Wednesday, February 24, 2010

the death of the fact

Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. weighs in on the death of fact-based knowledge, thanks in no small part to what has come to pass as "news" -- cable news, shout-out shows, blogs -- when everything has become "a partisan shouting match, back before it was permissible to ignore or deride as 'biased' anything that didn't support your worldview."

The story regards a column Pitt wrote about an African-American war hero that was disputed point by point by an online commenter named Ken Thompson, despite the fact --if you'll pardon the pun -- that said commenter's points were all factually wrong. From the story:

... the whole point here is that facts no longer mean what they once did. I suppose I could also ignore him. But you see, Ken Thompson is not just some isolated eccentric. No, he is the Zeitgeist personified.

To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper's online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all information that does not validate what we wish to believe.

I submit that any people thus handicapped sow the seeds of their own decline; they respond to the world as they wish it were rather to the world as it is. That's the story of the Iraq war.

Friday, February 19, 2010

update: beware the conservative collegiate press...

What journalism is not.

First we posted this, re James O'Keefe, who was credited for breaking the ACORN story back when, then got caught breaking into a U.S. senator's office last month:
I got two emails from Jack yesterday. The first was a link to this NYT story about the wiretap attempt at Sen. Mary Landrieu's office (D -La) in New Orleans. Jack took issue with the following quote, from the father of the kid who had been arrested for the alleged tampering:
“He is an outstanding young man doing investigative journalism,” Mr. O’Keefe said of his son. “He studies a different form of journalism, and he pushes the limits a bit. What they were up to, I have no idea.”
To which Jack responded:
The father's quote infuriates me. Apparently his "reporter" son has never heard of Food Lion v. ABC. Wiretapping a senator is no "investigative journalism" I'd ever practice.

Now, more on the story from Eric Alter, via the Center for American Progress:

While we may never find out just who plotted the break-in by James O’Keefe and his comrades of Senator Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) district office or why, we may be certain it was no accident or “misunderstanding.” It was the culmination of a long-term investment strategy by conservatives to rewrite the rules of professional journalism. Organizations like The Leadership Institute, the Collegiate Network, and the National Journalism Center—an arm of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative youth organization—have been funneling millions of dollars into college newspapers and training programs designed to overturn what they believe to be a liberal bias on the part of the mainstream media. In doing so, they are also working to subvert the media’s professional standards.

As TPM Muckracker notes, The Leadership Institute, where James O’Keefe was employed to train young activist/journalists—and where he met Ben Wetmore, who put up the alleged criminals in Louisiana—claims on its website to “prepare conservatives for success in politics, government, and the news media.” So far, the organization boasts, it has trained more than 79,000 students since its inception in 1979. It claims assets of $11.8 million and a staff of 58.

Read more, much more here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

on journalism education

If Dan Gillmor ran a J-School, this is what he would do. So many good ideas in terms of preparing the architects of the change -- and the changing newscene itself. His foundation:
If I ran a journalism school, I would start with the same basic principles of honorable, high-quality journalism and mediactivism, and embed them at the core of everything else. If our students didn’t understand and appreciate them, nothing else we did would matter very much.
Among his solid suggestions, here are the first three:
  • Emphasize undergraduate journalism degrees as great liberal arts programs, even more valuable that way than as training for journalism careers. At the same time, focus graduate journalism studies on helping people with expertise in specific areas to be the best possible journalists in their fields.
  • Do away with the still-common “track” system for would-be journalists where students focus on print, broadcast, online, etc. These are merging. There would be one track. We wouldn’t just recognize our students’ digital future; we’d immerse them in it.
  • Encourage, and require in some cases, cross-disciplinary learning and doing. We’d create partnerships around the university, working with business, engineering/computer science, film, political science, law, design and many other programs. The goals would be both to develop our own projects and to be an essential community-wide resource for the future of local media.

more from Jack:

Flunking Advanced Placement tests: When more high school kids sign on to AP classes -- does that up the failure rate? Jack has the data, today in USA Today. Read all about it here.

Amazing what numbers can tell you. bk

Monday, February 1, 2010

today's WTF moment:

Thanks to Ted Pease, professor of journalism at Utah State:

"A new poll finds Fox News as the only network that more people say they trust than distrust.
“Here are the trust/don't trust spreads: Fox 49 to 37, CNN 39 to 41, NBC 35 to 44, CBS 32 to 46, and ABC 31 to 46.
“Analysis: 'These numbers suggest quite a shift in what Americans want from their news. A generation ago, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in the country because of his neutrality. Now people trust Fox the most precisely because of its lack of neutrality. It says a lot about where journalism is headed.'"
--Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, (blogging on a survey by consulting firm Public Policy Poll:

In other words, ugh. bk