February 22, 2011

POV in Online News: Hypothesis

From a comment of mine in the discussion of Willful Misinterpretation, this hypothesis:

A lack of fact-checking (and/or engaging in willful misinterpretation) becomes more tolerable (and/or more rhetorical) on the part of the offending journalist/online news organization as audience self-selection replaces scrutiny with acceptance.

I assert this hypothesis as a step toward understanding how it is online news organizations with clearly defined points of view are able to get away with (what I consider to be) blatant violations of the primary purpose of journalism: To give citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing.

(There’s much work that needs to be done to ensure that claim is more than just my impression.)

Jay Rosen has argued that FOX News is a political organization. Following the same line of thinking, it appears the same can be said for many online “news” organizations, although many of them display the “courage” that Rosen says FOX lacks, i.e. willing to declare point of view.

Perhaps that “lack of courage” is a key here. TMP certainly has it. Is this part of what allows POV to go spinning out of the bounds of reality (as defined, at least partly, by a reverence for facts and an intolerance for misinterpretation) without follow-up?

To take this in a different direction, would John Stewart (be able to) make as much fun of FOX News if its slogan were something like “News From The Right Side”? (Stewart is hard on CNN, too, but in a different way? Would he be hard on FOX in the same way if its slogan were different?)

I wonder how FOX and TPM compare in audience trust with the rest of the news media?


3 Responses

  1. Tim 

    Jay Rosen has argued that the political press are political players and I would argue (you too?) that political reporting is a political act with rhetorical intention.

    TPM used to have the tag line, ” commentary from a politically left perspective”, but I couldn’t find any “courageous” declaration of POV on TPM’s home or about (http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/about.php) pages today. Could have missed it. It seems to be in the metadata for search engines.

    I think trust is very complex. I may trust FNC or TPM because they present information that fits my POV, and that also makes me more likely to trust information that does not fit my POV if it comes from that trusted source. I know my POV will get a (more than) fair hearing and if it is wrong, I trust FNC/TPM to tell me.

    I may also trust FNC/TPM to give the opposing POV a (more than) skeptical hearing, and more receptive to any consession of fact/interpretation to the other side.

    Does seeing a declared POV for a news site/org, section, or individual post make much of a difference to trust? Yes. But it does not help as much as denying any bias hurts.

  2. acline 

    Tim… yes, re: “political reporting is a political act with rhetorical intention.” I could use that line to sum up the first 8 years of work on Rhetorica, i.e. my “courageous” POV statement 😉

    I quoted “courage” to indicate that I’m using it as Rosen does in order to discuss the topic in a particular way.

    And, yes, trust is very complex (but, then, that’s my default position about most things).

    Two ways (among many) to think about trust:

    From the ethics perspective there is the truism regarding trust that “integrity is the cornerstone of credibility” (from SPJ), but I’m not sure that claim has been examined beyond common-sense acceptance. Plus, who’s defining the terms and how/why are they defining them?

    From the rhetoric perspective I understand trust as a product of ethos — both situated and invented. Trust as you describe it in the FNC/TPM examples above comes from this rhetorical understanding.

  3. Tim 

    Re: trust as a product of ethos

    I highly recommend this blast from the past, including the comments, as it relates to this and the previous post: