Tag Archives: Objectivity

Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, pt. 2

Part 2 of a series; Previously: What Bell Labs and French Intellectuals Can Tell Us About Cronkite and Couric

The Signal-to-Noise Journey of American Media

The 20th Century represented a Golden Age of Institutional Journalism. The Yellow Journalism wars of the late 19th Century gave way to a more responsible mode of reporting built on ethical and professional codes that encouraged fairness and “objectivity.” (Granted, these concepts, like their bastard cousin “balance,” are not wholly unproblematic. Still, they represented a far better way of conducting journalism than we had seen before.) It’s probably not idealizing too much to assert that reporting in the Cronkite Era, for instance, was characterized by a commitment to rise above partisanship and manipulation. The journalist was expected to hold him/herself to a higher standard and to serve the public interest. These professionals – and I have met a few who are more than worthy of the title – believed they had a duty to search for the facts and to present them in a fashion that was as free of bias as possible.

In other words, their careers, like that of Claude Shannon, were devoted to maximizing the signal in the system – the system here being the “marketplace of ideas.” Continue reading Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, pt. 2

A proposed curriculum for graduate study in Interpretive Journalism: an S&R special report

Part four in a series.

I hope that by this stage of the discussion a few fundamental points are evident:

  1. Traditional journalism – the institutional form that most of us grew up with and the codes that governed it – is in decline. For a variety of factors it has lost (or is rapidly losing) its place as the dominant means by which information is transmitted in our culture, and in the process its capacity to help shape public opinion in a productive manner has been gravely undermined.
  2. Blogging and other forms of alternative journalism have assumed a dramatically important role in the news and information transmission processes formerly served by legacy media. This trends seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Continue reading A proposed curriculum for graduate study in Interpretive Journalism: an S&R special report

The rise of “subjective” journalism: an S&R special report

Part three in a series.

In the aftermath of the 2004 election I wrote a fairly jaded op-ed for Editor & Publisher lamenting just how badly our brave new world of electronic media had failed us. I said, in part:

In the “marketplace of ideas” model that gave rise to the First Amendment, rationally self-interested citizens would enter the market with an informed, more or less open mind, where they would wander from stall to stall sampling the wide array of ideas on display. Some of these wares would be premium quality, some would be second-rate, and some would probably be rotten to the core, but an educated and contemplative electorate would inherently arrive at the best decision; in the estimation of John Milton, the “truth would out.

“This isn’t how the electronic marketplace we saw in this election worked. Continue reading The rise of “subjective” journalism: an S&R special report

The end of “objectivity”: S&R special report on journalism education

Part two in a series.

Let’s begin with a brief look at how Americans view the press.

  • A 2004 Gallup Poll says “Americans rate the trustworthiness of journalists at about the level of politicians and as only slightly more credible than used-car salesmen.”
  • Only about one in five Americans “believe journalists have high ethical standards, ranking them below auto mechanics but tied with members of Congress.”
  • Only “one in four people believe what they read in the newspapers.”
  • Chicago Tribune Editor Charles M. Madigan says: “If you are a journalist, you should probably just assume that you come across as a liar.”
  • A 1999 American Society of Newspaper Editors survey said that “53 percent of the public view the press as out of touch with mainstream America, while 78 percent think journalists pay more attention to the interests of their editors than their readers.”
  • About 22 percent of respondents to a 2003 Pew survey said they thought “the unethical practices of [Jayson] Blair, which included fabricating sources and events, occur frequently among journalists, while 36 percent said they thought wrongdoing happened occasionally. Another 58 percent believed journalists didn’t care about inaccuracies.”

Continue reading The end of “objectivity”: S&R special report on journalism education

Education for the next generation of journalism: a Scholars & Rogues special report

It doesn’t seem controversial to suggest that journalism in America (and beyond) is in trouble, and there are any number of factors contributing to the malaise.

A particular concern of mine has been the decline in the efficacy of what we’ll call “objective journalism” – that is, the institutionalized press that dominated newsgathering and production throughout the better part of the 20th Century. These institutions and brands are still quite viable economically (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, ABC, CBS, NBC, Reuters, AP, etc.), but the sad fact is that consolidation, layoffs and ratings frenzies have dramatically eroded the value these agencies provide to a society in need of top-quality information and insightful analysis. You can’t make good decisions on bad information, and increasingly you can’t get good information from the legacy press.

At the same moment when the institutions are faltering we’re experiencing an explosion in “non-traditional journalism.” Continue reading Education for the next generation of journalism: a Scholars & Rogues special report

Happy Birthday, Hunter…

[UPDATE] Hunter’s widow, Anita, has a nice post on Hunter’s birthday at Owl Farm Blog.


You may have noticed that Hunter Thompson is back on the masthead. Today would have been The Doctor’s 70th birthday (July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005), and we thought it appropriate to honor the memory of a journalist who was an incredible influence on a number of our writers.

I originally wrote the piece below when he died, and since I think it addresses a number of issues that are as important today as they ever were, I’ve chosen to offer it up for reflection.

Happy Birthday, Hunter, wherever you are…

HST: a champion for social justice cashes his check

– I heard the news today, oh boy…

(February 22, 2005) – One of the brightest lights in the American firmament blinked out Sunday. Continue reading Happy Birthday, Hunter…