So I had the pleasure and the privilege of watching Jay Rosen at SXSWi today. With exquisite timing, his topic was “The Psychology of Bloggers vs Journalists“. In some ways his talk missed the mark of our recent multithreaded feud.
The talk was immensely interesting, though. Apparently the journalist/blogger feud runs deep and dark in the more mainstream press areas. Jay claims that each group defines itself in opposition to the other; journalists as professionals who have been trained to neutrality, bloggers as casual and emotional and impulsive. He has some great examples.
I feel a need to take exception to this one, though:
I’ve said that bloggers and journalists are each other’s ideal “other.” From the blogger’s side, the conflict with journalists helps preserve some of that ragged innocence (which is itself a kind of power) by falsely locating all the power in Big Media. Here’s another blogger in Columbus, talking about the same newspaper editor:
Note to Ben Marrison: If you want to pretend that you, as a professional journalist, are somehow better than political bloggers … because you are less biased and less lazy then you might consider actually NOT being both lazy and biased while writing online rants for the world to see.
Don’t you know that’s OUR job?
We can be lazy and biased. For we are young and irresponsible. You are supposed to be the grown-ups here. This keeps at bay a necessary thought: we all have to grow up… someday.
No, Jay, see, that was sarcasm.
And this is why, though the talk was first rate, it doesn’t help us in our quandary. Because in the climate world, it’s us science-aware bloggers who are holding the candle for the traditional journalistic value of evaluating the truth.
See, while false balance is what tipped me over the line
(as far as science journalism goes, I am a genuine replacenik – I feel that the needs of the field simply aren’t being served by existing institutions in a remotely adequate way) explicit false balance is not the problem. The problem, as with so much else these days, is with the press being incapable of challenging substantively incorrect statements. For instance, the he-say-she-say of the recent congressional hearing was duly, if unenthusiastically reported by all concerned (myself included). But there really is a story here. John Christy’s testimony was at the very best egregiously and systematically in error. This falls under the old journalistic purview of challenging bunk.
I have heard the suggestion that the press challenging bunk just serves the perverse process of lodging the bunk in susceptible minds. This may be true in the case of isolated bunk. But we are looking at a bunk tsunami, and the press seems absolutely obsessed with finding little bugs on the other side (a Grist article being a recent cause celebre, for God’s sake) and not pointing to the Mothra sized problems on the side of the so-called skeptics, whom most competent reporters on the beat know to be, for the most part, charlatans.
Yet, based both on the anecdotal evidence of my own ears and the polling evidence I have seen, most of the public doesn’t know this. And it’s not this or that article that is good or bad. It is the totality of the impression they have. Our complaint then is not with any individual reporter, but with the institution of the press in North America. (There is a different complaint entirely to be leveled at the British press, by the way.)
So the irony is that it’s the bloggers demanding that journalists do the hard work of verifying public claims in climate science, and as I understand it, in other areas as well. This turns Jay’s version of events on its head. We bloggers aren’t offended by the voicelessness of the press; we are offended by the ballslessness of it. The view from nowhere is constantly capitulating to the view form somewhere, to the point where a good slice of the public is happily and habitually swallowing the most egregious lies. An objective voice isn’t our problem; the fact that the objective voice actively refuses to be objective when one side is shamelessly manipulating them is our problem.
Sure, you can say, Tom Yulsman did a better job
than the Grist article he critiques did. He verified with a competent scientist that there was no way the gigantic Japanese quake had anything to do with global warming. Kudos for that. An excessive article on Grist is thus put to rest. Now will Tom, or someone like him, put the same kind of effort into investigating Christy’s testimony to congress
as he does into a bout of excess on an activist website?
I will be happy to see such a thing but experience tells me I probably will not.
I remain a huge fan and supporter of Jay Rosen’s, but perhaps not quite as much as before. I think his talk of the “view from nowhere” is crucially valuable. But I think the due diligence of the professional journalist that he defends in this very clever and insightful but in the end oddly symmetrical piece, is not actually what we see. Surely not every blogger is a champion of claim testing and truth telling, nor is every champion of claim testing and truth telling on the blogger side. Far from it. But on the whole, the demands for rigor do not seem to me to be mostly coming from the conventional press.
I did corner him in the hallway and attempt to raise this with him. He seemed distracted and in a hurry so I didn’t get much out of him. He acknowledged my point without really addressing it in as much depth as I’d have liked. I hope he takes it up at some point.
I should point out that ThingsBreak has outlined a sort of a truce
at Keith’s and John Fleck finds it attractive. I’m not sure I’m buying it as it stands – I don’t think I agree with TB’s take on it. But I’m struggling to capture my thoughts of the day in response to the firehose of input from South by Southwest, so I won’t have much more to say about it than this for a while.
Moderation is off. Have at it, but recall that Blogger does not allow for editing comments. I reserve the right to erase any comment containing attacks ad hominem or language that could reasonably be expected to enervate opponents more than is necessary to make the substantive point.