Friday, February 17, 2006

More from MOBANGE!

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:18 AM |  

Doug Bass at the Minnesota Organization of Blogs Aggregator, News, Gossip, ETC. (MOBANGE!) posts a complete summary of the Tocqueville Center forum "The Blogosphere and the Future of Journalism" Featuring Scott Johnson of Power Line and Eric Black of the Star-Tribune. Doug does an excellent job summarizing the event and the discussion. I’d just like to add a few comments on the Q&A session.

Much of the questioning was directed toward Eric Black and focused on the concept of bias and confirmation bias that he raised in his presentation. My question, as reported by Doug, was a follow-up to Peg Kaplan’s question about bias to which Black responded in part “I'm nervous about the methods we have [to be objective], but they're the best we have right now.”

In my follow-up I said I was nervous, too. My point was that sometimes in order to avoid confirmation bias, journalists go overboard presenting two sides of an issue when, in their professional judgment, one side is clearly stronger than the other. I asked Black to elaborate on his skepticism. His answer wasn’t the best. He used one of my favorite whipping boys -- he said/she said journalism -- and talked about it’s shortcomings. But he also noted that he has been given assignments on topics about which he knows nothing and by the end of the day written an article based on talking to people on both sides of an issue.

Perhaps that gets to a question of editorial selection. Is the media doing a service to readers with a cursory story that simply raises a controversia issue without a conclusion? On the other hand, if a story is worth covering, doesn’t it deserve full coverage? (Star Tribune Political Editor Doug Tice and I exchanged comments on that issue here.)

A case in point, about which I posted earlier, is today’s Pioneer Press story about teaching art to Muslim students. That story clearly had a point of view, but it came across because the reporter did his job -- reported what he say as he say it -- not because he editorialized in the copy.

A later question put the issue more precisely. Paraphrasing -- Wouldn’t it be better if newspapers declared their political allegiance (as they used to do) and then tried to be objective within that context? Wouldn’t that provide readers with a better frame of reference?

I think that’s a good question. Black acknowledged it was, but also stepped quickly to the position that it’s good that we have institutions that try to be objective in the pure sense. Perhaps, but if that’s not possible, why pretend?