January 14th, 2012


NYT and the role of news

Some of you may have gotten this pointer from other sources (jwz wrote about it recently), but there've been a few updates that might make it worthwhile:

The article, by Arthur Brisbane, poses the question on if/how media should challenge incorrect (or likely incorrect/misrepresentative/broken) facts posed by "newsmakers" (people who are the topic of news).

There is a followup by the same author here, which provides links to a bit more discussion.

For me, the question is not even slightly nuanced. The answer is yes. News media should use the best judgement they have available to challenge lies and distortions of the topics of their journalism. They should also consider presenting alternate framings. It is their role to challenge, and push, and investigate. It is even potentially within their role to push legal boundaries (in ideally not-otherwise-harmful ways) to report on things that are in the public interest, in the same way that any of us might reasonably do (violate a nondisclosure from your employer who's planning to do something dastardly to the general public? You have a duty *to* do that, not to avoid it). News should be acidic, and it should give people a hard time, challenge the PR-droids and the status quo.

I also object to the way he frames the question; journalists are the newsmakers, not their subjects. Considering the subjects the newsmakers invites the news media to consider themselves PR or at best repeaters of official stories put forth by corporations and governments. Newspeople should not even consider whether the government wants them in an area reporting. Just go, and do it live so nobody can confiscate the footage.

Media should also *never* consider giving up on even one good story for the sake of maintaining friendly relationships with someone that might lead to them being handfed stories. Free-range stories are the good stuff, and media that are afraid of missing out on the handfed stuff might as well be pets.

Tame news media are one of the greatest enablers of corruption and spin in a government. If the news media wants to do its job properly, it must be so committed to being a truth vigilante that it's considered gravely offensive to even ask questions like this.