Media Reform

I call it “media reform” because the most effective way I’ve seen to bring media changes is to open an outlet and lead the way. So, this guy has a list of eleven, mostly techy, things he’d do if he ran a media outlet.

Couple of them are along the lines I think of, with some quibbles. F’rinstance:

3. … Every print article would have an accompanying box called “Things We Don’t Know” — a list of questions our journalists couldn’t answer in their reporting. TV and radio stories would mention the key unknowns. Whatever the medium, the organization’s website would include an invitation to the audience to help fill in the holes, which exist in every story.

Very important not just for engaging crowd-sourced fact-finding, but also for contextualizing the information we do have in terms of what we don’t have.

4. We would create a service to notify online readers, should they choose to sign up for it, of errors we’ve learned about in our journalism. Users of this service could choose to be notified of major errors only (in our judgement) or all errors, however insignificant we may believe them to be.

Me, too. I’d do that.

6. We would refuse to do stenography and call it journalism. If one faction or party to a dispute is lying, we would say so, with the accompanying evidence. If we learned that a significant number of people in our community believed a lie about an important person or issue, we would make it part of an ongoing mission to help them understand the truth.

Yeah – good sentiment. “Lying” is a dangerous term, and maybe it isn’t journalism’s role to be jury… but there is definitely room to say something along the lines of “but we have to point out this bullet list of information that seems to contradict so & so”.

We would replace certain Orwellian and PR-speakish words and expressions with more neutral, precise language. If someone we interview misused language, we would paraphrase instead of running direct quotes. Examples, among many others:

  • So and so is not worth some amount of money. He has financial holdings of that amount, or his wealth is such and such.
  • The activity that takes place in casinos is gambling, not gaming.
  • There are no death taxes. There can be inheritance or estate taxes.
  • Practices for which this nation and its allies have successfully prosecuted others on war-crimes charges are torture, not “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
  • A person who pays to stay in a hotel is not a guest. She is a customer. A guest, by definition, is not billed for the privilege.
  • Piracy is what people carrying guns on the high seas do: capturing ships, stealing cargo and turning crews and passengers into hostages, sometimes murdering them. Piracy does not describe what people do when they post digital music on file-sharing networks.
  • A tad nit-picky toward the end, but the dude’s heart is in the right place.

    I generally like his “next-generation” tech kind of suggestions, too…

    But what I would be worried about is a whole other can of worms. First, I would cover the real, existing political system as it is – but I would never frame an issues story around it. The issues would be dealt with in depth, employing the most rigorous research process to produce a product that

    1) explains the ostensible goals of the proposals that are on the table,

    2) mentions, where applicable, related goals and political motivations,

    3) assesses accurately how well each proposal could be expected to advance the goals,

    4) predicts unintended consequences for those proposals,

    5) summarizes both the ostensible and the underlying motivations and points of opponents,

    6) does the same for proposals that are not “on the table”, but that could be competently presented in the context of the stated goals, or that have been implemented elsewhere.

    7) I must re-iterate, the above will be done rigorously, employing the best methods and review available.

    8) That’s just for coverage of political issues. Regular news will be similarly vetted and presented in the most reality-grounded manner possible.

    9) Limitations on our ability to do the above will be highlighted!

    And all this is just at the reporting stage. Meaning, not for the job for the Sunday morning analysts – the job for reporters, editors, and consultants before the story goes to print. So we’ll be turning on its head the paradigm of “first with the story”.

    That marketing technique was great in 1920… These days, it no longer matters who is first nearly as much as it matters who people trust enough to listen to. So, let ‘em go run to the empty heads on the 24 hr cable stations when news is BREAKING. But let ‘em be saying to each other as they stare at the _N_ crawler… “I need to hear about this from the Tête Syndicate so I’ll know what’s really going on.”

    Let the market compete with that. If consumers don’t want a dose of reality with their news… screw ‘em – we’ll sell our presses to the highest bidder among the lowest common denominator and go to work writing fantasy novels.

    Investors – use my contact page.

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