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Comment of the Day: some journalism deep-think

Sep 9, 2011, 3:30 PM EDT


Gleeman and I were chatting a while ago about why the news is so damn slow lately. We basically think it’s all about the lack of pennant races. If there were more races, more attention would be paid and national outlets would be sending their guys to big important series that, this year, aren’t happening.  Moreover, the multi-sport outlets and reporters are devoting themselves almost exclusively to football, treating it as a long lost lover that has finally returned.

I get it.  Kind of sucks if your job is reading and riffing on baseball news, but it happens. It’s just important that we use our downtime wisely and do things like contemplate our existence in the world. As a resident of a shantytown on the outskirts of Media City, my existence is more or less the world of journalism, so I contemplate it.

Which leads me to this comment from reader MKD. It came in the MVP thread, in which the notion of a journalist’s subjectivity was on the table.  I think there’s a lot of truth here:

When it comes to the history of journalism, I think we will look back on the period between the emergence monopoly newspapers (one paper per city) and the emergence of the internet as a peculiar time when people believed that “objectivity” was possible in news.

As it turned out, there were a million subjective biases being coded into “objective” news stories, but we never noticed them because our sources were so limited. With the explosion of the internet we’ve been forced to recognize that no matter how hard you try you cannot squeeze subjectivity out of reporting and so journalists have returned to their roots- coupling facts with analysis and opinion. I for one applaud the new willingness to acknowledge that objective news in an unattainable ideal. Long live debate!

Back when cities had a ton of papers, those papers felt more free to offer opinion, often sharp opinion in a way that allowed them to shape the news of the day in ways that late 20th Century media shied away from in the name of objectivity. The idea of “a paper of record” would have been nonsensical 100 years ago, but not in, say 1980.  Of course, that approach also led to a lot of misinformation being put out there too, which was the yin to the yang of all of that hard-nosed opinion-based stuff.

As MKD notes, the media world now is moving closer to the old model. It’s not the same — no Charles Foster Kane is going to be able to come along and tell people what to think in the Internet age — but the idea that news is not always about putative objectivity is becoming a fact of life. And I think this is good. Obviously not to the extent it leads to misinformation — we have to stamp that out that stuff — but it is good if context and informed opinion accompany the accurate facts.

I grow very tired of reading an article about politics in which 987 people believe X to be the case and 13 loons believe Y to be the case and the reporter — in the name of objectivity –says “there is disagreement, however.”  Fine. There’s disagreement. But put it in context and, even if your story is not on the op-ed page, feel free to call a loon a loon. Or if that’s too much, at least provide facts which put lie to what those 13 loons are saying. If you fail to do that you’ve distorted the matter even more. All in the name of objectivity! Blah.

It’s less stark in sports — I think sportswriters do a way better job of calling out BS in straight news stories, possibly because the stakes are seen to be lower — but I think there’s room for a lot more of it.  If the coach says something that’s nuts, it’s nice if the insane nature of his comment is pointed out soon after it’s quoted rather than to wait until the columnist takes up the matter two days later.

Anyway, the Internet age is moving us more in that direction. And, though there are risks that must be managed as the media becomes more and more dispersed, I think the risks are worth it. And I think it gives readers a much better product overall.

  1. baccards - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    At the other extreme of “fair and balanced” reporting.. sometimes the 13 loons are given the spotlight to the detriment of the 987 others, along with the facts… and so it goes.

    • cur68 - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:59 PM

      Well, the loud and obnoxious are more entertaining than the boringly careful, eh? As a favorite author of mine used to put it, “Rarely right, but never uncertain”.

  2. yankeesgameday - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    Obviously we need to change the laws to make sure that these radical empires quit legislating from behibdvtge plate and we need an informed media to take up the call so they aren’t appointed for life

    • yankeesgameday - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:04 PM

      Umpires not empires. Edit function in 2012!

      • baccards - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:14 PM

        I was lost there for a while Good thing they have an edit functi

      • jimbo1949 - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:21 PM

        Umpires, OK. So how the hell did behibdvtge elude your dyslexia?
        . :-)

      • indaburg - Sep 9, 2011 at 6:59 PM

        Since the umpires can act like emperors, empires actually made sense to me. Behibdvtge, not so much.

  3. Chris Fiorentino - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    Citizen Kane was a great movie…that’s all I got.

    • yankeesfanlen - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:18 PM


    • baccards - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:19 PM

      Who? What? Where? I see a Charles Foster Kane mentioned – Was he a citizen in a movie?

      • yankeesfanlen - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:26 PM

        “You provide the prose poems, I’ll provide the war”

  4. yankeesfanlen - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:22 PM

    The responsibility of a well-informed reader is to separate the wheat from the chaff. And it never creates harm if you take a peek at the opposing viewpoints once in a while, they may have something you hadn’t considered (or may still be full of undisputed BS).

    • cur68 - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:44 PM

      Len; I use a formula to try and keep up. First, I want to see if I can still get good and mad, so I watch Glenn Beck or pretty much anything on Fox. I don’t know how informed or uninformed I get but if I start thinking Beck or the Fox ‘news’ team was making sense then I know it’s time to put down the thesis and take action. Then I watch some Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart with a good dash of CNN, NBC and of course CBC to re-balance the old opinion meter. This way I know what all the nuts are saying.

      • yankeesfanlen - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:53 PM

        Quite correct, cur: If you don’t know what the opposition is saying, how do you defend against them?
        Just to be my usual self – it’s okay if Bautista is MVP, not going to keep us from #28.

      • cur68 - Sep 9, 2011 at 5:17 PM

        No worries Len, because I could quite frankly give a crap about the AL MVP. It’s a popularity contest and comes down to if your team is in contention vs how much you love the Yankees. Bautista doesn’t stand a chance really. Just the fact that I can legitimately argue for him and others see it the same and the numbers themselves are so good is enough for me. Its been a long time since the Beaver Wrestlers had a genuine offensive and defensive stud on the team. Not since Robbie Alomar IMO (with apologies to Carlos Delgado, whom I think the world of, but he wasn’t the best dude with a glove, either catcher’s, left fielder’s or 1st base). And you saw how they did when that was the case, right?

        With the season he’s had, Grandy is a legitimate MVP candidate and I defy anyone to say he isn’t. He’s even more so than Bautista because he fits 2 of the “unwritten qualifications”; Yankee and in contention. If he wins I will not be displeased, because he also has the fact that he seems to be a real nice kid going for him, too. This is, of course, the trouble with a good portion of the Yankees; lots of them are pretty nice guys. Hell, even Jeter (I shall, of course, leave ARod alone). Just kills me the Empire employs such nice kids. It’s supposed to be easy hating stormtroopers. Certainly was in Star Wars.

      • yankeesfanlen - Sep 9, 2011 at 5:26 PM

        cur – Kind and Gracious as always. You are a Gentleman and a Scholar.

      • cur68 - Sep 9, 2011 at 6:59 PM

        Aww shucks. I’d blush but I think I’d sprain something if I did.

  5. dailyrev - Sep 9, 2011 at 7:01 PM

    Journalism is not about weighing opinions — never was, and it can’t be. Journalists who pursue such a vapid ideal have already lost their way and are practicing a form of indentured servitude rather than journalism.

    Fortunately, you guys at msnbc have a fairly worthy model close by who can show you what journalism is and what it does, or what it is meant to do in a free society. I’m talking, of course, about Maddow. Just watch and listen to her and pay close attention to how she constructs and presents arguments and exposes the flaws in others’. She’s looking for truth, not some imaginary point of balance.

    And yes, sportswriters can learn from her too. Just because you’re a sportswriter doesn’t mean you can’t study and practice journalism. In fact, given the financial and cultural importance and weight of our pro games in this society, it’s more important than ever that you do.

  6. leftywildcat - Sep 10, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    Here’s a novel (OK, old fashioned) idea for the lamestream media, and the less than objective sports writers as well: Limit the News pages to News articles, and the Sports News pages to the Sports News. Put the Opinion articles on the Opinions pages, and The Sports Opinion articles on the Sports Opinion pages. Wouldn’t that fix it?

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