in fact, ‘objective’ is probably not really possible. Rather, it would be far better to open the platform to many other voices of a far wider perspective who were honest at least in where they came from, and then let the eductated viewer decide where the truth and reality lay.

    Isn’t this a far better model for journalism?

    Of course, this was not possible when there were only 3 networks, but with the infinite voices of the web, suddenly it is.

  33. Showing only one side of an issue is nothing more than propaganda.

    Faux News does this very well.

  34. I like the idea of opening up the free flow of information. Definately… a good idea. Although we have nothing to say about it either way.

    There are some things we cannot control. The free flow of information in the new digital age is one of them. Free speech and free press are absolutely winners. And you can definately say the public benefits more too.

    As for a model of journalism – I guess I can see how more information equals more journalism… IF you define journalism as information.

    But if you define a journalism differently – a subsection of information – presented by a journalist who abides by ethics codes and media law… then the model is different.

    Perhaps there are two ways to view journalism? And the journalism associations who define journalism ethics codes… will become useless and meaningless?

    I won’t go on repeating myself. I just think the U.S. public might get sick of one sided opinionated content packaged as “journalism” at some point, and actually appreciate ethical journalism as a branded, certified product. We can watch this one unfold I think over the next ten years. Stay tuned.

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