June 11, 2010

The Discipline of Verification

I’ve written many times about the discipline of verification — the subject of chapter 4 in The Elements of Journalism. Among the things this chapter cogently discusses is the near profession-wide misunderstanding of objectivity. The word is supposed to indicate a process of gathering and testing information; it was never meant to indicate a philosophical or political stance.

Kovach & Rosentstiel argue that the process — the methods — have been “intensely personal and idiosyncratic,” i.e. no discipline at all. They spend a lot of time in the latter half of the chapter attempting to describe what a discipline of verification might look like. Indeed, I think what they are really doing is creating one if its first articulations.

I plan to examine their discipline and add a few methods of my own. But for now I want to make something plain regarding opinion journalism: Its practitioners are subject to the same discipline because they are subject to the same craft — namely reporting. To the extent that a person peddling opinion reports and verifies, he or she may be called an opinion journalist. To the extent that a person fails to do these things, he or she may be called a pundit (acknowledging that pundits may also report and verify on occasion).

Both deal with opinion. And both may deal in useful opinion, i.e. opinion with a high degree of civic utility for the citizen.

The difference is that the opinions of the opinion journalist should spring from the craft of journalism first.

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One Response

  1. As you well know, real politik often differs from the great ideas of civic minded individuals. The same is true in relation to reporting.

    The culture of bias, special interests and corruption exists (maybe more-so) within the ranks of the media as it does in our current political landscape.

    A local media company in the region I cover makes monthly cash exchanges with a local leader (trying to stay on topic here and allow these individuals to save face). Both entities reserve the right to keep the facts of the financial transactions off the record.

    Challenging the notion that it is acceptable for news organizations to participate without disclosing their financial relationship with sitting politicians creates causes an even greater problem.

    The same organization is responsible for our enabling and notifying the local judicial bodies for access to the courtroom.

    By disabling their duty to facilitate access to the information we need to report; they gain financially.

    I know you’re not on the street gathering information and leaning on corporate counterparts to obtain “facts”; however, the same relationships/principals are at play nationally.

    When the President gives preferential treatment to a news corporation – by controlling the ebb and flow of information – access to information and the ability to verify fact changes the modes of public distribution of media.

    We agree on the principal but the relationship between politicians and the press has a profound effect on what the public actually has the opportunity to digest.