It seems sometimes as if there are people who do things (write EA’s, produce goods and services) (doers) and people who review what doers do. Those include academics, judges, reporters and so on. The Smokey Wire is full of those stories. I think it’s also important for people familiar with doing to review what academics, judges, and reporters do in their work and how they do it- especially when it concerns topics we know about. To do that, we need to look at their own literature and try to understand how they perceive things and how their professional systems operate. One example is “Practice of Science Friday” and the sociology of science.
Thanks to Matthew for posting this Propublica OPB Oregonian piece on timber companies in southwestern Oregon. I’ve got some points to make about the piece, but I’ve written one of the reporters to get more information before I dive in. I was interested in the fact that it was funded by Propublica and the timing was interesting, since apparently the issue of reduction of severance taxes has been around for a while.
This came across today from E&E news “A Republican who made his name fighting a suspected terrorist in France thinks he can unseat longtime incumbent Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio in southwest Oregon by channeling decades of rural anger over the decline of the timber industry.”
So I became curious about Propublica and its funders, and wondered what kind of stories they would fund and whether they might be biased in a certain way. Of course, we are all biased, and even the bias watchers themselves are biased. For example two bias sites have mildly different views of Propublica. Media Bias/Fact Check and Influence Watch both indicate that it is left-leaning, though Media Bias says left-center. What’s a reader to do? First, buy a subscription to your local paper!
We all know that journalism has had difficulties, and Covid has made them worse. But it is troubling that the replacement for local people reporting on topics of interest may funding if their is a particular point of view imbedded in the selection and framing of the story. It might lead to seeing the country as more divided than it really is, and possibly lead to even more division. Simply because we don’t get different points of view examined fairly, so it’s easier to see people who disagree as stupid, malevolent and so on. But apparently that is only one of the issues around foundation funding and journalism that journalism scholars have found.
I did a very brief review of some literature and came up with these.
and this interesting one from scholars in the UK.
In summary, we argue that foundation funding shapes what we understand journalism to be. This is important because it suggests that foundations are changing the role that journalists play in democracy. In the case of non-profit international news, foundations direct journalism (both intentionally and unintentionally) towards outcome-oriented, explanatory journalism in a small number of niche subject areas. We do not make a normative claim about whether these changes are “good” or “bad” for journalism. However, we are concerned that such important decisions about journalism – a vital institution to democracy – are being made by a small number of generally un-transparent organisations, controlled by powerful individuals, which are rarely scrutinised or held accountable by any larger or democratic body.
Outcome-oriented sounds like “successful in changing people’s views.” Which, in my view, is not exactly the same goal as “explaining clearly to people what’s going on.”
The last sentence particularly resonated with me. It’s good to have watchdogs, but what if no one’s watching the watchdogs?