June 23, 2010

Independence From Faction

Don’t laugh.

The concept of independence from faction as outlined by Kovach & Rosenstiel in The Elements of Journalism is not about (falsely) observing from the sidelines and being fair and balanced (aka. the view from nowhere). It’s about operating as custodians of fact with a discipline of verification for both reporters and opinion journalists.

This means that opinion journalism is actually quite easy to separate from punditry because punditry is not about being independent from faction, nor is it about the journalistic discipline I have been discussing. Punditry is about winning politically (a perfectly legitimate goal).

So what we have in American journalism at the moment, if you accept my characterization of opinion journalism, is a whole lot of punditry and a dearth of opinion journalism — at least at the national level.

Opinion journalists may certainly be identified by political persuasion. The politics of opinion journalists can/do/should inform their columns. Sometimes that means taking a hard look at the opposition. And sometimes that means taking a hard look at one’s own side. And, if you’re dealing with someone truly skilled and intelligent, it means dealing with news situations in something like their proper complexity, i.e. not always so easily split down the simplistic right v. left divide.

This ends my preliminary discussion of opinion journalism. I am now in pursuit of excellent practice. Holler if you see anything.

14 Responses

  1. Tim 

    Does WaPo’s Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli get it? “We do think it’s imperative we bring independence to that coverage.”

    Thanks for the Preview button, Andy!

  2. Acline 

    Tim … Will be home later today and will reply then. Preview button my pleasure 🙂

  3. acline 

    Tim… I haven’t paid much attention to the Weigel situation simply because I’ve been busy with other things (e.g. creating a multimedia journalism class from scratch). But it seems to me that part of the problem here involves what the Post and Weigel intended by having him write a blog. That he made what appears to be personal attacks on fellow (should that be ironically quoted?) conservatives on a private listserv does not qualify as the “truly skilled and intelligent” practice I mention in the post.

  4. Tim 

    Building a course from scratch is time consuming, I know. A multi-media j-course is worth it, plus it is your offspring!

    Weigel wrote a post that was interesting to read. My reason for asking is some say Weigel reported on conservatives for WaPo, others say opinion journalism or blogging.

    I think you’re on point asking what both parties understood was intended.

  5. Tim 

    Post policies fuel reader confusion on when writers can offer opinion: “Had [Weigel] been hired to report on, or offer opinions about, conservatives?”

  6. acline 

    Tim… The whole transparency thing only works if news organizations are clear about intention. But clarity of intention is a hard thing for journalists to do because the profession assumes really only one broad (flawed) intention, re: my field theory blog essay.

  7. Tim 

    To be fair, the flaw in intention is that the professional press is not reality-based about human communication.

  8. acline 

    Tim… I would put it this way: Their work is based in a particular way structuring ambiguous events.

  9. Tim 

    Andy, re: structuring ambiguous events

    I know it is bad timing, but I think it would be useful to add the A-word and C-word to the O-word on The Rhetorica Canon.

    amBIGuity is a teRRible thInG…
    Strategic ambiguity…

  10. Tim 
  11. Tim 

    I would also point to the below comments/threads:

    Comment on The changing noetic field

    How does ambiguity, which is always present as a variable, play a role in Rosen’s list?

    Comment on Get back to fundamentals…

    Journalists, the human ones, interact with this quantum world through a process such as observation and orientation (Boyd’s OODA loop) that includes their cognitive biases and automatic thinking. It is perceptual, psychological and unavoidable in dealing with ambiguity and our sensory and intellectual limitations.

    Comment on Knuckle-dragging Reporting of Science

    Perhaps I ought to spend some time examining the relationship between the “objective process” of reporting and scientific method (it is rather slim, BTW)…Don’t let me forget 🙂

    Comment on What’s Really Going on is Worse

    Maybe this is a good time to ask (again) for an update on the scientific method vs. journalistic process and disinterest/objectivity

  12. acline 

    Tim… You’re right. Gives me something to do this week 🙂

  13. Tim 

    Andy, cool! 🙂

    If it helps, there is a comment waiting in moderation.

  14. Tim 

    Jay Rosen

    The Voice of God and the View from Nowhere were never that believable; there was just no alternative and no way to talk back. Now there is. Journalism ought to come down from the clouds and live among the people as the imperfect and improvised product that it always was.