No "He said, she said"
September 26, 2011 2:15 PM   Subscribe

No "He said, she said"

Voice of San Diego’s “new reporter orientation” guidelines. They’re not an ethics code, exactly– more of an “expectations code.” As posted on Jay Rosen's Pressthink blog.


Some background: We Have No Idea Who’s Right: Criticizing “he said, she said” journalism at NPR.

Jay Rosen previously on MeFi 1, 2

via Balloon Juice
posted by Jakey (25 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you try to avoid imposing your own point of view on a story, and don't tell your readers what your opinion of it is, you will still impose something or other on it--language is always loaded--but now the reader won't be able to tell what it is.
posted by LogicalDash at 2:28 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


And just what do you mean by that?
posted by Cerulean at 2:33 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm dissatisfied with the lack of fact-checking in most news reports, but I do think NPR does it far more than most. I'm not saying they should be immune from criticism, but I think there's a much greater case to be made with most other major news outlets. His suggestion to the NPR ombudsman: Mister ombudsman, I have a wish for NPR. The wish is that it will someday permit its reporters in comparable situations to level with their listeners by saying: “Having investigated this and talked to a lot of people, having done the reporting and thought about it a lot, I would like to share with you some of the conclusions I have come to… is a little off-base, I think. I wouldn't mind hearing sometimes from the reporter's perspective, kind of like BBC's "Reporter's Notebook", but that's not quite the same as impartial journalism.
More thorough fact-checking is journalism, and I'd rather see and hear more of that in the media than the constant Point-Counterpoint rehash that doesn't really elucidate anything but opposing sides entrenchments, which I guess is at the heart of what the blog is saying.
posted by Red Loop at 2:38 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh man, I LOVE blog posts which give me a language to complain about critique something that has always bothered me but I could never articulate.

Recently listening to NPR has become almost a game for me: identify the two opposing viewpoints. If the reporter actually makes an effort to independently fact-check any argument or statement made by either side, then we all win.

A fat activist blogger I read was on NPR awhile ago, and the "counterpoint" was the creator of Biggest Loser. The entire piece boiled down to "Biggest Loser and other shows like it portray harmful methods of weightloss." vs "Biggest Loser is inspirational to all of America!" These opinions could both be true, but just like always the reporter ended the piece with a coded variant of "Only YOU can decide who is right and who is wrong."
posted by muddgirl at 2:42 PM on September 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Most of the time there aren’t two sides to something, anyways. There are 17. Who’s not being represented? If they’re not speaking up, how can you represent them?

After the whole "not calling out plain lies" thing, this is probably my biggest complaint about lazy he said / she said reporting. Easier said than done, of course, but it's a lovely ideal to work toward.
posted by feckless at 2:44 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


That Voice of San Diego code of expectations, or whatever it is, is excellent, and sadly runs counter to what I am sure is SOP at most well-known news organizations in the USA.
posted by adamrice at 2:45 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Last week NPR, referring to the bail money paid for the hitchhikers imprisoned in Iran, called it "what most people would consider ransom".

I wondered where this plain-spokenness had been when referring to the interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects.
posted by Trurl at 2:50 PM on September 26, 2011 [10 favorites]




I think. I wouldn't mind hearing sometimes from the reporter's perspective, kind of like BBC's "Reporter's Notebook", but that's not quite the same as impartial journalism.

I think you've taken this request slightly out of context. This response was in the context of a specific piece which the ombudsman describes as
a technique called “storytelling” to explain or evoke complicated subjects through the stories and voices of real people. An alternative is to put us all to sleep with the droning analysis of a reporter.
The act of editing interviews into a "story" is itself a step away from "impartial journalism." What Rosen is arguing is that the press needs to take the next step - they've moved from cataloguing facts and opinions to synthesizing them in interesting ways. When does the analysis start? Should NPR be analyzing opinions?

Rosen also states
Frankly, NPR is not at this point yet.
posted by muddgirl at 2:55 PM on September 26, 2011


Also, this is my favorite bit of the Voice of San Diego guidelines
* Don’t go quote-hunting for something you know to be true and can say yourself. Don’t hide your opinion in the last quote of a story.
I'm going to add this to my NPR game!
posted by muddgirl at 2:59 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don’t tell me stories about “critics” or “some”

* I don’t have a clue who “critics” or “some” are. But they managed to be the most quoted people on the planet.


Ditto for "experts." It's got to be the laziest journalism crutch. "According to experts..." Of course, an "expert" is usually just a person who professes to be an expert, or who is willing to provide an opinion that fits the story. The truth is that there are "experts" on every side of every issue, making them just a special form of "he said-she said."
posted by pardonyou? at 3:02 PM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


NPR is still the station I listen to most -- hard to get any better news in the car, here -- but their reporting is incredibly lazy sometimes. I've taken to calling them National Anecdote Radio.
posted by jiawen at 3:04 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


muddgirl, I did understand that context, I was just saying that the next step Rosen was requesting was a good step further than the "storytelling" or even what the ombudsman was asking with the good questions: "But does that mean that at no point should the story try to make bottom-line sense of it all for listeners? Is this taking “we report, you decide” to false limits? I am not suggesting that the reporters give opinion, but should they turn the corner on their own investigation and themselves analyze what it means?".
posted by Red Loop at 3:21 PM on September 26, 2011


So, this is why we can't have nice things?
posted by nola at 3:24 PM on September 26, 2011


At the risk of Godwinning this thread, I prefer Gene Weingarten's name for this phenomenon: "On the other hand, Mr. Hitler contends..." It makes clear how the journalistic pretense of even-handedness can be taken to ridiculous extremes, without the odd gendered overtones of "he said, she said."

For example, from this chat:
Enough Already: There can be no doubt that the Post has become a cheerleader for gay marriage after this morning's article on butch lesbians buying men's suits. Enough already.
washingtonpost.com: Same-sex weddings open the door to finding the right attire for women, (Post, March 23)

Gene Weingarten: How can you be a "cheerleader" for something that is indisputably right and not reasonably debatable by reasonable people. There is no game. There are just people who are right and people who are wrong. For a newspaper to remain strictly neutral in such a situation would be simple intellectual cowardice. Besides, it's not advocacy so much as journalism: There are gay people. They have the right to marry. This is a story.

Don't mean to suggest a Holocaust comparison, but yours is the "on the other hand, Mr. Hitler contends..." fallacy.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 3:25 PM on September 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Red Loop - if analysis of facts and opinions isn't the next step, then what is?

Rosen thinks that the ombudsman is asking the wrong questions. Isn't this question inherently absurd: "I am not suggesting that the reporters give opinion, but should they turn the corner on their own investigation and themselves analyze what it means?"

Umm... isn't that what reporters are supposed to be doing? Why is this even a question for 'debate'?
posted by muddgirl at 3:33 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


GOP leaders today said that 2+2=9. Democrats were quick to disagree. Your weekend forecast up next!
posted by General Tonic at 3:39 PM on September 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


pH Indicating Socks, if you're not Godwinning, you're Godlosing.

muddgirl: "Umm... isn't that what reporters are supposed to be doing? Why is this even a question for 'debate'?"

I guess the only real question is "how much?".
posted by Red Loop at 3:43 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


* Sometimes two viewpoints don’t deserve 50/50 treatment.

Um yeah. . .let's start with climate science.
posted by Danf at 3:51 PM on September 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Asking "how much" would be framing this as a conversation with more than two sides, which is kind of Rosen's point.

The next step Rosen was requesting

Rosen pretty clearly stated that he was envisioning not a "next step", but an aspirational future of NPR
Frankly, NPR is not at this point yet. Realistically, it cannot do what I ask. But someday it may see the benefit in my suggestion. I know this is hard to hear, and I mean no offense to the hard working people there when I say it, but NPR is right now too weak to permit its reporters this kind of interpretive freedom. It is too afraid of criticism. It has been spooked by the bias police. It sees not coming to conclusions as… well, as some kind of virtue, but this is a mistake. Not coming to a conclusion is a virtue only when you have not done the reporting to support those conclusions. When you have done the reporting, withholding your conclusions is a kind of bias in itself.
posted by muddgirl at 3:55 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love Jay Rosen and I think his analysis of the entire field is in general spot on. The shame-faced and ancient rebuttals tired journalists try to erect when defending themselves are both hilarious and saddening in the face of his trenchant criticism.

Papers et al wonder why they're all going broke, it's because they're not offering us anything worth paying for.
posted by smoke at 6:13 PM on September 26, 2011


I find it incredible (not hard to believe, when I think about it, just depressingly incredible) that NPR received "How dare you damage our National Security!!" criticism as a result of this story.

It was a great piece of reporting, in comparison to NPR's usual stuff, but it was ultimately very tame in its assessments.

It's frightening that this ultimately timid piece brought out the "OH MY GOD WE'RE UNSAFE NOW" crowd, according to this source. I'm really, really disturbed by that.
posted by odinsdream at 6:41 PM on September 26, 2011


muddgirl: "Rosen pretty clearly stated that he was envisioning not a "next step", but an aspirational future of NPR"

Okay, then the aspirational future next step? It could be I'm not being clear enough. I'm just saying I don't want more POINTCOUNTERPOINT, but I also don't want more "opinion" journalism, there's plenty of that shit on cable television. Me personally, I want real journalists— someone to dig like a motherfucker to find and show us all of the information and context that we don't have the time to dig for ourselves— and hopefully I can have enough information make up my own god damned mind. Or at least have a better understanding of the 17 sides of an issue.
posted by Red Loop at 7:06 PM on September 26, 2011


Well, from the San Diego Report's Guidelines Rosen linked to: ""We don’t ask questions with our stories. We answer them."

I think that's a great next step.
posted by smoke at 7:29 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


* Sometimes two viewpoints don’t deserve 50/50 treatment.

Um yeah. . .let's start with climate science.


And maybe take let the science reporter, not the religion reporter, handle stories on evolution.
posted by DU at 6:05 AM on September 30, 2011


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