Balance vs. Accuracy

In an earlier blog post, I discussed the journalism done by bloggers at Talking Points Memo and the potential it has to change the face of journalism. After reading a transcript of Josh Marshall’s 2008 keynote lecture at Ithaca College, I wanted to expand on a few of the very valid points that I felt he made.

One of the main ideas that Marshall touched upon was the idea of balance vs. accuracy. In most of my journalism classes the discussions have always focused on immediacy vs. accuracy instead. With the growth of the Internet and the speed with which information travels, there’s always a race to be first with breaking news even if it comes at the expense of accuracy. Because we’re journalists growing up in this technological age where immediacy is king, this is one of the most dominant ethical conversations that exists – How important is it to be first? If do end up getting to the story first and your information turns out to be wrong, how should you address your mistake? The list of questions goes on and on.

What I found to be refreshing with Marshall’s speech was how he chose to look at how balance plays a role in the accuracy of reporting. It’s also interesting to note that Marshall didn’t really address immediacy when it comes to blogging, which I think speaks both to the lack of corporate ownership/competition and the independent spirit of most bloggers. Marshall says that “the mainstream media consistently… prioritizes balance over accuracy in reporting the news,” and while I’d never thought about that relationship before, it’s an argument that makes a lot of sense to me. As journalism students we’re taught to always remain objective and present both sides of a story, but as Marshall points out, this is a “corrupt model of journalism.” It’s prevalent in the mainstream media because they want to appeal to the most people because of the large influence of corporations and other powerful individuals.

I’m of the mindset that there are never simply two sides to a story, and as journalists we should attempt to give a voice to as many sides as possible. Our journalistic training makes it so that we often present two sides of a story in an objective manner and call it ‘balanced,’ so as not to upset anyone influential. Reading this speech made a lot of things click for me that we’ve been talking about in this class. It reinforced how much corporate control can influence the kind of journalism being done and it shows how independent media is able to do solid, investigative reporting on tough issues because they’re free of corporate attachments. I’d love to see a world in which independent media played a more dominant and central role in journalism – it would signal a return to what journalism truly should be, with a focus on holding those in power accountable.

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