Sunday, December 24, 2006

Another Voice In The Mix

Sara Robinson

Along the same line we've been discussing, E.J. Dionne talks about the role of journalists, accountability, and the tension between old and new media:
In my view, the new media forms are answering a great need that traditional journlism was not answering. Though as a consumer of blogs from left to right, I often get important and accurate information from their work, they do not exist primarily to inform. They exist to engage citizens in the obligations and magic of politics. They draw people into the fight. They have made millions of people feel that their voices will be heard somewhere and, when aggreghated together, can have a real influence on the outcome of policy debates and elections.

In fact, the opinionated forms of journalism are not new to the media or our public life. They take us back in our history to a time when most journalism was partisan and raucously engaged on one side or another in our political battles....

If there is a problem with traditional, just-the-facts-m'am journalism and its twist-your-self-into-a-pretzel effort to appear non-partisan or bi-partisan, it is that such journalism was in many ways demobilizing. Because journalists could not declare that they were Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, they often went out of their way, sometimes unconsciously and unintentally, to sell a variety of ideas that actually drove people away from politics. You couldn't be partisan, so you said they were all crooks or liars. (Every once in a while, you even got the "they are all good men and women" stories.) You couldn't be partisan, so you said there was no difference between or among the politcians - or, alternatively, that they were all too extreme....

The real issue confronting modern journalism is thus a paradoxical one. There is a need to resurrect a concern for what's true---to draw clearer distinctions between fact and opinion, between information and mere assertion. At the same time, there is an urgent requirement that the media take seriously their obligation to draw people, as citizens, into the public debate, to demonstrate that the debate is accessible and that it matters. What is needed, in other words, is both a strengthening of the older professional ethic involving accuracy and balance and a new engagement with the obligations of journalists to democracy.

For all of its shortcomings, the success of opinionated journalism on the radio, cable television and the blogs reflects a public thirst for debate and argument that goes beyond the confines usually imposed by conventional definitions of news. The lesson is not that all should copy their style of argument, but that argument and engagement are very much in demand. For the established media, this will mean going back to the original debate between Walter Lippmann and John Dewey. The objective should be to salvage Lippmann's devotion to accuracy and fairness by putting these virtues to the service of the democratic debate that Dewey so valued.

In broad terms, the media need to help us recover what Lasch called "the lost art of argument."
Just go read the whole thing. His account of how journalism got professionalized, and the implications of that development, is also a fascinating addition to our conversation here.

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