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Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Fair and Unbalanced?

David Swensen and Michael, writing in the NYTimes, have a modest proposal: the print newspaper is dying, and could be resuscitated by re-organizing financially along the lines of schools and university, endowed by wealthy or idealistic philanthropists.

Hmm... seems like a good idea on the face of it, right? The Free Press is a Good Thing, so newspapers are a good thing, too.

The authors rightly quote Google the CEO that the Internet can be a "cesspool" of misinformation. (I've probably contributed to the sink myself.)

But I would be a little more sympathetic if the authors made any acknowledgment of the problems of editorial bias and outright falsehood that have plagued many major new outlets over recent years, including print newspapers, including the one in which they are writing.

But is it only of recent years?
It is the faster dissemination of facts (as well as falsehood,) by means of new communications technology, such as the internet that has brought MSM's missteps to light in recent years -- is there any reason to assume that, until it became so much easier to catch them out, they were paragons of precision and objectivity?

I can't see it.

I can't recall ever reading an article of any length, on a matter of which I had first-hand knowledge that was fully accurate, totally free from slant and loaded words, completely objective. (And that's not even getting into headline-writing, one of the most egregious aspects of many newspapers and news agencies.)
How can I then presume their objectivity and accuracy in matters in which I depend on secondary sources, such as them?

And look, I loves me a good newspaper, the Old Grey Lady is my news media of choice, but I'm not sure putting her in an ivory tower to get her out of the drafts is a solution to her monetary woes.

"Academic freedom" at many institutions means freedom to agree with the rest of the academics. Minority view-points need not apply, (even, sometimes, when beyond the groves of academe those views are actually majority view-points.)

How would endowed newspapers be different?

I think it's telling that both writers are connected with Yale. That their area of expertise is one in which subject judgment plays so minimal a role may indicate a certain naivete about the lack of objectivity brought by academics to many other areas of endeavor.

If newspapers’ autonomy would be enhanced by endowments what they were "shielded" from might be not just economic forces but any need to be, as they say,... "fair and balanced."

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