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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“Free Love” In The Victorian Age

Reading this chapter generated a whirlwind of emotions for me, which I can honestly say I was not expecting. It was shocking to how pervasive these dehumanizing ideas of how women should be treated in marriage were. One excerpt that struck me came at the beginning of the chapter when Streitmatter writes: “The dozen sexual reform publications that existed during this period challenged the social mores that dominated American life by asserting that sexual intercourse should only occur when both partners are willing.” The idea that anything other than non-consensual intercourse was ever viewed as a norm in American marriages is sickening to me. Women were not seen as being the owners of their own bodies, they were merely to be used at the will of their husbands.

The strength of women like Angela Heywood and Victoria Woodhull in overcoming all that was against them is truly amazing. Like all dissidents, they were taking great risks in creating the publications that they did and speaking out against what they saw as a repressive system. While the feminist movement is still necessary in modern society (as evidenced by Patricia Arquette’s recent Oscar speech advocating for equal pay,) it should be acknowledged that these women were instrumental in getting the movement started and overcame considerable hardships. Utilizing independent media was a way for these women to gain a platform for their voices which had previously been unheard. As we’ve discussed, independent media has to deal with problems that mainstream media doesn’t – one of these problems is censorship. This problem was magnified in the case of women advocating for free love because they were subject to harsher criticism and censoring of ideas. The fact that these women still pushed to overcome these obstacles should be celebrated, and as a female myself I owe a lot to their legacy.

Bloggers As Journalists

It’s the debate that we’ve all heard before: Can bloggers really be considered journalists? They’re not trained as journalists, so do they really know what they’re doing? Can we trust them? In short, my answer is yes. And Will Bunch’s article just illustrates the potential for bloggers to change the future of journalism.

In his piece, Bunch mentions the importance of passion and engagement in journalism, which are two elements that bloggers harness very well. He points to Talking Points Memo as an example of “a new kind of journalistic enterprise for the 21st century.” Bloggers like those at TPM have a desire to expose corruption and misconduct in the government, which is often avoided by journalists in the mainstream media. This is one of the things I find to be most refreshing about bloggers and independent media in general – the willingness to go where the media giants won’t. Seeing news outlets take stories at face value without questioning those in power seems to go against all that we’re supposed to stand for as journalists.

Blogging not only allows for users to have an independent voice free of corporate agendas, it also provides the opportunity for engagement with one’s audience. When a blogger posts a story they invite users to comment and encourage opportunities to respond to questions that people may have. Bloggers also value contributions that readers or other bloggers may have to their work. Additionally, the practice of including links in blogs makes it so readers can see where bloggers are getting information/what they’re referring to. This kind of transparency is often lacking in the mainstream media and in my opinion can make bloggers seem more credible in some instances. These elements combine to form a collaborative relationship in which the blogger cares about his/her audience and vice versa.

I’d love to see mainstream outlets follow suit in terms of greater transparency and less restraint when it comes to taking a critical look at issues. The passion of bloggers results in good, investigative pieces that we need more of. Since blogging only seems to be increasing in popularity I’m excited to see more and more bloggers become influential in the world of journalism.

Reflections on Whistleblowers and Government Intervention

Prior to this class, I must admit that I was shamefully under-informed about the actions of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and even the importance of WikiLeaks in general. What I’ve since grasped from the readings and videos that we’ve seen is the stunning impact whistleblowers like Manning can have on the world. While the article “Top Ten Ways Bradley Manning Changed The World” lists countless ways in which Manning’s actions have had an impact on politics (release of the Collateral Murder video, documents from Hillary Clinton, etc.) what I find most inspiring is the impact of Manning’s actions on other would-be whistleblowers. While it obviously took a great act of courage for Manning to do what she did, it’s refreshing to see someone willing to take such a great risk to bring important information to the public. Without Manning’s actions it’s possible that others like Edward Snowden would have never come forward. Throughout history whistleblowers have been responsible for groundbreaking news stories – one of the earlier examples being the release of the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg. In this case the public was shown the truth about American actions in Vietnam. In fact, Snowden has admitted to drawing inspiration from Ellsberg. I view this chain of one whistleblower inspiring another to be conducive to journalism, but what I find discouraging is that some politicians are taking steps to stifle whistleblowers like Snowden and Manning.

The attempt to create a federal shield law is primarily aimed at protecting the anonymity of sources, but this law would also make an effort to narrowly define what a journalist is. Senator Charles Schumer has come out and said that this definition would exclude WikiLeaks which would likely deter whistleblowers from coming forward with information if they know they cannot be protected. This attempt by the government to stifle what has become an important form of journalism is disheartening to see. It seems as though the ground is being laid for a world in which the government is taking increasingly bigger legal steps to suppress the voices of independent media and whistleblowers in general. If laws like this one are enacted, we could witness the steady decline of individuals willing to come forward with information like Manning and Snowden have. This just seems like an attempt at curbing freedom of speech and I worry that it could absolutely prevent the next Manning from changing the world.