These are questions we couldn’t pose in the live chat that we did with David Weigel and Jay Rosen on objectivity in journalism.
The first line in each paragraph is the user’s name in CoverItLive; the questions are listed in chronological order.
Jay: Help me understand what all the hand-wringing is about. It seems pretty clear that Dave screwed up by getting caught trashing the people he was supposed to be covering objectively for the Post. A debate over the value of objectivity in journalism seems moot in this case; the point is that Dave was hired to be objective and got revealed as someone with a seemingly very strong ideology. What am I missing?
Setting aside the reality or fantasy behind the word “objective,” is it smart or even permissible to deride and disparage the people you’re covering? Or should bloggers/reporters draw the line at disagreement?
Hi all. One of the things that concerns me about the ideal of “objectivity” is that we seem to conflate it with “accuracy” and “fairness,” which are more important values. Thoughts on that point?
Do you think ANY media rep, associated with a corporation can be immune to corporate pressure to bias their views?
Weigel: Jay calls your beat at the Post “critically important.” I’m not sure what your beat was. Was it tracking the Right? That seems like an unhealthy obsession, esp. when you look at HuffPo, for whom Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and random crazies at a Tea Party are more important than the people in power — Pelosi, Reid, Obama…. Or were you doing something different than “shining a light on the Right?”
The scientific method relies on reproducibility and transparency in methods and data to enhance objectivity. Do you think journalists practice (or should?) the same method when acting as custodians of fact practicing a discipline of verification?
Either: Who is the Post really protecting by punishing/firing Weigel? The generic reader? An offended interest? Ad sales?
Dave: I wasn’t thrilled to learn you voted for Ron Paul. But I respect you and I am sure you had your (libertarian) reasons. But has expressing that quite so publicly had a measurable impact on any of your relationships with the left or right, professional or personal?
Jay, where would Nick Kristof fit into the configuration you describe? Would he be on the factual or opinion page? Seems to me, his articles are a combo of both. His conceit is to use Hollywood cliches to get readers to care. But its factually accurate.
Do ‘relevant facts and perspectives’ include only political/economic/social views, or do they also include personal experience? That is, would a reporter have to disclose, say, sexual orientation if they’re covering a gay pride rally, or health history if they’re writing about cancer drugs?
Jay: Isn’t this a very old debate? Hasn’t it been the case for a long time that beat reporters write Sunday opinion pieces and reveal a POV that is usually contrary to that of their sources/subjects?
I don’t think that much of this is that revolutionary. Many news orgs will not devote the time and space to ‘breaking news’ these days because the news gets out into the ether pretty quickly. So, if Obama has a 10 am presser on the oil spill, within a couple of hours the Web site will have an ‘analysis’ — which will be developed even further — perhaps several — for the next day’s newspapers. Analysis is the place where you see a reporter’s temperament, but more importantly, their reporting expertise.
What advice would you give journalism students interested in political reporting but concerned with the recent events surround Dave Weigel and Octavia Nasr?
Dave: I’m curious to know from your perspective what the real goal of the Post’s “view from nowhere” philosophy is. Do they really think they’re perceived as unbiased?
Jay: Over the course of the past week, you have tweeted about the firing of Octavia Nasr from CNN. It’s arguable that Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs made comments of a more inflammatory nature during their respective tenures at CNN than the solitary tweet by Nasr. Do you think that there is a “Double Standard” present within parts of the US media towards foreign journo’s, and if so how would you suggest that it be corrected?
Dave: How do you strive for fairness in your writing? Any particular reporting methods?
Dave: Do you find it odd that you’re getting all this attention – a TV gig, a first-person piece in Esquire, a chat about journalism issues – for getting fired? I’m in the camp that feels you got exactly what was coming to you even if the emails were never meant to be seen by anyone.
In the world of hyperlocal journalism, do you think there’s more room for opinion and attitude in coverage?
Here’s a question: Does transparency make up for the loss of objectivity, as David Weinberger has argued?
J. Jarvis Alterman
As a follow-up, I’d like to ask Dave if he agrees with Jay. Do you believe that the Post should have simply scolded you and then moved on, with you still in place, or do you think the editors did the right thing in accepting your resignation?
What do you both think about the tweet that ended Octavia Nasr’s 20 years at CNN?
I agree with Jay. This is not a “View from nowhere” problem. It is a thoughtlessness and rudeness from somewhere. And I think Dave has said as much publicly.
2nd question: Do you think a majority of journalists, any flavor, are avoiding their views on Organized Labor because they are either union members themselves, or not and don’t wish to be?
Jay Rosen, does Weigel’s “View from Nowhere problem” resignation differ or tie into the “advertising innocence bias“?
The Post, a neutral news organization, had three bloggers, all of whom criticize the right. How can a newspaper do that and claim it’s not picking sides?
Dave: Do you think that any reporter can be completely objective in his coverage? Do you think your work has reached that standard?
Dave: Who was your column for, exactly?
Jay, is Snopes.com, the truth squad for urban legends, a good model of journalists who want to truly inform?
Politics is a particularly sensitive area for discussion of media bias, and so it seems there is strong resistance to reporter viewpoints there. But what about in community coverage, or sports, or entertainment? Should it be easier for journalists to express conclusions and opinions in those fields?
My question is how do we get news organizations to step back and consider the question of reporters opinions and personality? Jay said the post could be more impactful with a range of styles. How do you get there?
Jay, I think what you’re saying is that the value is in *fact-based* opinion, which discloses the sources and reasoning for the opinion and lets readers check the work. Correct?
David: If the Arab-Israeli conflict is toxic, then why are a lot of conservatives willing to embrace Israel? When you compare individual policies against each other, both the Arabs and Israelis are often as bad as one another. Why is it then, that Western Journalists give Israeli’s legitimacy, though Arabic figures little, if any?
Is “fact” opinion-based, though? Not to sound like a graduate student before discovering postmodernism, but truth values are usually 1 or 0.
David, do you think journalists should not be held accountable for what they say on social media? Is there a difference between what someone says on Facebook and what they say on a radio or television program?
I think CNN was cowardly in firing Nasr, a 20-year employee, for one stinking tweet, which was apparently miscontrued. Compared to Weigel’s “sin” (caught brutally opining on his subject), Nasr looks more like a lamb slaughtered for violating rules of permissible (conventional) opinion. Thoughts?
There’s a growing movement (see: McChesney’s “Death and Life of American Journalism”) to enlist gov’t tax money to support journalism. If this turns out to be the only means by which to support enterprise/”watchdog” journalism … is that a deal you can accept? Or is it inherently flawed?
Don’t you think the problem with Nasr is that she was a news editor who helped shape the network’s coverage of an entire region of the world? By taking sides, as it were, and doing so where millions could read, she jeopardized the network’s credibility. Meantime, Dave thought his remarks, while intemperate (IMO), were supposed to be private.
Jay: You use the term “culture war” frequently, and derisively, but not in the way most folks do, I think. Please explain what you mean by it.
Jay: Why is it perceived that the Conservative movement can get away with various comments, though the moment that a slightly liberal individual expresses a point of view that they are instantly shunned and disposed of? Is there a perceived danger emanating from the Right that entices various journalists to believe that the Right is always “mainstream”?
Why do media pretend there’s a 50-50 liberal-conservative divide in the US. What if 50+% of a media source’s viewer’s/readers are left or right? NYT seems to me less pretentious about this than WaPo, which seems to me very confused, ergo biased to the right.
Jay — so are you saying that pubs should be looking to balance political views of reporters with a political litmus test? What if it turns out the best reporters DO tend, as a group, to lean one way or another?
How would you view an advocate or activist who writes with a bias toward “truthfulness, accuracy, intelligence, intellectual honesty and essential fairness” but also with an eye toward a particular policy outcome? Is there a place in news orgs for such people?
We also shouldn’t forget the transparency on display in “The list: Journalists who wrote political checks.”
Dave: What would have been different if you revealed that privately you were in complete sympathy with your right-wing subjects? I don’t think The Corner would have been gunning for your head. Media Matters, FDL, Think Progress/kos might have noted it. But I think you’d still be merrily at work.
What’s the best way for journalists or writers to explain to the public that we’re people too, have opinions and can still do the job? Anyone?
? for either Jay or Dave: Are newspapers too worried about keeping as wide an audience as possible? Is the fracturing of audiences, on the basis of ideology or medium or whatnot, such a bad thing?
Could it be that one path towards a View from Somewhere might be a crowdsourced reputation system for journalists? If there’s a way to aggregate feedback from the folks that take the time to fact check and follow up with the sources a journalist used for a story, that may lend (or revoke) credibility in a way that’s not yet available.