Remember also that we live in an oil-based world that is rapidly depleting the cheapest and most easily accessible oil, which means we face a huge reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds modern life. Whatever assessment we make of a specific issue, an honest accounting of the state of the ecosphere should leave us frightened. Scientists these days are talking about tipping points and planetary boundaries, about how human activity is pushing the planet beyond its limits. The problem is not just those who deny the nearly universal scientific consensus on climate change, but a much wider and deeper denial about the fragile state of the ecosystems on which our lives depends.
Reporting on any environmental issue has to place any specific story in this context, no matter how resistant people are to this blunt accounting. The capacity of the ecosphere to support life, including large-scale human societies, is the product of complex interactions—among organisms, and between the living and non-living world—about which we know surprisingly little.
This rush to solutions based on flawed assumptions of the depth of our ecological understanding is another feature of this denial. We know a lot through science, but scientists are the first to recognize how much of the complex working of the world remains unknown. One reasonable conclusion is that the most responsible and viable solutions to these problems start with an immediate decrease in human consumption, especially of energy and non-renewable resources. But rather than factor this into discussion of solutions—a difficult conversation in any system but especially in the growth-obsessed modern consumer capitalist system—policymakers, and the culture more generally, ignore this dimension.
As a result, technological fundamentalism defines the boundaries of the debate. Technology has to save us, and the unintended consequences of technology are, when considered at all, relegated to a footnote. For example, industrial agriculture has seriously degraded the amount and fertility of topsoil, and yet the dominant conversation about agriculture focuses on intensifying the industrial approach.
In mainstream journalism, we find stories about the latest development in battery storage capacity or solar panel innovation. Journalists may fear that pursuing such stories will open them up to criticism that they are biased. But, of course, not addressing these issues is also biased, toward denial of the data. Again, reasonable people can disagree, but today mainstream journalism is failing to engage all relevant views on the state of the ecosphere.
To return to the initial question: How well does XYZ cover environmental issues? My answer: Badly, but no worse than other media outlets that accept the ideological limits and professional practices of mainstream journalism. My proposal for change would begin with an ideological self-assessment by management and working journalists, at both the personal and institutional level. Are those assumptions undermining comprehensive coverage in ways that marginalize or eliminate key questions and opinions?
From there, journalists could begin the process of shaping the goals of the network, not just for the next program or even the next year, but for the coming decades, during which we almost surely will face much greater impediments to achieving social justice and ecological sustainability, making these questions more compelling. That reaction is understandable. These multiple, cascading crises are a lot to handle, perhaps more than humans are equipped to bear. But however unfair that burden may be, denying the evidence and ignoring the implications of the evidence is not a winning strategy.
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Or is truth their ultimate objective? What do they know of truth that the rest of us do not? Simply asking such questions has often been sufficient to resettle the conversation around the premise that journalism is just a trade, not a profession, and should not promise more than it can deliver. This reflection — there being no Supreme Court of journalism — has not produced any definitive statements. What is the core mission of journalism to which its ethics should be oriented and whose endangerment should raise public concern? Answers to this question have taken several forms in recent years.
One formulation is watchdog journalism, a term that appeared in books in the early s, was not seen again until the late s, and rose into much wider use only in the s. A similar term, accountability journalism or accountability reporting , first surfaced around , rose sharply by , declined, and then shot up again in the s. I first noticed this second term in Leonard Downie, Jr.
Journalism, as these authors acknowledge, has never been single-mindedly devoted to its watchdog role, and I do not think that it should be. Some of these functions — notably, analysis, investigative reporting, and social-empathy coverage — have been better served by the news media since about than at any prior time in our history. Over this time period, we also observed a large increase in analytical, or contextual, reporting.
It is also of note that one of the traditional functions of journalism in democracies — mobilization — speaks in praise of partisanship, whose reemergence, particularly on cable television, has caused considerable consternation — more than I think is merited. It would be devastating if advocacy journalism replaced accountability reporting, but that is not what has happened. I cannot say that the conservative drumbeat of some of the most popular shows on Fox News — much like the tone of conservative radio talk shows that frightened many people in the s — leaves me untroubled.
But I see no principled objection to it. Partisanship deserves a place at the table in print, television, radio, and online media. Opinion journalism is not only growing but, at its best — like contextual reporting at its best — deserves praise. While I can agree with this, I also wonder what we can do about it except to hope that sunlight is indeed a good disinfectant. In practical terms, efforts to make journalism serve the public good in the age of databases, digital media, and cable television have been taken up in different, often imaginative, ways.
These influential efforts have defined new venues and systematic procedures for holding accountable both governmental leaders and those who aspire to elective political office. Third, news organizations have been established with the primary, or even the exclusive, intention of making up for specific shortfalls in political news coverage, particularly at the local level.
Fourth, experiments are under way to provide more and better interpretation and in-depth news analysis, to present it in more compelling ways, and to find means to help audiences visualize complex materials. Fifth, there is increasing acceptance of the idea that stewardship can be practiced in concert with, not merely for the benefit of, media audiences.
Stewardship in a self-consciously egalitarian culture is inherently unstable. There are ways, now powerfully reinforced by digital technologies, to approach this reality not as an impediment but as a workable new tool for professional journalism.
The time for denial is over. Conservatives have to take the climate crisis seriously
Sixth, journalistic functions are less confined than ever before to organizations that are identified primarily as news organizations. Human rights organizations report news, too. Polling organizations work with — or independently of — news organizations to produce newsworthy results on a regular basis. Let me discuss each of these points a bit further, because in the past decade these efforts to hold journalism to a higher standard than simple in principle, not necessarily in implementation nonpartisanship or objectivity have given rise to significant journalistic innovations.
The innovators are, if you will, practical philosophers, inventing notable responses to a crisis of journalistic legitimacy that is shaking the profession they thought they were a part of or hoped to enter. Policing Truthfulness in Political Discourse. Consider the rise and spread of so-called fact-checking organizations, usually traced to efforts beginning in the s to police campaign rhetoric in TV advertising, speech-making, and candidate debates. Some fact-checking organizations are avowedly partisan — liberal groups seeking to fact-check conservatives, conservative groups fact-checking liberals.
These groups are significant, but they do not claim to salute the flag of professional journalism. Others do. These include Factcheck. The website PolitiFact. Petersburg Times and its Washington bureau chief Bill Adair.
It has since spun off eleven state-level PolitiFact operations. Also in , The Washington Post launched The Fact Checker, a blog and a column in the print edition that focused on the presidential campaign. The project ended in and was reorganized with a much more general focus in early They also publish not only their conclusions but what sources they consulted and how they arrived at their judgments.
In this respect, they are more forthcoming about their journalistic process than conventional news organizations.
They are thereby implicitly offering a somewhat refined and revised model of what journalism can and should be. Far from abandoning a professional commitment to objectivity, fact-checking organizations are embracing that obligation and taking it further than news organizations generally do.
Constructing New Communities of Investigative Journalism. In , a group of organizations focused on investigative reporting joined together to form the Investigative News Network inn.
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The group initially included about a dozen organizations. It now counts over sixty organizations among its membership. To become a member, organizations must be nonprofits. Not all nonprofit news organizations are inn members. Nor are all new news organizations that focus on investigative reporting nonprofits.
The celebrated for-profit TalkingPointsMemo has won national awards for its investigations; it also operates from an avowedly left-liberal perspective. But there are at least seventy- five nonprofit news publishers today, most of them focusing on investigative journalism, and most of them begun in the past half-dozen years. The INN member organizations are committed to journalism in the public interest, not to liberalism or conservatism or any other political creed. Most of them are small and therefore potentially vulnerable to, say, a libel suit or the threat of one.
This is one reason that inn arranges group libel insurance for members. Reinventing Local News Coverage. The Voice of San Diego, an online news organization focused exclusively on issues of government and economy in San Diego and staffed by a dozen young journalists, was launched in Can they do the job?
Time will tell. No one knows if philanthropic organizations will be able or willing to sustain them indefinitely, and many are seeking to broaden their funding base. But their laser focus on core journalism means that they do not need to hire a movie reviewer or a sports staff, a lifestyle reporter or a local-color columnist. They are not all-purpose, general publications; they are special-purpose-politics and economy oriented.
They have even found ways to write stories that require no writing: Texas Tribune routinely publishes the list of the highest salaries on the state payroll in Texas. Looking for Comparative Advantage in Analysis. Not all efforts to rethink the core functions of journalism take place at online start-ups. A year-old cooperative owned by its many member newspapers, the AP is celebrated for its massive reach, its comprehensive coverage, and its capacity to be on top of more breaking news more quickly than any other news organization anywhere.
But this news, even when the AP has broken a story exclusively or hours or minutes ahead of the next news organization, is quickly taken up by scores of other news outlets. Sometimes they are engaged because they have time to examine bits of publicly available data and contribute their insight to masses of material that would overwhelm any news organization if their own staffers had to take it all upon themselves.
In other situations, it is not untutored eyes that are being enlisted but specific and distinctive backgrounds and skills; that is the novelty of the Public Insight Network. For some journalists, the surveillance of their work by audiences who voice their opinions is stunning and important. That relationship, I think, is why I believe that online journalism blogging contains within it a revival of citizen journalism in a way that can bring truth back to a discourse.
The present moment seems to call on journalism and its affiliated organizations — including journalism schools and journalism prizes — to accept into the circle of news-reporting organizations other information - gathering methods and opinion statements about public life directed to broad publics. By acknowledging the work of other accountability organizations, journalists can help make democracy work as part of their professional world. It is a very good thing that Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded to online news organizations.
It might be good if the expert reporting of an advocacy organization like Human Rights Watch were also recognized. The inside-the-Beltway and beyond-the- Beltway advocacy groups that have outdone the federal government itself in making federal databases more searchable and accessible also belong in the ongoing reformation of a journalistic self-image. Journalism has never been able to draw sharp boundaries around itself to keep insiders and outsiders neatly delineated, nor should it.
But it is one thing not to put up fences and another to invite the new neighbors over for coffee. Could the media do better in serving democratic ends? Yes, of course. A better journalism might be possible if journalists had a more sophisticated sense of what it means to serve democratic ends.
It is more than providing citizens with the information they need to make sound decisions in the voting booth. That is one key feature of what journalism should provide, but it is only one part; and this information-centered model foreshortens the obligations of journalism with respect to citizenship. It can also offer an understanding of the democratic process that might help educate people about what democracy entails and what reasonably can be expected of it for instance, an appreciation of the value of compromise or an understanding of the gaps between rhetoric, legislation, and implementation ; it can display compelling portraits of persons, groups, and problems in society that are not on the current political agenda at all; it can make available forums for public discussion; it can provide analysis, context, and interpretation for understanding events of the day; and, yes, it can offer partisan frameworks for interpreting news in a way designed to stimulate and mobilize people for specific political objectives.
American Journalism’s Ideology: Why the “Liberal” Media is Fundamentalist
It may also be that the shift we have witnessed in recent decades away from covering government itself does more to foster features of good citizenship than a preoccupation with government. And it provides an opening for social-empathy reporting that informs us about some neighbor or group of neighbors, often suffering visibly or silently from some personal or social or political ill fortune, that we would not know about otherwise.
Without idealizing either the general public or the logic of the marketplace, sometimes the aggregated desires and interests of millions prove a better guide to what matters than the views of the professionals. I do not mean to argue that the press that stewards least stewards best. However, I think that the news media have grown as institutional stewards of democratic citizenship by adapting: they were once organizations of elites speaking to elites, and then became for a long time political parties speaking through the newspapers to their own troops, and then emerged in an original blend of commercial organization and professional pride.
And that, we need to understand, may be exactly right for us. It gives play to journalism. It offers running room for new ideas and projects — woefully undercapitalized as many of them are — to find audiences, to impassion young and older journalists, and to teach the grand thinkers of public life that there just might be a few new things under the sun. At the time the study was conducted in the early s, only a sixth of American journalists whose primary task was reporting or editing also wrote commentary, but half of Italian and British reporters and editors, and more than 60 percent of German, did both.
Tifft and Alex S. There are different versions of this story. Dulles told him not to publish — but if they did go ahead, to omit mention of the cia. Stacks, Scotty: James B. Arthur S. Link Princeton, N. It would be difficult to attribute all of this growth to Eisenhower, but his many hours on the golf course—visible, much discussed, and much lampooned—are considered influential. In the week after Betty Ford had a mastectomy in soon after Gerald Ford succeeded Richard Nixon as president , breast cancer detection centers around the country were swamped with requests for screenings.
A useful compendium of thirty-two such pieces is Robert W. McChesney and Victor Pickard, eds. Knopf, , 7. Of course, there are other sensible ways to categorize the various democratic functions of the press. Journalist Jonathan Stray, taking off from my list, has arrived at his own list of three functions: information, empathy, and collective action.
While studying fact-checking organizations for his dissertation, Graves now teaching at the University of Wisconsin- Madison helped organize, with Tom Glaisyer, a conference about fact-checking at the New America Foundation that I attended on December 14, Consumer Reports is a no-frills investigative news organization with a strong focus, but it takes up such a distinctive and slim slice of accountability reporting that including it would distort the overall figures and trends. White Lecture, Spring