Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Thursday, January 15, 2004  

Via Ezra Klein at Pandagon, I found the Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk, which looks to be a media watchdog blog on the forthcoming campaign. From the inaugural post:

One of the minor rituals of American presidential politics is the post-election self-examination (or perhaps I should say self-flagellation) by the press. Quadrennially, we regret having pursued some lines of inquiry while ignoring others, or having gotten caught up in momentary feeding frenzies over unimportant things, or having been too susceptible to spin -- and then we resolve to do a better job next time. But now we have a new tool. In 2004, the Web makes it possible to analyze and criticize press coverage in real time, so that suggestions for improved coverage might actually be heeded, and incorporated into campaign coverage, while the campaign is still under way....

The Desk will be politically nonpartisan. While it will call attention to journalistic sins, both of omission and commission, it will by no means be exclusively a finger-wagging operation.

A couple of thoughts spring to mind. The first is revisiting what a blog is. Earlier, I was reading where Josh Marshall, who was this year awarded "blogger of the year" by The Week, was trying to explain to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. what the blog medium is (long story). This is what he told Schlesinger: "I ended up telling them that it was something like political commentary structured like a personal journal with occasional reporting mixed in."

That's an accurate description, but a bad one. Reading CJR's self-description, where nowhere was the word "blog" mentioned, I had a bit of deja vu. Blogs just ain't credible yet. This despite the fact that they are both necessary and useful tools and represent, I think it's safe to say, a new medium. The fact that they're spontaneous, do-it-yourself, and ungoverned makes them somehow slightly tawdry. Then describe something as a "personal journal," and you've lost all credibility. Of course there are millions of crappy blogs out there, but that doesn't mean the medium shouldn't be credible. Look at TV--how much of that content is crappy? Yet it dominates our discourse. Eventually things will sort out and blogs will find a system of governance--possibly democratic, in the current mode, but more likely commercial, in the American mode. Still, if CJR's adoption of the medium shows us anything, it's that the medium is credible.

The second thing I pondered--is it possible to be politically nonpartisan and objective? An example. Back in the heyday of the Gilded Age, objectivity might have dictated that the press give a fair shake to corrupt corporations who were enslaving broad swaths of the population. Yet looking back, we could just as easily argue that objectivity demanded a crusade against those corrupt corporations. They were, after all, objectively corrupt. What journalistic ethic says you have to give them a platform to lie?

If the system is broken, isn't it more objective to make that point than to tell both sides equally? Possibly this isn't the CJR's goal; it'll be interesting to watch and see.

(So far, they seem to be going after some of the larger sins of the press--which of course are committed against Dems in larger measure than the GOP. But it's early.)

posted by Jeff | 4:38 PM |
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