Monday, August 13, 2012

The balance trap

Blog for Democracy in America...

Aug 8th 2012, 21:05 by N.L. | CHICAGO

FOR all the scrutiny journalists heap upon others, it is remarkable how little attention we pay to our own craft. But it is difficult, and downright awkward, to criticise one's colleagues. And the whipper-snapper down the hall who cannot string two sentences together may be your boss one day. So the most forthright criticism of the press is often performed by outsiders.

One of those external critics is Barack Obama. Unsurprisingly, the New York Times reports that the president is frustrated by the fourth estate. But Mr Obama has a point. According to the Times, he has complained about the press's focus on political point-scoring and, more interestingly, of “false balance”, or how reporters give equal weight to both sides of an argument even when one side is factually incorrect.

Many assume that balance is a key element of good journalism. Fresh-faced journalism students often arrive with the dewy-eyed aims of pursuing the truth and preserving balance and objectivity. Objectivity is easy to dismiss. It just doesn’t exist. There, I’ve said it. But balance is a trickier beast. Balance can be a great asset in an article. It can also be ruinous. [More...]