So I had a go at gathering vox pops the other day (vox popping?). It’s harder than it looks, but I suppose I can appreciate A Bit of Fry and Laurie now:
The other day I overheard a discussion about how there are always two sides to every story, and naturally, this got me thinking. In the news, we see this all the time: one side presents their story, which is then counteracted by another interested party, usually in the form of a comment rubbishing the original claim. Both parties are (usually) equally represented.
I think there is a strong journalism tradition of this practice, and certain organisations, which hold themselves as beacons of neutrality, find themselves obsessing over presenting both sides equally and fairly. In a way, they’re like umpires – completely objective and keen to hear the sides of both parties.
Not that there’s anything wrong in being fair and neutral when presenting the facts, but there is a danger of ‘false balance’, where two opposing sides are presented equally despite one side being incredibly flawed. Or as Wikipedia puts it: ‘Journalists may present evidence and arguments out of proportion to the actual evidence for each side, or may even actually suppress information which would establish one side’s claims as baseless.’ False balance was widely discussed in light of Paul Ryan’s highly inaccurate speech, and was quite problematic for reporters who wanted to cover the speech without seeming to be bias (for more information on the background, click here). What to do? Should they say that Ryan’s speech was flawed and thus appear partisan to its readers, or should they play down the inaccuracies in the pursuit of appearing ‘fair and balanced’?
I’m back! It’s like I never left… actually, don’t answer that.
So what’s the news, huh? Well, I’m now doing a postgraduate journalism course at City University and I’m really enjoying it so far (hence the lack of blogging). But it’s now time for my victorious return to Brown Leather Satchel where I aim to fill it up with interesting ideas and opinions, which are currently floating around my little head, ready and waiting to be put into words and thrown into the winds of the internet.
Dramatics over, I have a few journalism-related book reviews to publish, including the excellent ‘All the President’s Men’. I’ve also got a massive journalism round-up to do, as well a few blog posts on ethics, and pretty much anything other thoughts on the industry that pop into my brain. I’ll also be attending more journalism events which I hope to report back to you dear readers.
I realise this all sounds rather enthusiastic, possibly a little optimistic considering I’m juggling a postgraduate degree and a Saturday job – but whatevs.
So here are some great journalism pieces for the week starting Monday 27th August 2012 (covering two weeks). This round-up is pretty much going to be about Paul Ryan and fact checking, so be warned:
‘A not-very-truthful speech in a not-very-truthful campaign’ by Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, Thursday 30th August:
There’s a school of thought in journalism that you must be fair and balanced – to present both sides of the argument. But what happens when one side misrepresents the facts, or even lie? What happens when they keep repeating these inaccuracies over and over again, so much so that readers/viewers become dangerously misinformed? Do you still give that side equal airtime out of ‘fairness’? What about in the context of campaign reporting?
Ezra Klein’s piece examines the inaccuracies of Paul Ryan’s speech made at the Republican convention in Florida.
The original pitch was for “the five biggest lies in Paul Ryan’s speech.” I said no. It’s not that the speech didn’t include some lies. It’s that I wanted us to bend over backward to be fair, to see it from Ryan’s perspective, to highlight its best arguments as well as its worst.
Fact-checking organisations couldn’t find accurate claims.
A reporter, who strives for balance and fairness when covering political campaigns, finds himself in a very difficult position when one side is spouting out (potentially damaging) misrepresentations. Since there’s no way you can find a ‘positive light’ on a big political speech full of lies, you’re going to be deemed partisan (giving ammunition to both parties involved). But if you strive to be ‘balanced’, so much so you’re downplaying the inaccuracies contained in the speech, then this is not fair to the readers/viewers – you’re now the one that’s being inaccurate.
Klein ends his article on this note:
(Again, covering two weeks this time, mainly because I was busy working. Goodness, what an eventful two weeks it’s been!)
So here are some great journalism pieces for the week starting Monday 13th August 2012:
‘In Praise of Fact-Checkers’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Atlantic, Tuesday 21st August:
I’m currently interning for a fact-checking organisation called Full Fact (go on, have a browse). Ok, so I may be a little biased, but their work is crucial here in the UK. Actually, all fact-checkers are crucial, and we need them. For example, it’s very easy for a writer to cherry pick statistics to support their claim, hence the need for fact-checkers to examine accuracy and to see whether the statistics have been taken out of context.
So stumbling across an article that praises fact-checkers is quite refreshingly. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about his experiences with fact-checkers at papers such as Village Voice, The New York Times Magazine and The Atlantic. Although subjected to budget constraints, they check quotations and sources to ensure accuracy and honesty – this is what we need in journalism.
‘Fact-checkers serve as a valuable check to prevent writers from lapsing into the kind of arrogant laziness which breeds plagiarism and the manufacture of facts’, writes Coates. Very true.
Also, take a look at this Politico’s piece on an app which can factcheck a political advertisement.
(Covering two weeks this time, mainly because I was busy interning)
So here are some great journalism pieces for the week starting Monday 30th July 2012:
‘The 2012 Summer Olympics are turning into a giant coming-out party for the animated GIF’ by Andrew Phelps, Nieman Journalism Lab, Friday 3rd August:
It’s a thought that’s never occurred to me before – can GIFs become a new form of storytelling in serious journalism? When most people think of GIFs, they would say they’re just another procrastination tool used to make fun of others’ failings e.g. someone falling over spectacularly. But as Phelps’ article points out, GIFs can be used to bridge image and video; to capture an important moment that most people have overlooked. He gives the example of a GIF of a South Korean fencer who protested over a point. The GIF doesn’t require a person to trawl through hours of footage, and a viewer with a short attention span can get the information from a three-second video. So a GIF can be used in sports, but can it be used in serious journalism?
A frankly awesome GIF was used in a Reuters blog that showed the high-frequency trading in the stock market from 2007 to 2012. It’s a great example of condensing heavy information into something that lasts for about 30 seconds yet effectively conveys the narrative.
Perhaps we’ll be seeing more serious GIF-use in the future…
A little piece of advice for undergraduates who are thinking of a career in journalism, or just want to avoid writing essays.
We need distractions at university. I’m not talking about iPlayer, thinking what costume to wear for the next fancy dress party, or the impromptu rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ after a heavy night at the college bar.
Nay, I’m talking about the ‘good’ distractions. The ones that you can whack on your CV and say ‘look, mister, I’ve done something worthwhile with my spare time at university.’ And one of the worthwhile things you can do with your spare time is student journalism.
Whether that’s writing for a student newspaper or website, working at the university’s radio station, or even setting up your own student blog, it’s all great fun and may prove helpful when your students days are over and violently pushed into that big grown up world.