Friday, January 16, 2009

Journalism again.
Jay Rosen posts a reply from Daniel C. Hallin. I respond.
I think journalists often play an important role as an independent source of information, and in many ways I'd like to see them playing a stronger role, not a weaker one, in shaping the public sphere. I'd like to see them play that role in a more independent and thoughtful way than they often do, but I would not like to see them vanish from the political scene--which to some extent is actually happening as media companies cut newsroom budgets.
I worry that the rhetoric about how terrible journalists are actually plays into the hands of other powers, partisan, corporate, and government powers-- who would love to marginalize journalists as much as they could.
They've already done it.
One argument against journalists is that they defend corporate and government power. Another says that they defend a 'liberal' elite. The Republican leadership used christian conservatives as a base, but only cater to them enough to get their vote. Rove called them "nuts." [The leaders of right wing populism are demagogues not populists]
The major failure of the press results from its own snobbery. The author of this post [Rosen] as many others do imagines the press as a referee, but that claim is based less on an empirical understanding of the press' important role or of its history than on the wishful thinking of a self-important college kid.

The press is a participant in the political game. They should think of themselves as being paid by the people to dig, not by the leadership to tell the people what the leadership wants them to hear. The the press' job is not to judge but to be hungry; to knock on widow's doors and photograph pornographic images of war and violence: to serve the people's voracious "need to know."

The left and the nativist right are both justified in their anger. The press represents the interests of the institutional elite. Nativists attack lawyers too, until they want to sue. But the press wants to be the judge and it's not their job, it's ours.

Objectivity is an illusion, but much of academic logic is based on the cult of reason rather than a respect for adversarialism. Think of economics where you would think fans of market theory would approve. But they don't.

There's a difference between demagoguery and respect for your audience, between giving the people what they need to make an educated choice and giving the people "what they want" which as often as not may be bread and circuses; but there is no way to legislate that difference. That's what defenders of "reason" fail to understand. Taking yourself seriously is not a strategy for doing a good job at anything. Taking your job seriously is something else entirely. Judges have very specific rules they have to follow, and strict limits on their authority. They have to defend every decision for the public record. What are the rules for journalists in their self-appointed role as judges? There are none.
If lawyers can respect their role as officers of the court then journalists should be able to respect their own as servants not masters of the people.
The Passing of the 'High Modernism" of American Journalism Revisited Hallin can't quite grasp that professionalism and faith in one's own capacity for reason are two different things. Tradecraft is a form of professionalism, and it's a better model.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:28 AM

    Journalists do whatever they are paid to do. Lawyers do whatever they are paid to do.

    "Professionalism" is just another word for "doing well whatever the hell it is you're paid to do."


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