Transparency

Transparency

: I was digging into the State of the News Media report, already much-linked, and found this nugget about the relationship of news media to its public:

The problem is a disconnection between the public and the news media over motive. Journalists believe they are working in the public interest and are trying to be fair and independent in that cause. This is their sense of professionalism.

The public thinks these journalists are either lying or deluding themselves. The public believes that news organizations are operating largely to make money and that the journalists who work for these organizations are primarily motivated by professional ambition and self-interest.

I believe that if you took some of that “public” and sat them down in a bar with some of those from “news media,” they’d all in all end up liking … or perhaps respecting … or at least not disdaining … and maybe better understanding each other. The problem is that there is a separation between the “news media” and its “public.”

That is perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned in weblogs; it was the first lesson I writing this blog: I had a new relationship with my “public.” (And I’ll quit the obnoxious quote marks now.)

The public spoke; it argued; it agreed; it disagreed; it could be friendly; it could be generous; it could be trollish; it had names. But I now had a relationship with my public I’d never had before. And that public had a relationship with me it never could have before, when I was merely printed on paper: a two-way relationship.

You think I’m going to say that blogs are going to solve all this and if everybody just had a blog (or sat in a bar together) we’d all get along.

Fooled ya. No, I’m just arguing the virtues of transparency. At Bloggercon last year, the audience demanded — or at least suggested strongly — transparency from Len Apcar and the New York Times; but Apcar, as I remember, was openly skittish about the idea of sharing the process of news. At that time, that seemed at least reasonable; why have people fight with you over what you almost did when they’are already fighting with you over what you did?

But when you are not transparent, people will assume their definition of the worst. If you are transparent, you show the effort you put behind trying to serve them and you also give them the respect to include them in the process. That is a moral of weblogs. It’s a moral the news business needs to figure out.

: UPDATE: As Hypergene says, transparency is also served when news sources get blogs and tell their sides of stories directly. Witness Mark Cuban’s blog, on which he answers newspaper writers.

  • http://leatherpenguin.blogspot.com TC

    I believe that if you took some of that “public” and sat them down in a bar with some of those from “news media,” they’d all in all end up liking … or perhaps respecting … or at least not disdaining … and maybe better understanding each other.

    Jeff, you’ve never met hyperlocal “news media” flunkies that didn’t brown up to you because of your position, as I have (and BTW, my hyperlocal grew into your paycheck). They run away from the public. They are insular organizations. They ignore their own hiring guidelines to assure the new crew drinks the Kool-Aid. They never publish an advertisement for an open position at their monolithic news organizations, but the bylines keep on changing. Do a little looking at the classifieds for your Hard Copy Overlords. Not the magazines…the newsprint. You recycle the crap yourself.
    Except for the sports writers, anyone in an editorial position at these joints rues meeting his or her constituency.
    This ain’t sour grapes. Once Trautmann was gone, I knew the game was over.

  • Joe Peden

    Yeah, I spent a lot of time trying to show these Numbskulls, that if they wanted Cheney to show us the records of the Energy Commission, then everyone would have to show us everything, which, among other things, is not possible.

  • http://www.modempool.com/nucleardann/blogspace/blog.htm Dann

    Jeff-
    The question isn’t whether a reporter is ‘likable’. The question is whether or not they are biased and whether or not that bias affects their reporting.
    The majority of reporters (which eventually grow up to become editors and perhaps publishers) are from the liberal corner of political pool. Their politics seeps into their reporting.
    Perhaps we might be better off if the media expected reporters to report the facts, but then also gave them time/space to express a clearly denoted opinion.
    For example, a story on guns might include some potential new regulation for semi-automatic weapons. The report would then be given a clearly delineated space where s/he/it could opine about the dangers of ‘assault weapons’. Assault weapons and semi-automatic weapons come from two different subsets of the group known as ‘guns’.
    The public would have the factual information they need to participate in the formulation of public policy without having the reporters misconceptions and misrepresentations get in the way.
    -Regards

  • Pat M. (Arkansas)

    Jeff,
    You couldn’t be more wrong!!!!
    The news media has lost respect over the years because it no longer reports the news, it colors the news. All of it.
    Hardly a story appears that does not contain editorial. We in flyover country resent being preached to in our news. We want the facts, and then we want to be left alone to make up our own minds.
    No Jeff – we would not like them – and we would not appreciate their work any more if we shared a meal with them. Their biased drivel would still be the same biased drivel – only with a face.

  • Richard Aubrey

    And they’re morons.
    From time to time there is a survey which poses the following question, in some fashion:
    Have you been involved in something which you knew intimately which has been reported in the media? If so, did they get it right or wrong?
    The results are generally that the public says the media got it wrong.
    That’s been the case in my own couple of situations.
    Biased and incompetent.
    Maybe the latter keeps the former from being as effective as it otherwise might be.

  • billg

    Two thoughts from someone who served his time in purgatory being called “the editor”:
    1. Generalizations applied to “the media” are usually as inappropriate as generalizations applied to any other business. It doesn’t really make any more sense to argue that “all reporters have a liberal bias” than it does to argue “everyone who works in the ice cream business is fat and has bad teeth”.
    2. Typically, news organizations have a set of in-house rules governing how stories are approached, developed, and written. If nothing else, they, at least, have a style guide. People in the business of selling the news would go a long way to “transparency” if they’d make public these guidelines. One example: the BBC gets a lot of flack for the way it doesn’t use the word “terrorist” to describe what most readers of this blog would consider a terrorist. Trust me, this isn’t happening by accident. The Beeb would do itself a lot of good by letting people see those guidelines. And, like any business, they gain a lot by listening to the feedback from their customers.
    (FWIW, please note I’m using words like “selling”, “business” and “customers” deliberately. The news business is not a charity.)

  • billg

    Pat M.:
    If you’re watching barking pundits on the tube or reading weblogs, you aren’t watching or reading people interested in giving you “the news”. Your paying attention to people interested in telling you what they think about the news. It’s an important distinction.
    Don’t go to pundits, OK?

  • MrAcheson

    “Journalists believe they are working in the public interest and are trying to be fair and independent in that cause.”
    How does a journalist discern “the public interest”? Why he uses his own left-leaning viewpoint of course. If a journalist has to sacrifice objectivity to get a story should he? Of course the story is what is important and objectivity is dull, especially in the age of the investigative journalist.

  • michael

    MrAcheson and others:
    Why do all these examples of “reporting bias” assume a left-leaning viewpoint. The fact is that ANY act of reporting will have some bias. As you point out, the very choice of what is “the public interest” will be a value- and bias-laden act – but certainly not limited to those on the left. No one is immune….

  • http://www.gapingvoid.com hugh macleod

    There’s an old tenet of feudalism, started by Charlemagne that every piece of land HAD to have a lord governing it. So the idea of a regular person being able to own his own land was unheard of.
    Sounds like the journalists took their feudal rights for granted. They saw their position as a social right, not a limitation of technology.

  • Pat M. (Arkansas)

    billg –
    I am talking about the front pages of almost every newspaper in America and the first half of almost every national newscast.
    I’m talking about “shaping issues”, reporting the half of the story that supports their preconceived conclusion and including unrelated material in order to obfuscate facts.
    Facts are stubborn things billg. Mainstream media no longer has a monoply on “news”. And that’s why they’re tanking. Every year their readership fades. The internet is real transparency – and the mainstream media can’t handle the light.
    Now run along billg and hide behind your bias riddled world view. Those of us in middle America aren’t going to play that game any more!!!

  • Blue Eyed Devil

    The High Priests Of Journalism are reacting in the same way the religious high priests reacted when the scriptures were translated into the vernacular. Their craping their pants. They no longer have exclusive access to the public. When people have more choice the influence of any one individual purveyor of truth is diminished.
    As a consumer of news I’ve often felt the words to the song “Born To Be A Woman” described me best.
    “Born to be stepped on, lied to ,cheated on and treated like dirt”. Whenever I’m feeling particularly masochistic I tune into the bbc.
    Tim

  • http://www.modempool.com/nucleardann/blogspace/blog.htm Dann

    billg-
    Generalizations are usually inappropriate unless they happen to be correct. All reporters don’t have a liberal bias. However a disproportionate number (as compared to the rest of society) of reporters are in the liberal corner of the political pool.
    That isn’t necessarily a bad thing if they can be honest about their bias so that it is transparent. Guns and abortion are the two easiest issues where personal biases affect the language used in covering those issues, IMO.
    I agree that people often confuse punditry with news reporting. Such is the source of the Faux News line of criticism.
    Unfortunately, many big media folks have confused news reporting with punditry.
    -Regards

  • billg

    >> Pat M:
    Hope you’re better at thinking than at being condescending…and at building strawmen based on your imaginings about what I didn’t say. Still:
    My point is that there’s a basic distinction between news and punditry. TV is awash with talking heads telling us what they think about the news. That’s not reporting. If you enjoy watching all that punditry, fine, but don’t confuse it with news. It’s just a bunch of people in a studio yapping.
    Ditto blogs. Blogs consume the news that reporters create, they don’t send people out in the field to cover stories and create news. People who claim they’re relying on blogs for their news are either lieing or don’t know the difference between news and commentary.
    The internet is no more transparent than any other medium. It’s “transparent” only if someone decides they want to be “transparent”. In any case, transparency doesn’t guarantee honesty, accuracy, and completeness. It certainly has no relation to genuine reporting.
    It takes resources to run a news operation. When a website generates the cash flow sufficient to compete with traditional news sources, it will be subject to the same pressures.
    Like so many others, you seem to think that the internet is magic. It isn’t. It’s just a place to publish. It’s the words that count, and always will.
    Dann:
    How do you know “a disproportionate number” of reporters are “liberal”? What does that mean, anyway? What’s “disproportionate”? How do you achieve “proportion”? Have some sort of affirmative action program?
    The news is a business. No profit, no business. If you don’t like one particular news operation. stop buying it.

  • Ric Locke

    billg: “The news is a business. No profit, no business. If you don’t like one particular news operation. stop buying it.”
    Gee, didn’t you notice where the lead started out?
    We have, billg. We have. Others are following suit.
    Regards,
    Ric

  • billg

    Then what’s your problem, Ric? Obviously, a bunch of blogs who give their product away are going to staff up with cream of the crop reporters who are going to start working for free, too. Oh, I can’t wait for that millenial day! People who earn their living doing something else are going to publish all that wonderful unbiased news. (Gee, I wonder what they’ll do if their sources of income become involved in a story?)
    I’m not defending or attacking the traditional news business. I’ve not a part of it and never was.
    I am saying this:
    1) News published on the internet is subject ot the same biases, pressures, etc., as news published anywhere.
    2) Blogs that contain commentary and links to something other people have published on the web are not publishing news, they’re publishing commentary. If not for the mainstream media, most blogs wouldn’t have anything to publish. If people read blogs to avoid biased news, they blind. What they’re getting is a lot of bias and not much news.
    3) Everyone one is biased. Ranting about bias in the news is a perpetual lament, but it will always exist because the news is created by the people who write and publish it, and those people have opinions and biases. Story selection and placement, word choice, etc., are all subjective decisions made by people. News without bias is
    impossible.
    4) Savvy readers know that, and understand that knowing a source’s bias is as essential to understanding events as anything else.

  • http://www.modempool.com/nucleardann/blogspace/blog.htm Dann

    billg-
    Most political surveys reveal the country to be split in about thirds. One third for Democrats, one third for the GOP, and the rest being labeled as “undecided”. The actual numbers shift from time to time, but that is basically the way it shakes out.
    A survey of Washington based reporters taken a couple years ago revealed that 80-90% of them had voted for Mr. Clinton. Of our nation’s voters, a majority didn’t vote for Mr. Clinton in either 1992 or 1996.
    That is disproportionate.
    Add to that my personal discussions with a couple of staffers at the local paper. Decent guys working in the birthplace of the GOP……and the local paper newsroom is dominated by people of the liberal persuasion.
    Reporting the news is certainly a business. Thus the reason why we get some of the more sensationalized reporting. It is also a business that is disproportionately populated by people from the liberal corner of the political pool.
    -Regards

  • billg

    If you accept those surveys as accurate, you seem to be arguing that an organization’s news staff should be structured along a quota system, with political opinion being a serious component of job qualifications.
    So, who gets to be the political officer? How do you measure a reporter’s political stance?
    Why do you want to remove bias from reporting, in the first place? Why does a reporter using certain words make you angry when you aren’t angered when the guy standing next to you uses the same language?
    If readers know the slant of a particular reporter or outlet, they can take that into account. We all certainly do when we speak with each other in normal conversations. E.g., the fact the the Israeli press calls a suicide bomber a “terrorist” and the Arab press calls that person a “freedom fighter” doesn’t obscure the facts.

  • Richard Aubrey

    Bilg, nobody said anything about “should”.
    Just pointing out what you already knew but hoped wouldn’t be actually pointed out isn’t a call for a forcible correction.
    Now we know that you know about the disproportionate representation of liberals in the news rooms, can we get on to the discussion of what that means?
    The polls are probably accurate, in that they are self-reported. “Mr. Reporter, who did you vote for in the last three elections?” “Clinton, Clinton, Gore.”
    Hard to screw that up.

  • http://www.modempool.com/nucleardann/blogspace/blog.htm Dann

    billg-
    I’m not arguing for quotas….although wouldn’t that be ironic considering the intrinsic support for quotas that exists within the media.
    I am observing that for a variety of reasons, people from the liberal corner of the political pool make up a disproportionate segment of the media on the news reporting end of the business. Because they have more access to a greater number of people, their use of language has greater impact.
    When I’m discussing an issue with someone on the street corner, a casual listener has the opportunity to listen to and evaluate both of our versions of “the truth”. In a newspaper story or on the evening news, all we get are views of the person that wrote the story without any assurance that other equally valid perspectives (and perhaps some that are more valid) are covered.
    To be blunt, I don’t get a chance to fire back and, IMO, too many reporters approach their work from the perspective of ‘how can government solve this issue’ rather than ‘is it possible that previous government intervention caused this problem’.
    All I get is John Stossel, and while John’s a nice guy, he is only one guy. And he isn’t writing for Peter Jennings.
    -Regards

  • billg

    Dann, you still haven’t define “disproportionate”, or said why you think it is important for the political beliefs of reporters to parallel those of the public.
    As for having a chance to “fire back”, I don’t think that’s an important part of the news equation. If you want to speak your minds, that’s what blogs, talk radio, letters, etc., are for. But, frankly, what you and I have to say about the news is not news, and I don’t want to have to take the time to ignore it when I’m reading the news.

  • http://www.modempool.com/nucleardann/blogspace/blog.htm Dann

    billg-
    If the country is split one third for liberals/Dems, one their conservative/GOP, and one third ‘other, then by definition, any deviation from that formula would be ‘disproportionate’.
    But I’m not after quotas. I’m after honesty. The coverage of a whole range of issues has been dishonest, IMO, precisely because a disproportionate number of reporters come at their job from a ‘liberal’ perspective. This is unhealthy for our country, IMO.
    One example of how such an imbalance is bad is that it causes people to begin to have unrealistic expectations. If 90% of news reports blame the government for job losses or credit the government for job gains, people will start to believe that government policies directly cause the number of jobs to grow or shrink.
    That couldn’t be further from the truth. Mr. Bush’s steel ill fated steel tariffs are one good example. They ‘saved’ jobs and old, union-dominated steel mills, but arguably ‘cost’ more jobs throughout America due to the increased steel prices.
    (curiously, the tariffs caused European steel mills to find new customers and now the US is paying for it by way of much higher steel costs)
    If we only get the liberal view of the world in our news, we only get one part of the story.
    Why is this such a hard concept for you??
    -Regards