February 15, 2008

Why is This News?

A long time ago The New York Times adopted the motto “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The NYT played an interesting role in the history of journalism at a moment when journalism was struggling with its identity–to be about entertainment or about information (re: Discovering The News). The NYT chose the information model.

What, however, is information?

Let’s review Neil Postman’s articulation of information theory:

Information: Statements about facts in the world.
Knowledge: Organized information embedded in a context.
Wisdom: The capacity to know what body of knowledge is relevant to the solution of significant problems.

Information is foundational to knowledge and wisdom, but it is of little use by itself. Journalism, to be any good at all, to be of any use at all, must be a knowledge practice.

So, at first blush, one ought to ask: Why is this news? Why should we consider, or care about, anything Rush Limbaugh has to say about anything (or what the NYT has to say about Linbaugh). I mean, he’s the guy who will tell you straight up he’s “just an entertainer” whenever he gets himself into trouble. Who gives a rip who he plans to endorse for president or who he likes and doesn’t like or who he thinks is or isn’t a good conservative?

But you see, this is news. Good news–in the sense that it is attempting to create knowledge.

Here’s what I mean: This article is merely pegged to Limbaugh’s disdain for John McCain. It’s really an article about influence, or lack thereof, in political punditry today and what really motivates bloviators such as Limbaugh (hint: $$$). That’s a story that can’t be told enough (at least until it becomes difficult to make a living bloviating) these days, IMHO

The article is lacking, however, an examination of the role Limbaugh plays in popularizing right-wing spin points. But that has been well examined before, so the writer/editor may simply assume readers are well aware of 40+ years of political history.

(Left-wing attempts to inflict the same sort of nonsense on us also need further examination.) 

On the other hand, if the primary purpose of journalism is to give people the [knowledge] they need to be free and self-governing, then this article falls into some secondary category of purpose. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’d place articles such as this on a plane (or a rung of Hell) higher than the typical horse-race article.

Jason Wert, an interesting local blogger and citizen journalist, wrote a column published in today’s Springfield News-Leader examining the role of punditry in nomination campaign. 



2 Responses

  1. It’s an interesting take.

    I’ve been noticing newspaper articles recently that reference policy specifics only as a horserace point. Something like “Sen. Obama hopes to quiet the accusation of lacking policy specifics by releasing a white paper on X. But will it be enough? Sen. Clinton’s campaign representative says no. Prof. Ouinibeani at Nearby University says that it isn’t clear whether the voters care about the specifics. And Republican pollsters say that all this squabbling is good for Sen. McCain.”

    And so on. Without any mention of what the specifics are. So here’s my question: are they doing it on purpose, just to annoy me?

    Thanks,
    -V.

  2. V- Good question 🙂

    Jay Rosen answers this in his most recent essay on PressThink.

    http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/

    To a certain extent political reporting today is unable to cover policy because (but not limited to):

    1. lack of understanding about what it is and how it works.

    2. general cynicism about politicians

    3. too difficult given the time and recourses necessary to do cover it correctly.