Saw this little bit over at Buzzmachine – Alan Rusbridger of the Guardian, an outfit that I have quite a lot of respect for, was opining on the changing media landscape.  Yeah, I know, anyone even remotely connected to the media is spending a lot of time thumbsucking about whither mass media … but there’s pithy quote in this that I quite like. See if you can spot it:

since the free press was born, it lived under a pretense of being
infallible: of seeking the truth. He quotes Walter Lippman, after whom
this building housing Nieman is named, from the 1920s: “If we assume
that news and truth are the same thing we shall arrive nowhere.” Alan
says the goal is to be truthful both about what we know and what we do
not know.

He recounts the shift of journalist from glorified stenographer to
player in the drama and points to the Independent declaring itself a
viewspaper; on that day in 2004, other papers told of the tragedy in
Beslan but the Independent devoted its front page to attacking George

The more you move from reporting to campaigning to persuasion, Alan
says, the more people will want to criticize you. But the attitude of
journalists has reflected that of a “rather thuggish” Millwall football
club: “No one likes us, we don’t care.”

But this pretense is no longer sustainable, he says. The public has
access to stores of information “that once were our preserve.” Once
was, people did not have the means to verify journalists’ accounts; now
they do. “There are now millions of fact-checkers out there for
everything we write.”

What got me to chortle was the observation that journalists are “rather thuggish” — a defect I’ve noted quite a bit in reporters and editors in their dealings with the public.  To be fair, after a while on the job, journalists develop a cop-like “us against the world” attitude, because the only times that we actually come into contact with the public are the times in which the public is railing about a story that we’ve written.  Even in the sports world – long known as “toyland,” the devolution of the national discourse was horrifyingly on display in the published comments to LA Times reporter Helene Elliot after she wrote a prediction (correct, I might add), that the Anaheim Ducks would defeat the Detroit Red Wings.  A sampling:

“If Detroit wins, your gonna be gettiing a [ton] more emails from me
you [prostitute]. Why don’t you report on your own teams from now on.
Like the Kings, where are they? Or the Lakers? Women should stick to
writing articles about cooking and homemaking and NOT sports, cuz its
obvious you have no idea what….you are talking about, [Don Imus

Nice. So with that as a backdrop, perhaps it is understandable that journalists start feeling somewhat separated from the people that they are supposedly writing for.  Which may explain why there is such a deep disconnect between newspapers and their audience. 

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