May 31, 2003

Who owns the truth?…

Jay Mathews, an education reporter for the Washington Post, says:

We journalists feel that the First Amendment makes us arbiters of fact and that outsiders have no legitimate role after we’ve finished interviewing them.

His column examines the reporting culture of the late 1960s and its connection to recent accuracy flaps such as the Blair affair. His solution: End the taboo against showing articles (a form of fact checking) to sources before publication.

The journalist in me bristles at this idea because it opens the door for revision of more than “facts.” But the academic in me thinks this is a good idea because no text is ever finished or is ever representative of the complete truth, reality, or even all the facts of the matter.

May 30, 2003

A teaching moment…

It seems journalism professors can’t wait for fall when they’ll get the opportunity to use the Blair affair as an example of what not to do–from “the basics” to ethics.

May 30, 2003

So cancel ’em already…

CBS keeps talking about cancelling the Clinton-Dole segment on 60 Minutes because it doesn’t generate any fireworks. So quit talking about it and do it! Geez, this is old news. Here’s what I said on 7 May: “The real problem is that Dole and Clinton are serious and intelligent politicians. They cannot perform to their abilities in a short TV segment. But performing to their abilities is not what TV demands; it demands they spat like children.”

The link includes a Dole script (funny!) that Clinton nixed.

May 29, 2003

J-students need the liberal arts…

John Silber, chancellor of Boston University is, to say the least, a controversial character in higher education. His most recent flap: firing the dean of the College of Communication, Brent Baker, because of a disagreement over the role of the liberal arts in journalism education. Joan Vennochi asserts:

A greater focus on liberal arts is not all that is needed at BU’s College of Communication or any other institution that hands out journalism degrees. But it is a start. While publishers focus on circulation and news editors focus on demographics–or is it the other way around?–someone, somewhere, has to focus on what else is needed to produce journalists whose job it is to tell the story–rather than to be the story, or even worse, like Jayson Blair, to become the story.

Then again, I would assert that more focus on the liberal arts is a good foundation for any profession.

May 28, 2003

Gimme elitism…

Laura Washington apparently does not see the need for a broad, liberal education for journalists. Instead, she argues for something called “the basics.” And she knocks off the Columbia effort this way:

At a time when journalistic credibility is so low it’s underground, we should be more worried about the basics: writing and reporting–accurately and fairly–than figuring out how to work Plato and Machiavelli into a news story.

That’s an interesting accusation, that what the new dean, Nicholas Lemann, proposes to do is teach students how to work obscure references into news stories the way elitists drop such references into conversations. I suppose Washington isn’t aware that the purpose of studying Plato and Machiavelli (two pertinent choices considering the times, I might add) isn’t to name-drop, it’s to learn from their wisdom something of the human condition.

A reporter who can make phone calls, take notes, and type it up accurately isn’t much better than a trained monkey if he or she doesn’t have a handle on who and what we are as a culture and a species. (For background on the situation at Columbia, click here, here, and here.)

UPDATE (3:30 p.m.): America’s trust in the news media keeps on slipping.

May 28, 2003

: How important is Iowa?…

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack handicaps the presidential race. He says the top contenders are Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, and Howard Dean. What this opinion indicates is the Governor’s inflated opinion of the Iowa caucuses. The winner is meaningless if Prof. William G. Mayer’s predictive model holds for 2004.

The professor demonstrated that nominations are won by the leader of the last (Gallup) poll before the Iowa caucuses. And, in 7 of the last 10 contested nominations, the winner was leading in the polls a year before the caucuses.

While we may certainly see shifts in the polls over the next 8 months, Vilsack’s prediction, based on the importance of Iowa, may be a case of wishful thinking (see also my essay on the pre-primary process).

May 27, 2003

New definition of success…

Ed Goodpaster says American journalism needs a new definition of success:

[Jayson] Blair was operating under the credo–self-imposed or not–that to make it in a profession/business that increasingly measures its victories on celebrity and not substance, you have to win big and you have to win often.

It is a mentality that has grown over the past 20 years as electronic news outlets flourished. Thousands of the “grunts” of journalism labor each day around the country to help you understand the world. They get little public acclaim. It would be a start to get the industry to talk up the premise that you’re just as valuable to good journalism, and maybe more, if you cover city hall or the statehouse well as if you are a Washington TV talk-show regular.

This can never happen as long as journalists continue to try to make TV a news medium or, worse, continue to make news more entertaining for TV.

May 26, 2003

: Tell a different story…

Today’s entry concludes my series on the press-politics of the pre-primary campaign. I will conclude my argument that, to be politically useful to citizens, the press must cover more policy and less horse race from now until the primary season begins.

I saw an interesting moment on Hardball with Chris Matthews last Friday. MSNBC pollster Frank Luntz was questioning a panel of voters. His opening question: “Regardless of who you

May 24, 2003

Rhetorica update…

Here’s what’s happening on The Rhetorica Network. You’ll notice that I have further categorized my blog links by adding headings for media, politics, and “good stuff,” which is a catch-all for off-topic but interesting blogs.

Updates to Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2004 and the new online rhetoric textbook will be finished by 1 June.

I will conclude my series on the press-politics of pre-primary campaigns on Monday. I will edit the series into one document and post it to PCR 2004. Writing in a series format has been an interesting experience. I did it as a way to work out my thinking about the role of the press during the pre-primary season. There’s still much work to do. So I am thinking now that I will, from time to time, write series entries on specific issues with the purpose of developing or testing various theories.

As always, I appreciate your continued interest in this blog and The Rhetorica Network.

May 23, 2003

: No can do…

Metaphors are rarely simple comparisons because, to be pertinent, each comparison must include all of a metaphor’s entailments. For example, a race metaphor entails leaders, followers, and that these positions can and will change before the race is won.

The Associated Press says Sen. John Edwards is losing momentum. But Howard Dean, behind Edwards in the polls, is gaining (by getting more press and a chunk of cash from the internet).

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