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Journalistic ethics

2003-04-11 16:27:08.347266+00 by Dan Lyke 11 comments

The next time someone goes on about "should weblogs adhere to the same standards as professional journalists?", I've got another point to add to my "hell no!" stance: Both Sgt Stryker's Daily Briefing and Weird Ass Shit had links (SSDB entry and discussion, WAS entry and discussion) to The New York Times editorial: The News We Kept To Ourselves, which ends:

I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me. Now that Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these stories can be told freely.

So Eason Jordan chose to just pimp the Baath party all those years rather than pull out and say "this is so horrible that we can't condone what's going on there". Instead, apparently, it was more reasonable to just keep feeding the entertainment from Baghdad. I'm not sure that's any less disgusting than what Saddam Hussein stands accused of.

And I'm not sure this article is any less disgusting than the "war is over" statement from Mohammed Al-Douri.

[ related topics: Weblogs Current Events Journalism and Media War ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2003-04-11 17:36:15.99351+00 by: anser

But it's the wrong question.

The right question is: Should weblogs adhere, or at least aspire, to the standards of good journalism?

My answer is, if they want to be the best they can be as places to get information, then yes, they should.

It is not interesting that other journos fail in adherence. The standards still exist.

#Comment made: 2003-04-11 18:49:04.370827+00 by: John Anderson

One of the "standards of good journalism", as I understand them, is objectivity. I don't have a weblog because I want to be objective; I have a weblog so that I have a space to be as unobjective as I want to be.

I had the chance to have dinner with Rebecca "The Weblog Handbook/Rebecca's Pocket" Blood recently, and she made the point that the only people really pushing the "weblogs==journalism" meme are (usually out-of-work) journalists. I think that contextualizes the debate over this issue nicely.

#Comment made: 2003-04-11 19:02:39.13302+00 by: TC

Weblogs are no different that than the rest of the web. 90% swill and 2% of really good stuff. Yeah I know that leaves 8% of Idunno but thats my perception. Weblogs gain their "credibility" by their own behavior. I would also add that many people are not seeking truth & integrity but an opinion that closely aligns with their own. I personaly think The Onion is a great read.

#Comment made: 2003-04-11 19:48:05.911271+00 by: markd

The other 8% are punishment links.

#Comment made: 2003-04-11 22:50:51.159033+00 by: Mars Saxman

I don't understand where the emphasis on "objectivity" comes from. A news report is never and can never be completely objective. It's not going to show up at all unless it says something the reporter and the editor/publisher/producer want to say. Even a simple listing of facts has an editorial bias: you can't possibly report all of the facts, and nobody would get through the data heap if you did, so you have to decide which facts are important and in what order. Select these two facts in this order, and you make this statement; select these other two facts, or reverse the order, and you get a different statement. It is subjective and there is no getting around that.

I don't look for objective news. I'd rather read a report by someone who acknowledges their point of view and writes from it without apology than a report from someone who tries to smother their own opinions and write what they think someone with no opinions might think. It's not going to work.

I get objective news by reading many different sources, and I don't think there's any other way to do it. I'm familiar, to some degree or another, with the viewpoints favoured by each of these sources, and I hope that by looking at them all I will end up with a better-rounded picture from which I can draw my own conclusions.

Let objective reporting die. All I want is honest reporting, and lots of it.

And I agree with Rebecca: weblogs are weblogs, and the people who keep blathering on about them as though they are supposed to be some new form of journalism are missing the point.


#Comment made: 2003-04-11 23:22:10.803263+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

Dave Winer[Wiki] had a link to Eugene Volokh noting that Eason Jordan lied through his teeth in an On The Media interview last year:

The writer clearly doesn't have a clear understanding of the realities on the ground because CNN has demonstrated again and again that it has a spine; that it's prepared to be forthright; is forthright in its reporting. We wouldn't have a team in northern Iraq right now if we didn't want to upset the Saddam Hussein regime. We wouldn't report on the demonstration if we didn't want to upset the Saddam Hussein regime. We wouldn't have been thrown out of Iraq already 5 times over the last several years if we were there to please the Saddam Hussein regime. So the story was lopsided, unfair and chose to ignore facts that would refute the premise of the article.

What bothers me most is that people keep trying to tie "journalism" to "ethics" or "truth". So far as I can tell they're disjoint sets, and even asking, as anser does above, "Should weblogs adhere, or at least aspire, to the standards of good journalism?" isn't about asking "should they tell the truth", it's about asking "should they be entertaining and sell lots of ads?"

By conflating "journalism" with terms like "accurate reporting" we're giving journalism way more than its due. By suggesting that weblogs adhere to the same standards as The New York Times or CNN we're asking if weblogs should stoop, and not raise themselves.

And just to be clear, the right behavior here would have been to either not report at all from Iraq, and say why, or to put a disclaimer on the reporting in a way that wouldn't endanger those who were in harm's way. I have no idea with covering the asses of folks, I have a big issue with saying "We're telling the whole story" when, in fact, all you're doing is propping up a torturer.

Unless, of course, Eason Jordan has simply seen which way the wind blows and is now sucking up to the next people who will let him get his pictures on the air.

#Comment made: 2003-04-12 03:02:54.882576+00 by: anser

Objectivity is not necessarily a journalistic standard. You can aspire to it if you like, just as you can aspire to being consistently upbeat or consistently provocative or consistently quote-filled. It defines the kind of journalism you are doing. It is not the only kind.

The journalistic standards that do not vary are a little different.

Weblogs that honestly seek to fulfill the role of any kind of journalism (whether it's breaking bulletins from the field, sober editorial columns, Hollywood gossip gush, automobile reviews, etc) should try to adhere to applicable journalistic standards. If they deliberately don't try, if they flout all standards, then there's nothing anybody can usually do about it - they just suck! If they don't mind sucking, fine. It works for Drudge!

#Comment made: 2003-04-16 04:46:57.154992+00 by: dexev

The concept of objectivity in journalism arose with the wire services. They needed a way to sell the same story to hundreds of local newspapers -- each of which had their own bias and opinions. And "objective reporting" was born.

#Comment made: 2003-04-21 23:06:41.342926+00 by: Dan Lyke

Briant, over at Population One has a link to Lisa Rein hosting Ellison Horne's look at Michael Moore's Oscar speech. I haven't listened for myself, but apparently the CNN[Wiki] version has "boo"s in it that the ABC[Wiki] live version didn't, and the "boo"ing is louder.

#Comment made: 2003-04-21 23:44:01.979006+00 by: meuon

Which MIGHT be as simple as who was using a single, very directional microphone.. or could be a conspiracy by the media.

#Comment made: 2003-04-23 20:11:39.656368+00 by: Shawn

I don't remember which network we were watching, but I can almost guarantee it wasn't CNN[Wiki] and it was likely ABC[Wiki]. The most prominent thing I remember is the booing.