Informing the news: The need for knowledge-based reporting
The following is an essay developed from the new book Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism, 카지노사이트 which serves as companion to Journalist’s Resource and represents an articulation of the project’s mission to help the news media transition to a new phase in their 21st-century development.
Its author, Thomas E. Patterson, is the Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. He helped found the Journalist’s Resource project and serves as its research director.
Accompanying this essay are video interviews that provide additional insights into the theory and practice of “knowledge-based journalism.” The studies, research and materials on which it is based are listed at bottom. The book is available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and local retailers such as the Harvard Book Store.
“It does not matter that the news is not susceptible of mathematical
statement. In fact, just because news is complex and slippery,
good reporting requires the exercise of the highest scientific virtues.”
— Walter Lippmann((Walter Lippmann, Liberty and the News (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 74.))
In a 2012 article, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Linda Greenhouse challenged reporters who had given voice to David Rivkin’s views on national security. Rivkin had served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations and invariably took “the other side” in stories that criticized the second Bush administration’s handling of the war on terrorism. Said Greenhouse: “As a surrogate, a ‘go-to-proxy,’ [Rivkin] is simply filling a role assigned to him by reporters and — let’s assume — editors who accept unquestionably the notion that every story has another side that it is journalism’s duty to present. But there is another side to that story, too — one that calls on journalists to do their best to provide not just the facts, but also — always — the truth.”((Linda Greenhouse, “Challenging ‘He Said, She Said’ Journalism,” Nieman Reports, 66 (Summer 2012), 24.)) 바카라사이트
“Truth” is the holy grail of journalism. In the late 1990s, two dozen of the nation’s top reporters, calling themselves the Committee of Concerned Journalists, held a series of public forums to address what its members saw as declining news standards. Over a period of two years, the committee met with three thousand reporters and citizens to exchange ideas about the purpose of journalism.((Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001), 2-4.)) The resulting “Statement of Shared Principles” identified “truth” as journalism’s standard:
“[J]ournalistic truth” is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Then journalists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning, valid for now, subject to further investigation. Journalists should be as transparent as possible about sources and methods so audiences can make their own assessment of the information. Even in a world of expanding voices, accuracy is the foundation upon which everything else is built — context, interpretation, comment, criticism, analysis and debate. The truth, over time, emerges from this forum.((“A Statement of Shared Principles,” Committee of Concerned Journalists, Washington, D.C.))
The committee members were careful to say that “journalistic truth” is not truth in the ordinary sense of the word, much less in the way philosophers understand it. Journalistic truth is a “sorting out” process that occurs over time through interaction “among the public, newsmakers, and journalists.”((Kovach and Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism, 44-41.)) Committee members Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel said that journalists get at “the truth in a complex world by first stripping information of any misinformation, disinformation, or self-promoting bias and then letting the community react…. The search for truth becomes a conversation.”((Ibid, 44-45.))
There is no reason to question reporters’ determination to deliver what journalist Carl Bernstein calls “the best obtainable version of truth.”((Quoted in ibid, 43.)) And it’s easy to find examples of accurate reporting. Yet, reporters fall far short of delivering “truth.” Studies show, for example, that economic coverage typically lags behind major shifts in the macro-economic cycle. Existing story lines can linger in the news months after the economic conditions that gave rise to them have changed.((S. Robert Lichter and Ted J. Smith, “Bad News Bears,” Media Critic 1 (1994): 81-87.)) Nor is economic reporting the exception. Studies have found that social conditions are often misreported.((Jorgen Westerstahl and Folke Johansson, “News Ideologies as Molders of Domestic News,” European Journal of Communication 1 (1986): 126-43.)) 온라인카지 As for forecasting — predicting how events will unfold — journalists’ judgments, as one study concluded, are “repeatedly, wildly wrong.”((James Curran, Media and Democracy (London: Routledge, 2011), 97-110; see also Thomas E. Patterson, Out of Order (New York: Knopf, 1993), 176-79.))
If news is truth, there appear to be at least two versions of it, one for print journalists and one for television journalists.((See, for example, Thomas E. Patterson and Robert D. McClure, The Unseeing Eye (New York, Putnam, 1976).)) A Washington State University study found that local TV and newspaper reporters portray U.S. Senate campaigns differently — so differently, in fact, that voters could reasonably conclude they are witnessing different contests. “The priorities of newspapers and local television news seldom overlapped,” is how the research team described its findings.((Travis N. Ridout and Rob Mellon, Jr., “Does the Media Agenda Reflect the Candidates’ Agenda?” The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 12 (2007): 58.))
When journalists speak of truth in news, they often have a narrow conception in mind, one that boils down to the accuracy of specific facts.((Kovach and Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism, 5.)) Did Senator Smith actually say the words attributed to her? Did last year’s trade deficit actually top $400 billion? Some news organizations retain fact checkers to verify such claims. But fact checkers don’t address the fundamental question: Is the story itself “true”? A story can be accurate in its particulars — what was said, when and where it happened, who witnessed it, and so on — and yet falter as a whole. Even if the facts check out, however, the story would not be true for that reason alone.((Jack Fuller, What Is Happening to News: The Information Explosion and the Crisis in Journalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 139.)) Early coverage of the Afghan war, for example, was often accurate in its particulars but off the mark in its assessments of Afghan society and the likely course of the war.((Rachel Smolkin, “Media Mood Swings,” American Journalism Review, June 2003.))
Even “the facts” can be elusive. A 2005 study of fourteen local newspapers funded by the Knight Foundation found that three-fifths of their stories contained an error. Some errors were minor, as in the misspelling of a name. Others were more significant, as in the case of a misleading headline or faulty claim. None of the newspapers had a low error rate. “Neither stature of the paper nor market size,” the study concluded, “[was] closely associated with accuracy.”((Scott R. Maier, “Accuracy Matters: A Cross-Market Assessment of Newspaper Error and Credibility,” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 82 (2005): 546.))
If not truth, what is the essential characteristic of news? The Washington Post’s David Broder came close to describing it when he said: “My experience suggests that we often have a hard time finding our way through the maze of facts — visible and concealed — in any story. We often misjudge character, mistake plot lines. And even when the facts seem most evident to our senses, we go astray by our misunderstanding and misjudgment of the context in which they belong.”((David Broder, Beyond the Front Page (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), 19. Quoted in Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman, Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories that Shape the Political World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 195.))