The flourishing community of Web-based blogmeisters – some of them skilled journalists, many of them fervent partisans – is transforming the climate in which ideas are floated and tested…. One recurring theme in Internet comment targets the unwillingness of journalists in mainstream media (known as MSM, generally a pejorative) to admit to having opinions of their own. If the problem is media bias, as the bloggers insist, why don’t journalists simply own up to their predispositions, abandon the pose of neutrality and let audiences evaluate their work accordingly? —Edward Wasserman
Wasserman offers several good reasons why transparency isn’t the magical solution to the public perception that journalists are biased. He notes that the call for transparent journalists, who dutifully disclose every personal experience and affiliation that might possibly affect the slant of a story, will lead either to a ridiculous amount of confessional disclosure cluttering up reportage, or turn journalists into politicians who reassure their audiences with “bland formulations.”
When my first academic article submission was trashed by an anonymous reviewer, one of my professors pointed out that it’s impossible to write an article that can’t be trashed. In a similar way, it’s impossible to publish anything of value without getting somebody angry. Now that angry people have ready access to online publication, the rhetoric of the rant becomes part of the public discourse. While I agree with Wasserman’s call for journalists to do more professional criticism, the public at large is also served when they are trained to recognized biased rants for what they are. Teaching the public to identify hidden biases is much harder.
As a media critic, Wasserman calls instead for journalists to do more media criticism. They are better trained than most bloggers are, surely. Are news organizations really going to push out advertising-friendly celebrity, sports, and “Storm Watch” reportage to make room for a one journalist to offer a point-by-point analysis of another journalist’s coverage? Is there a mass audience that will pay to consume mass quantities of up-to-date professional media criticism, at the local, national, and global level?
If a story is skewed, buries some facts and makes corrupt use of others for polemic reasons, won’t that emerge from analysis and criticism, not from some half-baked critique of the people who produced it?
Bloggers who launch ad-hominem attacks on journalists are missing the point, but it’s not impossible for amateur blogs to offer salient criticism.
See also Wasserman’s more recent column, Reporting Lies Gives Them Weight.