December 06, 2007

Press Bias: are blogs in danger of repeating it

Press Bias is something that we on blogs talk about endlessly: its interesting to note in that connection what Dan Bartlett, George Bush's speechwriter said recently about press bias:

I don’t think they’re purposely doing it. Look, I get asked the question all the time: How do you deal with them when they’re all liberal? I’ve found that most of them are not ideologically driven. Do I think that a lot of them don’t agree with the president? No doubt about it. But impact, above all else, is what matters. All they’re worried about is, can I have the front-page byline? Can I lead the evening newscast? And unfortunately, that requires them to not do in-depth studies about President Bush’s health care plan or No Child Left Behind. It’s who’s up, who’s down: Cheney hates Condi, Condi hates Cheney.

Bartlett is entirely right: the real problem with press bias isn't a bias to either side but a bias towards the contemporary and the relevant- and away from the complicated and the historical. Consequently almost all reporting on the Israel Palestine crisis is wrong because it never sets the conflict within a context. If a journalist has to choose a story- they would rather write as Bartlett says about Cheney and Condi and how they dislike each other or in the UK about how Mr Blair can't stand Mr Brown and finds his decline funny, than analyse the precise reasons for the collapse of Northern Rock. The real bias in journalism is not towards the left or the right but towards the headline.

That prompts though a worrying reflection about blogging. Because we are often told that blogging will wipe away the sins of the mainstream media- but often it seems to me we don't. For instance of the four top UK blogs reported by Peter Franklin, two of them Guido's and Iain Dale's are concerned mostly with following the press, following and seeking headlines. The political world is of course fascinated by the undulations of particular political careers- and many blogs are so closely tied to the political world that all we get is the Westminster Village- valuable yes but how does that really supplement the media that we already have. Ultimately blogging has to offer something more than Nick Robinson does- and I wonder whether part of the answer is in Bartlett's formulation- that what blogging can offer is analysis- whether through fisking or normal analytical writing- of the kind that journalism driven by headlines can't offer.

And that makes me wonder about audiences for blogs. The Iains and Guidos of the world are lauded for their vast audiences- and that's fair enough- but in reality they should be compared against what their real competitors which is the gossipy bits of the rest of the media are providing. Analytical work requires more patience on the part of readers and writers so I wonder if analytical blogs will be the tortoises in this race- slowly building up readers rather than avelanching them at the beggining. Definitely I think that blogs should now be judged by genre and not against each other- Devil's Kitchen is much more similar to Ministry of Truth than either are to Iain Dale. Chris Dillow has more in common with Matt Sinclair than Matt has in common with Guido. Perhaps when bloglists are done in the future- genre of blog rather than persuasion of blog ought to be the way that they are listed- that might create more diversity and also allow people to search out sources of information that don't just do what the mainstream media does.

3 comments:

Matt Wardman said...

Interesting.

How do we deal with the fact that a business model does not yet exist capable of supporting Westminster blogs, let alone analytical blogs - the latter being perhaps 2-5 times as intensive to write?

Gracchi said...

Matt fascinating question and one as you can expect I often think about. This blog tends to get over a hundred visitors a day but varies once over that- so it would never be viable commercially in itself.

I think possibly the future of blogs isn't as things that make money in themselves but things that establish in part your bona fides. They are also ways to learn. I think those two things become more and more important. WW has affected my life in interesting ways- its forced me to consume more culture and always when I consume it think well what can I say about this- what does this mean. I think that analytical blogging can therefore be a tool of personal development and of personal display- possibly that is a future for it. Definitely knowing what I know, were someone to apply for a job working for me as an analyst and mention they had a blog I would go and look at it and it would have a large impact on whether I hired them or not because it would reflect their day to day or week to week quality of thinking in a way that a one off exam doesn't. That's a thought at least.

Ruthie said...

" If a journalist has to choose a story- they would rather write as Bartlett says about Cheney and Condi and how they dislike each other or in the UK about how Mr Blair can't stand Mr Brown and finds his decline funny, than analyse the precise reasons for the collapse of Northern Rock. The real bias in journalism is not towards the left or the right but towards the headline."

I disagree, but only to a point.

If you ask a dozen J-school graduates why they want to be a journalist, you won't get many who say, "to be famous," or "to be a rich editor."

You'll get a lot of people saying, "to make a difference," "to tell the truth," and so on.

Certainly, that idealism fades with time, and journalists are naturally drawn to the stories that are easy to write, time-sensitive and immediately relevant. It's a lot easier to both write and sell an article about a hot political disagreement between heads of state than it is to carefully consider and research a polished article about the political climate of the Middle East. These sorts of pieces are intensive to write, require an enormous amount of intelligence, experience and good judgment, and don't sell well in mass markets because they're not easily consumable in bite-sized bits.

Still, I overwhelmingly disagree with Dan Bartlett, who seems to think that journalists aren't ideologically driven. I'd argue that most actually are. Impact isn't what matters. It's one of the news values, but hardly the most important one.

I realize I only just started working for my first newspaper, and I'm very much a baby journalist, but I can tell you, the conversations in the newsroom never revolve around fame, shock value, or bylines. They're about ethical questions, news judgment, and fair treatment of sources. I bet Dan Bartlett would be shocked.

Blogging is only marginally different, in terms of the intentions of its disseminators. The biggest difference is the medium, of course, but also the lack of gate-keepers-- it's like a faucet that leads directly from a person's brain into the marketplace of ideas, without any filters imposed by editors (or fact-checkers, or copy-editors, for that matter).

I think the real strength of blogs is analysis. There isn't time or space in the daily mainstream media for serious, contemplative analysis. (Literary journalism being the notable exception to this rule.)

"Analytical work requires more patience on the part of readers and writers so I wonder if analytical blogs will be the tortoises in this race- slowly building up readers rather than avelanching them at the beggining. "

So it does. I hope that's the case. I think your idea about listing blogs by genre is an excellent one.

Sorry for the ridiculously long comment.