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« An Incurious Press | Main | The Unexamined Space Program »

Journalists' Credibility

In comments to this post, John Kelly of Florida Today writes:

As for Ken's contention that "blogs" are where facts go in and better facts come out, well, we like to start at the highest possible level of accuracy. We understand that we never have the whoe story when we publish and that the story can change when additional facts to come to life. This can lead to an admittedly more cautious approach to publishing than you see in "blogs," where the assumption that the material is opinion protects the author against inaccuracies or even unwarranted criticism or allegations. It can always be protected as opinion and free speech. If we do that too often in our newspaper or on Internet sites owned and operated by our newspaper, we run the risk of losing credibility. I'm not saying this is the case with yours or any other specific blog, butI think in general there is as much a credibility problem with blogs as in mainstream journalism. Wouldn't you agree?

That's far too broad a statement to agree or disagree with. It's like saying, "there is as much a credibility problem with people as there is with mainstream journalism."

Some blogs have credibility problems. Some news outlets have credibility problems. In most cases, the respective bloggers and the news outlets brought said problems on themselves.

But the credibility problems rarely come merely from posting something early and mistaken, and then correcting it as new facts come to light. They come from publishing something wrong (sometimes with an obvious agenda), and then stonewalling about it (as CBS did for days, and really even to date), or denying obvious bias in their reporting or blogging. Once one gives up the pretense of "objective journalism," and shows a willingness to quickly correct the record as prominently as it was originally reported (something that the MSM seems for some reason loathe to do, preferring instead to bury corrections to front-page stories deep in the food section), much or all can be forgiven.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 17, 2006 05:26 AM
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Rand says: "Once one gives up the pretense of "objective journalism," and shows a willingness to quickly correct the record as prominently as it was originally reported (something that the MSM seems for some reason loathe to do, preferring instead to bury corrections to front-page stories deep in the food section), much or all can be forgiven."

I say "Amen."

Posted by Keith Cowing at March 17, 2006 06:47 AM

Rand makes good points. He's right. The statement I made is obvious. I even had typed something about a bad apple in every bunch, but deleted that for the same reason.

However, journalists who entrench themselves on bad positions and become zealots for a cause, journalists are unwilling to bend when the facts change or journalists who fail to correct errors is a problem. It's that true that some newspapers are bad about this. It is interesting that corrections do not run on Page 1 to fix a mis-stated fact in a Page 1 story. I've always thought that. We run ours on Page 2 or 3 every day, in the same place, a common practice for a lot of newspapers under the auspices that everyone will know to look there for corrections. Not sure I agree with that, but it's what they do.

That said, I think there are just as many blogs out there committing some of the same "crimes" that Rand is documenting. The issue is not really blogs vs. mainstream media, where one is the Jedi Knights and the other is the Empire. The issue is good vs. bad reporting/information-delivery. The honest deliverers of news, information and opinion with reliable records for truth will win out over time. Some will be blogs. Some will be mainstream media. Likely, the best will be a combination of those and other types of reporting. What's happening right now, with some of the natural conflict between independent publishers (which is what bloggers are) and the establishment media (yikes, when did I become part of the establishment) is a good thing that will yield better journalism and public service.

I don't like any characterization that the examples of bad "journalism" listed here are only present in the mainstream media because it's not true. I know that's not what Rand is saying, but it is what some might take away from what he's saying.

Posted by John Kelly at March 17, 2006 06:59 AM

Assuming you are talking about me, why am I an "independent publisher", John? I have several incorporated companies, business partners, etc. I'm just smaller than Florida Today and have streamlined management.

Posted by Keith Cowing at March 17, 2006 07:24 AM

"The Press" acts like a 5 year old who has been crowned king. They call themselves an institution, they speak with the Imperial We (an interesting term I first read in a Sci-Fi book, that I forgot about, it means that a Monarch will speak using the plural, when they are in fact talking about a personal desire, due to the fact that they speak for everyone they rule, I'm sure most know that already, just thought I would explain) only instead of saying "We" with the authority of a monarch who is ONE with the will of the governed, they say "the people" as though they are seperate from the REST of the governed.

"The Press" will speak of an "insular establishment," even though they are too lazy for that anymore, now they just say "bubble" when criticizing others, like the Administration, the US Military and the Church, but they leave themselves out of that list, which is ironic. What is also Ironic, is that while the Military, the Administration, the Church and numerous others are insular, they are also more interested in their institution than themselves. Military men will fall on their own swords(metaphoricaly) to protect the institution they care so much about, and accept PERSONAL responsibility so that none of the taint lands on their beloved institution. All three of the listed institutions are made up of individuals who love the institution more than themselves, "The Press" is filled with selfish F@#KTARDS (I owe that one to "Thatgayconservative" (look him up, interesting blog, not all gay stuff)) willing to destroy the "institution" they think is more valuable than even their government, their nation and their heritage (three more "bubbles" worthy of derision by "The Press")

When your existence, and your actions insult the very things you claim are superior to even the existence of the single most successful, powerful, world changing (and if you accept a change in the dynasties of monarchy's and dictatorships as a change in government)and enduring government and nation in the history of the world, that pretty much is the baseline definition of bankruptcy.

Posted by wickedpinto at March 17, 2006 07:18 PM

What credibility?

Posted by Barbara Skolaut at March 17, 2006 08:48 PM

Credibility is measured when you allow others to challenge your assumptions. It's your reaction to those challenges that determine your credibility.

It's ironic that the mindset and precautions against the "risk of losing credibility" is exactly what causes the loss!

Here's a clue... the first assumption that needs challenging is the supposition of non-bias. There ain't no such animal! Every damn thing written is biased. Everything. That's not good or bad, it just is.

Journalist are taught that opinions go on the editorial page and everything else is just the facts. Wrong. There's nothing wrong with a journalist trying to report the facts (which often they are not trying to do!) but to assume that this 'straight news' doesn't include a healthy side of opinion is self-delusion.

The process of writing a story adds bias. What to lead. What to highlight. What's important and what can be left out. The order of events. The relationship between events. The connotation verses denotation in the choice of adjectives. Using adjectives in one place and not in another.

The problem isn't that stories are biased (since all stories are biased.) The problem is not acknowledging the bias... or worse, defending a pack of lies.

Dan Rathers credibility doesn't approach zero because he lied. It does so because he defends the lie when an avalanche of facts prove otherwise. ...and the fact that he's so far gone he actually believes he's objective.

Give up the pretense of objective journalism, indeed. Uh, maybe it has to do with what the definition of is, is?

Posted by ken anthony at March 17, 2006 09:53 PM

I love you ken, you got a sister?

Posted by wickedpinto at March 19, 2006 07:53 PM

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