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May 13, 2013 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Five reasons why news outlets are even worse than you think. Brett Arends describes five corrupting influences that keep the public from getting the facts.

The five are:
Speed
Money
Access
Consensus
Narratives

Newspaper reporters and editors especially have been complaining about the deteriorating working conditions. Things like having to pay to use your company's own web site. (Austerity does not apply to the top tier, of course.)

It's hard to imagine why anyone would want the worst job out there. Even so, some folks down in the trenches can't tear themselves away from it.
posted by Longtime Listener (73 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, basically, the media are like MeFi posters rushing to get an obit FPP out first, but without moderators to make sure it all comes out OK...

I am not surprised, but I am really sad.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:06 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Narratives

Silly narrative-seeking people!

I've been thinking about this a lot recently, as I begin to more-critically look at how news gets reported and what qualifies as "news." I have developed an inherent distrust of any news reporting that presents a "story," a narrative that ties the events together, that explains all component events, that allows it to fit into the larger narratives surrounding it.
I'm tempted to say THE WORLD DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY, but since people love narratives, digest them, act on them, and organize their world-views according to narrative frameworks, understanding narrative is actually really important.

As far as people think and act in narrative form, I guess maybe the world does work that way.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:08 AM on May 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


That's right - if you want to be an old school journalist finding the absurdity in the story - be funny - because The Daily Show and the Colbert Report can only hire you if you are funny.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:11 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


... even worse than you think.

You clearly don't know what I think.



I think I would like a longer-form discussion of the "narratives" aspect. Preferably one that doesn't divide the world into the "right" and the "left" to show that "both sides do it."
posted by RobotHero at 10:13 AM on May 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


Wow, more articles to get me psyched that I decided to be a journalism major!
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 10:17 AM on May 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


After watching their vulturing here in Cleveland over the past week, I am SO not surprised.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:18 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.

That's almost everybody on Metafilter. Hey, Let's all go get shitty jobs at the Post!
posted by QueerAngel28 at 10:21 AM on May 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


I have developed an inherent distrust of any news reporting that presents a "story," a narrative that ties the events together

What's the alternative? There is none. It is absolutely a reporter's job to provide an analytical account of how and why the events in a story are connected, it's just that they often do a bad job of it. As far as I can see, the whole "narratives" bullet point in this article is glib nonsense — the problem is not some regrettable underlying cognitive "bias to think in terms of narratives," as if there were some other way to go about it. No, the problem is bad narratives, simplistic and/or false stories about cause, effect, and underlying connections between phenomena that journalism regurgitates when reporters abdicate their responsibility to analyze what they're reporting. If journalism often does a bad job with complexity, controversy, and with fitting a single story into a broader context, the problem is not with the idea that there is a broader context within which to understand a given story, it's that too much journalism relies on distorted or false ready-made narratives.
posted by RogerB at 10:24 AM on May 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


Metafilter: a perpetual state of simmering rage
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:27 AM on May 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


You clearly don't know what I think.

I was actually relieved that I would have guessed these five eventually. (Where I would have been quizzed on this, I wonder? Some hellish version of Family Fued maybe.)

My thought process was "Worse than I thought? [reads] Oh no, I'm just more of a pessimist. What a relief!"
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:30 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey, Let's all go get shitty jobs at the Post!

Wait, which Post? The shitty one, or the really shitty one?
posted by FatherDagon at 10:38 AM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


RoberB, I think you and Arends aren't that far apart. He's using "narrative" as a term for the ready-made explanation, and "analysis" as something more intellectually rigorous. Maybe "orientation" would be a better term than "narrative."
posted by Longtime Listener at 10:41 AM on May 13, 2013


Wow, more articles to get me psyched that I decided to be a journalism major!

There's always law school.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:41 AM on May 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


Brett Arends describes five corrupting influences that keep the public from getting the facts

He forgot "Ownership by former Australian"
posted by Thorzdad at 10:42 AM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


You clearly don't know what I think.

Haha, me too. My opinion of news outlets really could not be any lower than it already is. Good breakdown of the problem, though. Neil Postman and Steve Powers wrote a great book about this a while ago, How To Watch TV News. It's only gotten worse since.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:43 AM on May 13, 2013


An article about the sorry state of journalism. In the form of a Top 5 list. Well done.
posted by jbickers at 10:45 AM on May 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


(jbickers, your reaction gif is perfect. Well done, sir.)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:48 AM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


People on the right believe their alternative narrative about the crisis simply because it fits their broader narrative, the story of the Big Bad Government and the Perfect Market.

People on the left are just as bad....


Did this guy even read his own rant about how much the media loves to pass on consensus viewpoints and conventional wisdom as real reporting? Perhaps "balance" should be the listed as the sixth corrupting influence.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:51 AM on May 13, 2013 [14 favorites]


The thing that was constantly pounded into my head in journalism classes was that "telling a story" was for feature articles, and that news articles were meant to be straightforward, impassive reporting of facts, with a minimum of stylistic flourishes and zero amount of crafting a narrative out of the facts. Is this no longer taught?

Also, yeah, finding some blowhard to fill out air time with opinions and facile analysis is so much easier and cheaper than hiring a trained reporter, or to maintain a staff to diligently research and analyze the data. And it's more provocative and enraging, which is what keeps your audience watching.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:56 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's always law school.

Jesus, don't even joke about this. The legal market is going to implode so hard I wouldn't recommend law school to my worst enemies right now.
posted by stopgap at 11:09 AM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


The thing that was constantly pounded into my head in journalism classes was that "telling a story" was for feature articles, and that news articles were meant to be straightforward, impassive reporting of facts, with a minimum of stylistic flourishes and zero amount of crafting a narrative out of the facts. Is this no longer taught?

It was still being taught at my journalism school as I graduated in 2011. The feature/news divide is a false choice, though. The apparently straightforward reporting of facts still needs to begin with the most important fact. What follows needs to show that fact's importance. Subordinate facts then follow in turn. This process can imply misleading narratives even if the writer doesn't intend to do so. You can only gather so much information before the deadline.

My professors said that news is history's first draft. They also said that first drafts are sloppy and need revision.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:09 AM on May 13, 2013


The Girl Who Ate Boston: Wow, more articles to get me psyched that I decided to be a journalism major!

T.D. Strange: There's always law school.

Bahahaha. If I could favorite your comment a thousand times, I would. I want to attend law school and become an attorney after I finish my undergraduate in journalism. (Hey, at least there's a higher chance that I'll be employed as a journalist or an attorney than as a food writer, right? RIGHT??)
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 11:10 AM on May 13, 2013


The thing that was constantly pounded into my head in journalism classes was that "telling a story" was for feature articles, and that news articles were meant to be straightforward, impassive reporting of facts, with a minimum of stylistic flourishes and zero amount of crafting a narrative out of the facts. Is this no longer taught?

The problem is that reporters are more likely to select the facts which fit the narrative and throw out the rest. (You can't put everything in an article after all.) There was an excellent article I read in college about how journalists tend to make stereotypes more pervasive by, consciously or subconsciously, choosing subjects that fit the stereotypes they hold. The 'narrative' problem, I think, is another example of this. The problem is essentially confirmation bias: journalism style.
posted by john-a-dreams at 11:12 AM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Actually no. Food writing is kinda booming right now, and the schooling is delicious and much cheaper.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:12 AM on May 13, 2013


It isn’t even the Koch brothers. If you’re a liberal, you should probably want them to blow $600 million on a loss-making newspaper company.

Jeez, not even into the first point and he's trying to slip in the assumption that people run news companies for the purpose of profit. Oh well, it's from the schizoid WSJ: solid on factual reporting, opinion pieces from the back side of Pluto.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:13 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not a new problem. Recommended reading. A. J. Liebling's The Press, Noam Chomsky/Ed Herman's Manufacturing Consent and Nick Davies' Flat Earth News. There's a couple of decades between each of these books, but they roughly describe the same unconscious and conscious pressures on journalists which make for biased, status quo confirming news reporting.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:16 AM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


The fundamentally idiotic nature of journalists and "The News" was brought home to me when I worked as public affairs officer in government. Names misspelled. Wrong facts (ie, just reporting the wrong facts and making mistakes, as opposed to independent analysis). The "news cycle" dominating what counts as a story.

The Internet is the best thing ever. It's possible for anyone to become informed about anything, really. A prime example might be, say, unemployment rates (it's a complicated subject that no one does well). The data is all there, you don't need some journo to "interpret" it.

Science reporting (or lack thereof), is another good one. Often news outlets report the press release verbatim, and it's possible for anyone with an internet connection to download most (but not all) of these reports.

Another funny thing I noticed when volunteering at the campus radio station way back, 25 years ago, is that the talking heads just recite whatever comes over the wire service verbatim.

They really are news readers.

Ugh.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:20 AM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Noam Chomsky/Ed Herman's Manufacturing Consent

I get what they're trying to say, but it seems so arrogant to think that "the average man" doesn't have the brains to figure out that the ruling class is trying to massage the message. If you think that the average Joe is to dumb to figure it out, take a look at the online comments section of the sports section, especially during trade season. Lots of insightful analysis to be found.

I think the concept of Manufacturing Consent is basically dead anyway. There is no way to control the message anymore.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:22 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Two CNN anchors talk "via satellite" from the same parking lot. (Watch the cars.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:27 AM on May 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


When Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are the closest things we have to Walter Cronkite in the 21st century, you know the media is dead, dead, dead.
posted by tommasz at 11:29 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or it makes one question the assumption of Walter Cronkite as a "trusted advisor" or whatever who can interpret the news for the average viewer. Incredible to think how much power that one man, Cronkite had. After Tet, he nailed the coffin on public opinion towards the Vietnam War. Not sure who could do that now.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:39 AM on May 13, 2013


The fundamentally idiotic nature of journalists and "The News" was brought home to me when I worked as public affairs officer in government.

You should hear what journalists have to say about public affairs officers.

Seriously, though, it's not fair to couch all journalism and journalists as "fundamentally idiotic" when you're really just talking about the transgressions of some. The problem today is not that all journalism is bad, it's that there's a lot more of it, and increasingly harder to dig through the crap to get to the good stuff. The good stuff is out there, though.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 11:45 AM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Cronkite had. After Tet, he nailed the coffin on public opinion towards the Vietnam War. Not sure who could do that now

And yet there is an MIA/POW flag flying on the flag pole at the Elks' Veteran’s Memorial just down the street from me. So I am not sure 'now' exists.
posted by srboisvert at 11:46 AM on May 13, 2013


You should hear what journalists have to say about public affairs officers.

The only thing I heard was envy about slightly better pay, slightly better job security, and slightly better benefits.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:47 AM on May 13, 2013


And all you had to do was sell your soul to get it.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 11:47 AM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


My disdain also comes from moving on and doing some serious research and reporting (looking into size and scale of a specific sector) for a non-profit for a few years.

Creating "the news" is kind of like making sausages, except that you start with something digestable and end up with an unpalatable mess.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:49 AM on May 13, 2013


And all you had to do was sell your soul to get it.

Well, when I was in government working in the ministry responsible for children and later on economic development, I liked to think my colleagues and I were doing something for the greater good, but I suppose there will always be some people who believe that nothing government does is good, and I'm glad there is a Tea Party for them to go to and voice their concerns.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:50 AM on May 13, 2013


If you think that the average Joe is to dumb to figure it out, take a look at the online comments section of the sports section, especially during trade season. Lots of insightful analysis to be found.

You MUST be joking. It's sports, it's ALL opinion. There were people on this very site 6 months ago who were arguing that Mike Trout was the 2nd coming of Babe Ruth. They had Mitt Romney-like binders full of persuasive stats to prove it. Please don't compare sports to actual reality. The average American is about as dumb as a tack, that's why they beg to be spoon-fed opinion disguised as news. I've repeated this numerous times here and I will repeat it dozens more until someone listens: if anyone is still getting any of their information from tv news or tabloid newspapers they should not be considered a serious person worthy of discussing serious issues. The more you indulge these dolts, the worse you are making this country for the rest of us.
posted by any major dude at 11:53 AM on May 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Incredible to think how much power that one man, Cronkite had. After Tet, he nailed the coffin on public opinion towards the Vietnam War. Not sure who could do that now.

There's a Louie Menard article at the New Yorker which goes on at length about how this is a myth. Public opinion had turned against the war before Cronkite; his attitude was confirmation of a pre-existing trend.

Another funny thing I noticed when volunteering at the campus radio station way back, 25 years ago, is that the talking heads just recite whatever comes over the wire service verbatim.

Why is that funny? They're on air; you thought they were calling sources and reporting stories out themselves during the commercial breaks? If that was a shock to you, then a I probably also ought to let you know that when they play music on the FM stations, that's a recording. The bands don't drive around from station to station playing requests.
posted by Diablevert at 11:57 AM on May 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


You Want The Truth?
You. Want. The. Truth?

You can't handle the truth.

Well actually you probably can handle the truth. But...

You'll be perfectly able, but probably unwilling to pay for the Truth. And you'll probably ignore the truth because complicated and look over at the hey - shiny. And you'll also be unwilling to believe the truth, what with your ever fracturing desire for things to fit into a tiny little politically motivated world view. And besides, powerful people are more than clever enough to trick you into not wanting the truth.
posted by zoo at 11:57 AM on May 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's hard to imagine why anyone would want the worst job out there.

I would take it over junior-high teacher any day of the week.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:00 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't want the truth.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:00 PM on May 13, 2013


Creating "the news" is kind of like making sausages, except that you start with something digestable and end up with an unpalatable mess.

So more like eating sausages, then.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:12 PM on May 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Neil Postman was just mentioned upthread; here's more, from the foreword to "Amusing Ourselves to Death":
Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
The foreword is depicted in cartoon form here. With the benefit of 30 years' hindsight, we can see that Postman perhaps overemphasized the medium, at the expense of examining the speed and ubiquity of communications. But his overall critique seems awfully persuasive to me.
posted by ibmcginty at 12:18 PM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]



When I saw 'narratives' as a problem with news media, I thought they were talking about this:

Topic: Congress changing banking rules pertaining to mortgage foreclosures
Begins: Youngstown, OH -- "Joe Bleaux used to work in the steel mill . . . "

Topic: Promising cancer research at the CDC and a hospital in, say D/FW, Texas
Begins: "Lincoln, NB -- Mary Roe, a vivacious mother of three . . . "

Topic: Update on robotic mission to Mars
Begins: "JPL -- When Elvis Guy was a teenager he got arrested for . . . "

Topic: Peace talks break down, troops massing on border
Begins: "Ft Bragg -- Sally Soe's husband was deployed . . . "

I've probably said this before here, but here's a tip for efficient news reading: Begin any article at the fourth paragraph. The news begins here. The first three paragraphs are the "human interest" wrapper meant to persuade you that the article will 'touch' you but it won't upset you or make you work.

 
posted by Herodios at 12:18 PM on May 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oops, forgot one:

Topic: Complex scientific, social, political, or economic problem requiring the expertise that comes from intensive education and extensive experience to solve
Begins: Many wasted paragraphs about the personal life of Our Expert -- is gay has a beard is female in a male-dominated profession is disabled is flamboyant has struggled against adversity has a sibling with an 'ironic' life history has changed sides emigrated here from somewhere else is a 14th cousin 19 times removed to some 'ironic' historical figure once hiked the Appalachian Trail has a tattoo of a tiger on his . . .
posted by Herodios at 12:36 PM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


People on the left are just as bad. They are just as apt to believe all stories about the wonderful, beneficent effects of government spending, about the evils of any private-sector enterprise, and about universal racism, sexism and so forth.

Well, that's one narrative. It happens to be bullshit, but there you go.

"The left is just as bad" has been a favorite hand-wave since people started thinking about politics in terms of left and right.
posted by Foosnark at 12:39 PM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


The news exists solely to cause us the kind of anxiety that only commerce can soothe.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 1:01 PM on May 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


Bahahaha. If I could favorite your comment a thousand times, I would. I want to attend law school and become an attorney after I finish my undergraduate in journalism. (Hey, at least there's a higher chance that I'll be employed as a journalist or an attorney than as a food writer, right? RIGHT??)
Huh, why do you think this? The job market for law school grads is horrible. If you want a job get a STEM degree. If you like food you could maybe become a chef?
posted by delmoi at 1:16 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


You missed the joke, delmoi.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:25 PM on May 13, 2013


I think the concept of Manufacturing Consent is basically dead anyway. There is no way to control the message anymore.

I think the whole thesis in Manufacturing Consent is that the control of the message is entirely a product of the system, and self-enforcing. There's no need for an external control because of the symbiotic relationship between the press and the government and industry. It covers ground that overlaps this story, particularly the consensus and narrative headings.
posted by ambrosen at 1:25 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Media conglomerates want profit above all else. Ever since they began purchasing stations in many markets, even allowing a company to own a newspaper and TV station in the same market, we've seen corporate mentality take over. Hard core journalists exist and are passionate about what they do- but they are being sidelined or beat down for the almighty dollar.

I wonder if the answer to improved news is going to be with local news groups going online and creating online 'newspapers' and circulating that way. I don't know. I know several people in the media and hear the problems, but am not sure I've heard many ideas for solutions.
posted by Nadie_AZ at 1:36 PM on May 13, 2013


Bahahaha. If I could favorite your comment a thousand times, I would. I want to attend law school and become an attorney after I finish my undergraduate in journalism. (Hey, at least there's a higher chance that I'll be employed as a journalist or an attorney than as a food writer, right? RIGHT??)
A friend of mine is a food writer. Well, that's one of her jobs. She also does an hourly administrative office gig, because the writing doesn't pay enough to cover rent in her bare-bones apartment that she shares with a roommate.

On the other hand, my cousin got a full-ride scholarship to a decent law school and was unable to find a position upon graduation, so she gave up and is doing something else. Other recent law graduates I know have had better luck, but they're not making six figures by any means, and they're being worked into the ground.

So yeah, it's a choice between taking on a ton of debt to get a degree where you will have a hard time finding a job but you might make a lot of money someday, maybe, after you pay off your exorbitant loans, versus going into a field where you'll have a hard time finding a job and you will never make a lot of money, ever, but you won't have $100k in debt. Pick your poison?

If I were you, I'd get a certification and/or degree as a paralegal and then work as a food writer on the side. Law jobs may be getting harder to come across, but paralegals are doing fine, from what I can tell. You won't have the "prestige" of being an attorney, but you also won't have to work eighty-hour weeks, which opens up time for less lucrative work. Just spit-balling here, though – take it for what it's worth.
posted by deathpanels at 1:43 PM on May 13, 2013


benito.strauss : Jeez, not even into the first point and he's trying to slip in the assumption that people run news companies for the purpose of profit. Oh well, it's from the schizoid WSJ: solid on factual reporting, opinion pieces from the back side of Pluto.
Murdoch News Corp is profiting even more than expected. It gained over 50% last year in stock value.

Your snide argument would be more persuasive if the facts didn't prove it utterly false. Murdoch has never, ever in his life failed to chase profit, even when he also clearly has other motivations - and he's very, very good at the chase.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:44 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing that was constantly pounded into my head in journalism classes was that "telling a story" was for feature articles, and that news articles were meant to be straightforward, impassive reporting of facts, with a minimum of stylistic flourishes ank nd zero amount of crafting a narrative out of the facts. Is this no longer taught?

I think you are mistaken to assume that people with degrees in journalism write the news these days.
posted by junco at 2:05 PM on May 13, 2013


The problem today is not that all journalism is bad, it's that there's a lot more of it, and increasingly harder to dig through the crap to get to the good stuff.

Well, no, that's only part of the problem. The bigger problem is that the institutions that used to represent good journalism (and produced a lot of it) are no longer trustworthy. When I saw Judith Miller's headlines blazing day after day on the New York Times front page, beating the Iraq War drum and trumpeting known propaganda, I knew that profession's integrity had been fundamentally broken. I do not trust corporate news outlets any longer, at all, and with good reason, I think.

So while there is definitely a lot more journalistic work being produced, the major journalistic institutions which should be holding the banners of trustworthiness and integrity high above the crushing stream of crap, are actually huge currents in that stream themselves.
posted by LooseFilter at 2:06 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


All five of the listed reasons for irresponsible journalism existed in the late nineteenth century, and at that time the internet was not the scapegoat for yellow journalism.

For several years before the housing crisis, the WSJ ran a series of articles alerting readers to the many indicators of a possible market bubble. Those articles were so ever-present, it almost seemed as though the Journal had a dedicated daily column on the subject. Moreover, those articles suggested that responsibility for the impending implosion would be attributable to a long list of irresponsible actors. The blame was to be attributed to banks, mortgage brokers, speculators, home buyers, government regulations, etc. Of course, a simpler narrative is to just blame Goldman.
posted by rub scupper cult at 2:12 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


i'm usually torn when a youngster asks me about a career in journalism. i want good, smart, caring people to take on a role that's probably even more important than when i started, but to steer anyone into that corporate morass of downward spiraling badness seems almost cruel. but then i think: amy goodman and democracy now.
posted by ecourbanist at 2:19 PM on May 13, 2013


Perhaps "balance" should be the listed as the sixth corrupting influence.

I agree. This is typical when journalist person is interviewing a scientist and some idiot who opposes science:

Journalist: So, Scientist, what do you think about the matter at hand? What does 2+2 equal?

Scientist: By virtue of 50 years of research and a vast accumulation of observation and compelling theory to explain all of those observations, the scientific community does agree that 2+2=4.

Journalist: And what is your position Mr. Idiot?

Mr. Idiot: My organization has done its own research, and we have always stood by the fact that 2+2 = 8.

Journalist: Well thank you for being here, both of you. I guess it is reasonable to conclude that 2+2 =6. Back to you Jim.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 2:50 PM on May 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Scientist: By virtue of 50 years of research and a vast accumulation of observation and compelling theory to explain all of those observations, the scientific community does agree that 2+2=4.

It's even simpler than that: 2+2 is provably 4.

How many times has a someone said one thing in countless recorded interviews, debates, and campaign appearances, only to turn around and deny they ever said that?

If a bunch of slacker interns at The Daily Show can quickly assemble a supercut of someone blatantly contradicting themselves, why can't CNN? Why can't every interview be like the one Jon Stewart had with Jim Kramer where every single backpeddle was met with a simple request to "roll clip number ###". Why do journalists put up with such abuse and allow themselves be played like cheap fiddles?

Answer: Access
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:06 PM on May 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


Herodios, I think Fran Lebowitz (go to around 1:50) is probably with you on the whole narrative thing.
posted by radiocontrolled at 3:43 PM on May 13, 2013


Top lists are so 2011. Take a minute to read this Awl article on the new way headlines are written.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:44 PM on May 13, 2013


I have developed an inherent distrust of any news reporting that presents a "story," a narrative that ties the events together, that explains all component events, that allows it to fit into the larger narratives surrounding it.

Color and narratives are filler and are used as a way to hide the fact that there aren't many facts in a story -- but people love their color and their narratives -- you present facts, you can lose an audience -- you tell a dubious yarn, you get attention. Narratives are personal, put a "face" on a story, and some people can put themselves in another person's shoes or have something to chew on at the water cooler.

I have always preferred just the facts -- narratives are vulnerable to emotional manipulation and propaganda has never been my style...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:12 PM on May 13, 2013


I have always preferred just the facts

Part of what I am getting at is that this is impossible. The process of selecting which "facts" to relate, and in what order, and what language to use when relating them will inherently create a narrative, because narratives are how people understand the world.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:19 PM on May 13, 2013


From the WSJ's Marketwatch site... almost as good as BusinessInsider.com.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:10 PM on May 13, 2013


They left out lack of local ownership, or rather, conglomerate ownership of local news, including newspapers and especially news and talk radio. This used to be illegal, but all the rules changed under George W Bush.

When an entire nation's news, even local news, comes out of one or two sources, you know you are in trouble.
posted by eye of newt at 8:03 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


if anyone is still getting any of their information from tv news or tabloid newspapers they should not be considered a serious person worthy of discussing serious issues.

Actually, the majority of people get their information from tv news or tabloid newspapers, but that's cool, because they don't want to discuss serious issues anyway. (There's probably a connection.)
posted by carping demon at 11:19 PM on May 13, 2013


Five reasons why news outlets are even worse than you think.

Here are five reasons: "Matt Drudge rules our world."
posted by Gelatin at 7:57 AM on May 14, 2013


Some good comments on the issue of narrative here.

I can't see anything taught in journalism classes that carries over into real life. Just the facts, ma'am--who what when where and how. Nothing should be extraneous, and keep your opinion out of it.

Interesting that sports and food writing was mentioned above. Anything to do with those subjects, entertainment, art reviews, long-winded obituaries, news-of-the-weird, editorial commentary, etc. takes up gallons of ink in local papers all over the US, and yet real information about politics or what is of concern in a functioning society is usually confined to page one of the first thin section. Internet access helps, but damn if I don't have to wade through tons of crap and blather to find anything.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:31 PM on May 14, 2013


Just the facts, ma'am--who what when where and how. Nothing should be extraneous, and keep your opinion out of it.

You can't keep your opinion or your ignorance out of your story. This sentiment either demands the impossible or lowers the standard.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:52 PM on May 14, 2013


Rustic, granted there will always be bias, but the ideal is to report only fact, not opinion. Just the phrasing of the headline and the choice of verbs can indicate an agenda, but much of the news has extraneous, obviously slanted wording. Today's paper has an article about a "horrific and avoidable accident" on Sunday "Mother's Day" that occurred in "low-rent student housing." Whatever happened to an accident May 13th involving X and Y at the corner of 5th and Main?

As far as keeping out ignorance--the extremes of speculation the media gyrates through is unbelievable!

Not being snarky, curious: What do you mean by lowering the standard?
posted by BlueHorse at 1:21 PM on May 14, 2013


real information about politics or what is of concern in a functioning society is usually confined to page one of the first thin section. Internet access helps, but damn if I don't have to wade through tons of crap and blather to find anything.

You may, in fact, be someone who can name three serving members of your city council/board of selectmen off the top of your head. If you are, you are welcome to feel smug, because trust me, you are a member of a select elite comprising less than 5% of the American citizenry. There are news sources to serve such as yourself --- the economist is pretty good --- but all the other stuff is there to attract the other 95 percent of the people and give them a reason to buy the damn paper, because I can assure you, wall to wall coverage of board meetings, proposed regulations, political nominations and economic news would not. What's killing the news is not the fact that there's fluff in the paper. It's the fact that the many consumers of fluff have a plethora of other sources from which to mainline their fluff directly, and thus fluff is no longer able to subsidise hard news. I'm sure, of course, that you can point to any number of hard news stories that attracted wide general interest. But such things are like fires. You've got to have the firemen sitting around the station 24-7-365 writing up rather dull city council stories and the like in order to have the capacity to cover the fires.
posted by Diablevert at 1:49 PM on May 14, 2013


As far as keeping out ignorance--the extremes of speculation the media gyrates through is unbelievable!

Has anyone in this thread denied this? Has anyone in this thread argued that journalists are right to speculate? It has nothing to do with my thought.

I meant that journalists have little time to gather information and write stories based on same. They cut corners. They don't know what they don't know. They may not see the context. They might not see the need for the context. More likely, they may not have time for the context. Their editors don't know what they don't know, either. Space must be filled. Someone must be put in front of the camera and that person has to have something to say. Ignorance biases a story as surely as prejudice.

Besides that, "low-rent student housing" may be an important part of the story. Not everyone in the paper's circulation knows the corner of Fifth and Main. As for the carping about adjectives: No one gives a damn. Tomorrow it lines Polly's cage.

Not being snarky, curious: What do you mean by lowering the standard?

I mean you're either sincerely asking the impossible or you're asking it in bad faith. In the first case, you need to rethink your position. In the second, you need to walk away.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:05 PM on May 14, 2013


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