Recently there has been much discussion of the wonderfulness of traditional media outlets, and the questionability of other sources of information. On this blog, we have reviewed articles in which the national news outlets have covered interior west and public lands issues poorly, or not at all. I like to think that everyone tries to do things right (good journalism, FS monitoring), but can fall short, due to a variety of pressures, more or less conscious biases, and so on.
Vince Bzdek is the editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, and wrote a thoughtful piece linked here comparing “real news” as opposed to fake news. I think the whole piece is worth reading, and provides us on this blog a handy list of criteria we can apply to news articles posted here. I’ll quote a few relevant paragraphs here:
Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect,” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel:
Journalism’s first obligation is to tell the truth.
Journalism’s first loyalty is to its citizens.
The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification.
Journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover.
Journalists must serve as an independent monitor of power.
Journalism must provide a forum for public criticism and comment.
Journalists must make the significant interesting and relevant.
Journalists should keep the news in proportion and make it comprehensive.
Journalists have an obligation to personal conscience.
We at the Gazette try to adhere religiously to these principles. In fact, any enterprise that purports to do real news should adhere to these principles, and you should hold us and them to these
About how to get at the “truth”:
The whole idea of objective reporting was never based on an assumption of bias-free journalists. That’s impossible, right? Instead, the concept centered on the idea that there is a “consistent method of testing information – a transparent approach to evidence – precisely so that personal and cultural biases do not undermine the accuracy of their work. The method is objective; not the journalist,” according to the APA.
This method involves a kind of triangulation – seeking out multiple authoritative sources, vetting them thoroughly, disclosing as much as possible about the sources, and allowing people who are accused or challenged in our stories to have the chance to comment before we publish the stories. That means always including opposing views.
In addition, what stories an outlet chooses to cover, or not cover, is a judgment call of what is “significant, interesting and relevant” which can vary person by person. It’s not like that’s a bias, but as we see on this blog, different people find different things interesting.
One of the structural problems I’ve found is that with Forest Service stories, if it’s about litigation, the FS is not allowed to comment (of course this makes sense, but..). Even when it’s about a project not in litigation, when I was working, I found that many public affairs people were careful not to counter claims directly as that sounds “defensive.” So if what Bzdek says is true, and I do believe that having at least two points of view described in a story makes sense, then this structure actually may prevent journalists from doing their jobs well on these topics.
I’d be really especially interested to know what the journalists and public affairs folks who read this blog think about this.