The Emotions of Democratic Journalism
I am posting three Pages today related to journalism ethics, with a focus on digital media. The other two are:
In addition to these three articles I highly recommend reading The Truths We Tell: Reporting on Faith, War and the Fate of Iraq by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anthony Shadid. You can download the PDF from this page.
Last, but definitely not least is an article called Digital Media Ethics which:
…deals with the distinct ethical problems, practices and norms of digital news media. Digital news media includes online journalism, blogging, digital photojournalism, citizen journalism and social media. It includes questions about how professional journalism should use this ‘new media’ to research and publish stories, as well as how to use text or images provided by citizens. […]
It’s a whole new world out there, especially for those of us who spent the better part of our lives consuming media in a completely different manner than we’re confronted with today. As most of you know, I’ve been primarily lurking for the past month. Not being in the thick of things has given me a chance to observe words, actions, and reactions at my leisure without having to respond (and, mostly, without losing my cool).
I know this has always been fairly rambunctious crowd (understatement of the year), but even so I think things have been especially contentious lately. What I mean is it seems like lately we’re talking at each other instead of to each other. I feel like our ability to communicate effectively is breaking down, and we’re embroiled in numerous partisan slap-and-ding fights on a daily basis. People tire of it and eventually stop participating, which makes all of us poorer (in most cases).
Maybe some of you are fine with that—I suppose everyone comes here for different reasons: Some to sharpen their debate skills, some to advocate for a particular cause or group, some to learn or teach, some just to chat & joke, some to troll, and some whose motivations are a mystery based on their…*ahem*… unusual responses, heh. Differences aside, I don’t feel like I can point at others unless I’m willing to try to help find a way to make things better.
So let me stop babbling and proceed before I bore you to death. Today’s Pages are my effort to provide information that everyone might find helpful in slogging through and making sense of all the info we encounter here and elsewhere.
The Emotions of Democratic Journalism
Often, when I speak to audiences about impartial, objective journalism, my listeners are skeptical about the very idea.
Some say that everyone has biases so objectivity is a myth. Others voice another complaint: An impartial journalist is a bloodless eunuch. She pretends to have no feelings on the issue at hand; she is “detached” and “disinterested” — which means she is uncaring. Who wants to be that sort of person, let along that sort of journalist? Journalistic eunuchs are strange creatures in an age of personal, multimedia journalism.
This misunderstanding ignores two central facts: First, the ideal of impartial journalism never asked journalists to be that sort of person; second, a belief in objective reporting is grounded in emotions - in an emotional commitment to the best possible journalism. […]
Impartiality in journalism means: caring enough about reaching the truth to not prejudge the story before inquiry; to be willing to step back critically from one’s beliefs to learn from others; to follow all of the facts wherever they lead. […]
‘Educating’ the emotions
One simplistic view is that the emotions undermine our rationality and need to be excluded from logical thinking. Another view is just the opposite: We need to trust our emotions and not be controlled by that old despot, reason.
The claim that democracy only needs a robust free press exaggerates the value of free speech for democracy.A better view, espoused by philosopher John Dewey, avoids both extremes. Dewey thought that, as individuals and as a society, we need to ‘educate our emotions’ so as not be controlled by them; we need to learn to integrate our emotions and reasoning faculties to reach more satisfying levels of experience and more democratic forms of community. […]
For example, when it comes to democratic deliberation among different viewpoints, the best method of inquiry is not subjective ranting and unfair verbal warfare; nor do we want sloppy and wishful thinking to be dominate. What we need is a strong emotional commitment to verification, openness to other perspectives, respectful disagreement and evidence-based claims.
In short, we need impartial and objective forms of inquiry and journalism. […]
Journalism and democratic emotions
[…] Dewey also said that we evaluate our biases by seeing how they help us inquiry correctly into, and deal with fairly, the substantive issues of the day. In terms of journalism, the question becomes: Which form of journalism, overall, promotes the sort of journalism we need today – partial or impartial journalism?
I think that, for deliberative democracy, there is greater value in impartial journalism than partisan journalism, especially a partisan journalism that uses extreme emotions and polarizing discourse to inform citizens.
The claim that democracy only needs a robust free press exaggerates the value of free speech for democracy.
So the next time you listen to the non-deliberative commentary by Rush Limbaugh or watch ‘talking heads’ angrily attack each other on TV, ask yourself this: Are we, as a society, training ourselves to emotionally accept (and support) such displays of emotion?
In my estimate, angry, non-deliberative voices are non-democratic voices. The fact that they enjoy free speech as individuals does not make them democrats as citizens. […]