Show Your Work
January 1, 2018 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Show your work: The new terms for trust in journalism is an essay by media critic Jay Rosen (previously) that outlines 11 steps that journalists should take to improve transparency, and build trust with their readers.
posted by schmod (28 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
The problem doesn't lie with journalists.

Let me put it this way - the waitstaff is important, but they don't set the menu or the prices.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:46 AM on January 1 [24 favorites]


I applaud this piece for giving journos a solid list of demands that they can take to their editors and corporate masters. Doesn't solve the problem, but this is good direction.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:36 AM on January 1 [7 favorites]


Big fan of this template of outstanding journalism for the information age!
posted by oceanjesse at 10:38 AM on January 1


But the waitstaff doesn't pretend that they cook the food.
posted by Hatashran at 10:51 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]


I've got big problems with this waitstaff analogy. Can we please come up with something that's more than half-a-degree relevant to the problem of digging for truth, framing the presentation of that truth, and being honest about the personal and organizational goals and assumptions that drove the digging in the first place? And so on.
posted by philip-random at 11:01 AM on January 1 [9 favorites]


The reason that people don't trust the news is that they have been institutionalised (by other media sources) to not trust the 'main stream media'. Not because news journalists forgot how to clearly lay out the story, be upfront about costs/advertising, and say when other people have got the best skinny. You could use all these skills and tips to give a great account of Pizzagate, for instance, but that story is flaming bullshit believed by incredulous brain-washed idiots, so... what's your play for making people less stupid?
posted by The River Ivel at 11:11 AM on January 1 [5 favorites]


These are all great suggestions, but they all rest on the assumption that news readers want truthful information, when the 2016 election should have enlightened us that a substantial portion of the electorate simply wants lies that reinforces their already held biases.
posted by jonp72 at 11:15 AM on January 1 [7 favorites]


Can we please come up with something that's more than half-a-degree relevant to the problem of digging for truth, framing the presentation of that truth, and being honest about the personal and organizational goals and assumptions that drove the digging in the first place? And so on.

The fundamental problem isn't that journalists aren't doing their work. It's that the owners and editors are the ones who decide what the reporters get to report on, how they report on it, and where within the publication that reporting is placed, assuming it even runs.

No amount of screaming at the waitstaff can change a decision made by corporate.

You, the consumer of news, are not the customer. The advertisers are the customer. The news product only needs to be just good enough to get you to see the ads. Doing any more than that diminishes the realized return on shareholder investment.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:36 AM on January 1 [13 favorites]


Good suggestions, but focusing over-much on what journalists should do, I think, lends a bit too much credence to the abuse Trump and other "fake news" decriers dish out. The press can never do enough to stop these attacks as long as they're writing critical stories. As many on Twitter point out, Trump and similar people do cite to CNN, WaPo, NYT, and others when the need is favorable to them; the press doesn't fundamentally lack credibility. Also, polls show that the media is already winning the battle for trust.
posted by salvia at 12:08 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]


The rules he cites seem analogous to those faced by a scientist who wishes to publish findings. And, by extension, to the journal that is accepting the scientist’s paper. The gold standard is not just a set of rules followed by both author and publisher - but also peer review. In the case of science, the rules are stringent because the truth is considered precious. There are all kinds of ways of ducking the gold standard - but they aren’t taken seriously - just chatter. The setup for journalism should be no different; the stakes are no less high.
posted by rongorongo at 12:11 PM on January 1 [5 favorites]


I get a little irked here when I read about how this only applies to people who digest "fake news" and the like.

Am I the only one who remembers basically not a peep from traditional media sources on the Downing Street Memo, which happened to be the subject of the first post ever on reddit? A memo which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the US and the UK planned to invade Iraq, and they were searching for reasons to do so after making the decision that they were going to.

At least, during the Bush years, spending a lot of time online, often places like this or Slashdot, I have seen far, far too much bullshit pushed through the news that has no basis in reality. Others here have pointed out the same, that this comes from the top. You can't critique capitalism. You can't call out liars when they're lying. We give Dick Cheney time on Sunday news shows after it's been proven unequivically that both him and Bushie boy should be behind bars for facilitating and signing off on war crimes.

The media was the biggest cheerleader for the war in Iraq, a war based on lies. I worked in television at the time, I got to see the uncensored satellite feeds from news anchors in New York. I knew the score, and the score was not a single one of them was going to question the government line. Just like I have never seen the New York Times seriously address our weird relationship with Israel, where we prop up an apartheid state for no good damn reason. According to the NYT, BDS is terrible for everyone. Yes, I know this is an OP-ED, but the kind of voices they put in their OP-ED section seem to me to rarely ever take the side of individuals or citizens, it's always on the side of big business, and government doing whatever the hell it wants, citizens be damned (because those citizens are just not as well informed and smart as US, the elite. Whoops, we ALL lost to DONALD FUCKING TRUMP, guess we must actually be stupid fucking cretins.)

In my experience, journalists do want to do journalism the way PressThink is suggesting, and the reason they can't is because they run up against management that says they can't run story X, Y, or Z because someone with money invested in the company (usually a big advertiser) might get mad about what's being revealed and pull their funding/ad dollars. (See: New York Times patting itself on the back for outing Harvey Weinstein after killing the story nearly five years prior. because of Weinstein's money and connections.)

So yeah, keep telling me that this is just pandering to the fake news idiots, and not that the field of journalism in America is dead dead dead because you can't get truly objective news from a capitalist business with vested business interests and connections.

This would be different, perhaps, if news was funded by people directly, instead from Trusts or from advertising. However, since our media sold the idea that "trickle down" economics worked for forty years (and they keep parroting the Republicans without calling them out on their lies about this, either), and wages have stagnated while productivity has skyrocketed, it has given ample opportunity for that to be the only option anymore, because regular people really just can't afford it when they're too busy struggling in poverty.


Anyway, ending my rant here, but you know, a lot of us care about news media "showing their work" and not just relying on "anonymous government officials said" because all that gives me is a boatload of "Weapons of Mass Destruction are absolutely, for sure, 100% in Iraq, so we better damn well invade" deja-vu.
posted by deadaluspark at 12:54 PM on January 1 [22 favorites]


deadaluspark: "This would be different, perhaps, if news was funded by people directly, instead from Trusts or from advertising. "

In 5 of the 11 examples given by PressThink, ProPublica is directly cited as the example that other media outlets should learn from. If not stated directly, I think this message already resonates loud and clear in the article. The organization doing the best work is a modest nonprofit.

He also clearly calls out the fact that advertising isn't coming close to covering costs, so we really need to stop using it as a rationale for making decisions that undermine newspapers' credibility.

I'd love to see a deeper dive into this issue -- ProPublica is still fairly young, but really seems to have hit its stride in the past year or two. On the flipside, organizations like NPR and The Guardian are set up in a way that should make them mostly immune to these problems, and it clearly isn't working.
posted by schmod at 1:05 PM on January 1 [10 favorites]


On the flipside, organizations like NPR and The Guardian are set up in a way that should make them mostly immune to these problems, and it clearly isn't working.

Exactly! The Guardian is why I mentioned Trusts, as it seems to not be helping them at all.
posted by deadaluspark at 1:08 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]


Crowdfunded news is possible: https://www.patreon.com/CANADALAND is a prominent news/media group that's purely crowdfunded and does stories mainstream news doesn't.

And this is entirely supported by what I can only assume is 99.99% Canadians, a much smaller population of possible funders to draw from than the population of the US. I don't know why the US couldn't have a Canadaland extremely easily.
posted by skwt at 2:11 PM on January 1 [4 favorites]


Great ideas, and I love the story about De Correspondent and the Brussels terror attack. (I don't love MeFi's reflexive "this is pointless because the world is imperfect and everything sucks" response.)
posted by languagehat at 3:10 PM on January 1 [4 favorites]


I like virtually everything on the list. I'd be more interested about the bias and perspective disclosures when it comes to areas of reporting (business, sports, arts) where reporters' bias and perspectives aren't going to be as predictable as they are for politics.

That said, even without the benefit of these things, the media did an entirely reasonable job in 2016. The point of election coverage as a civic good is so voters know what a candidate will do in office. I think any voter who paid any attention would agree that the coverage was remarkably accurate about Trump's priorities in office, and would have been so about Clinton's. If there were people who voted for Trump or Clinton thinking that either one was going to be tearing down the Fortune 500, private equity or the Ivy League for their benefit ... well that was dumb of them to begin with, and not the media's fault.
posted by MattD at 3:14 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]


We're literally talking about a food article in the New York Times in another thread, where they give credence to people selling snake oil for exhorbitant prices. It takes over half the article to get to a dissenting viewpoint. They didn't bother to interview biochemists or anyone who might seem to actually have working knowledge of water purification or water purification systems.

I literally came back to re-iterate that I can't fucking believe the comments saying that this only matters because of Trump, his ilk, and their charges of fake news.

In another thread, we are discussing a newspaper considered to be one of the most valuable sources of information in our country, do nothing to call out blatant lies from shucksters and con-men. Stop telling me that this isn't their fault when they're literally doing it every. fucking. day.

To quote saturday_morning:

Oh my god this article is the purest, most unfiltered and unpasteurized New York Times bullshit both-sides coverage. I can't believe how much they're letting these people get away with. It's worse than their Trump coverage, and that's saying something.

This shit is why it matters, its not just a matter of showing your own work, it's a matter of showing the work of the people who are making the claims they are to you. By choosing to be "unbiased" and "get both sides" you're letting a fucking lunatic market something dangerous to people. If the New York Times spent half as much time using evidence and science to discredit this fucking snake oil motherfucker, I might actually give them more credence, but for fucks sake I don't when they pull shit like this all the time.
posted by deadaluspark at 3:26 PM on January 1 [11 favorites]


I really like this list, and I like that a lot of it is actionable by individual reporters.

The place I think news organizations really fall down is in evaluating how their individual news coverage decisions accumulate, and how that shapes public perception over time.

So for example, as far as I can tell, a paper like the NY Times thinks about its product in a "daily" timeframe --every day a new product. But that's the kind of thinking that allows them to publish, in the 70 days leading into the 2016 presidential election, as many stories about the HRC email "scandal" as they did about all policy issues combined.

It's not that they shouldn't have covered the email stuff, but nobody was paying attention to the proportions of the mix of information they were putting out over time. I'm sure that every decision to publish a specific story made sense if you were looking at a single day's newspaper. But in aggregate their election coverage wasn't just not-informative, it was actively misleading -- it misrepresented the candidates, minimized their differences, and gave the public the wrong impression about the real-life impact on millions of Americans of electing one candidate versus another.
posted by mrmurbles at 3:35 PM on January 1 [8 favorites]


[deleted a Clinton derail, and deadaluspark, crank it way, way back.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:12 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]


The "Show your work" mantra should apply to editorial decisions at least as much as it does to the working of individual stories. We should be able to see a trace that shows why a particular story was headlined or sidelined.

For example, the UK government runs an annual release of archive papers which have been classified under a 30 year secrecy rule. That takes us back to papers under Margaret Thatcher's term - 1991-1992 at present. This annual release of papers falls in a time of post Christmas news drought - so there is plenty of time for them to be featured - as there was this year. Here is The Guardian's specialist page or results on the subject following the December 29th 2017 release date. There are some pretty important stories on that page - and an important meta story about how some items manage to get "lost" in the archives or to evade publication.

Yet the most prominently featured article on that day was the news of Margaret Thatcher's apparent dislike of giant pandas - she didn't want to share a plane with one. Missing from either the Guardian's general page - or any specific headline - is the story that MI5 apparently attempted to collaborate with the UDF party in Northern Ireland to assassinate Irish Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. The British Government's apparently quite serious attempt to do in the leader of its neighbouring country is bigger and still more salient than the panda story, I think we can agree.

So why was the panda story headlined? It turns out that the National Archives's own blog chose to lead with that particular story rather than anything else. So the story was also made easily accessible by the source. Here is a list of articles held by the National Archives relating to the Charles Haughey - the above linked story is presumably there in the list - but it has been well obfuscated.

So - did The Guardian did not run the Haughey story because it was unaware of it, because it considered it unimportant or because of some other reason (for example because it was considered a rival publication's scoop or because it was considered too expensive to research)? And later on, as the story did get covered by rivals, it would also be interesting to see how the paper reacted to comments by readers or staff which said something like "you should be covering this". A transparent editorial policy would make not just the original story ranking, but also its subsequent treatment, clear.
posted by rongorongo at 10:09 PM on January 1 [8 favorites]


Former journalist here. It's frustrating that even in this thread, people here are unable to distinguish between opinion pieces and news stories. (If it says, "opinion" in the URL you are posting, that might be a clue that you're not talking about journalism, but opinion writing...).

I lose hope for the average news consumer in discussions like this; sadly, I think Jay Rosen's fine points will all go to waste when people basically don't read, don't look for context, and are quick to consume the metanarrative they hear or see in passive feeds or broadcasts.

Also? Corporate overlords never once told me, or any of my reporter colleagues at a serious media outlet you've all read, what to report on. The waitstaff analogy is so wrong it's insulting. 99% of the time, that's not how newsrooms work, or how stories get pitched. Most journalists are sourcing the food, vetting its quality, preparing it, cooking it, bringing it to tasters for checking, and pretty much do everything, except deliver it to the end consumer.

If you're judging the profession based on local TV or shouty cable TV news, I can't help you there. That's a different animal.
posted by amoeba at 11:12 PM on January 1 [11 favorites]


If you're judging the profession based on local TV or shouty cable TV news, I can't help you there. That's a different animal.


Unfortunately right there you are describing how many people get their news and why these guidelines are mostly an academic exercise.
posted by laptolain at 1:24 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Yes, the waiter analogy is quite wrong... the reporters are more like the cooks (not necessarily chefs, they work from their bosses' "recipes") and the editors are waiters... who can't avoid the temptation to rearrange the plating of the food... in fact, let's just lose restaurant-oriented analogies altogether...
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:15 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Every analogy limps.
posted by emf at 3:58 AM on January 2


amoeba: "Also? Corporate overlords never once told me, or any of my reporter colleagues at a serious media outlet you've all read, what to report on. The waitstaff analogy is so wrong it's insulting. 99% of the time, that's not how newsrooms work, or how stories get pitched. Most journalists are sourcing the food, vetting its quality, preparing it, cooking it, bringing it to tasters for checking, and pretty much do everything, except deliver it to the end consumer. "

I think that the waitstaff analogy is as kind as I wish to be to reporters--if you'd like to say that the NYTimes reporters are actually the final people responsible for the kind of amazingly garbage reporting that passes for normal in America today, well, then I'll stop viewing them as put-upon craftsmen and instead view them as evil as I now currently view editors.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:00 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


Corporate overlords never once told me, or any of my reporter colleagues at a serious media outlet you've all read, what to report on.

I was laboring under the impression that editors choose what stories/pitches to assign, edit those stories for space and style and other requirements, and then choose where and when to run them. These editors are themselves answerable to other editors/managers/publishers, ad infinitum, who oversee that those choices made by the people below them are in keeping with the publication's brand and goals.

And that it was the sum total of all those choices in what and how and why to cover that creates the difference between, say Huffpost and Brietbart.

But you're telling me that none of that happens, and you can just write whatever you like with little to no oversight, and it gets published as is. I know a few news people. Their experiences differ from yours, lets say.

And really - the NYT didn't publish a fluff piece on a nazi by accident - either the reporter or some editors are nazi sympathizers or like their jobs enough to pretend to be. Or yesterdays "raw water" news-vertisement - how does that happen ? The decision to run 6 months of Butter Emails headlines wasn't a failure of the reporter - that was an editorial decision. They were all active choices made throughout the org to satisfy some end.

I feel like interrogating the whys and wherefores under which those editorial choices are made is, arguably, vastly more important than the reportage itself. These things happen because "The Management" have a different set of priorities than the news consumer. The "news" industry has done itself a disservice by obfuscating what those priorities are - and that, unfortunately, has had deleterious effects on the trust afforded to them.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:30 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


The post about 10cc's "I'm Not in Love" prompted me to revisit that group's catalog (of which "Not Love" is NOT typical) and I rediscovered a song they did that well described some of the problems of journalism in the 1970s (that still exist today) "Headline Hustler".
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:39 PM on January 2




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