James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘credibility’

Literary journalism follow-up

Posted by James McPherson on August 17, 2008

In response to my posts of Thursday and Friday, I received an e-mail from Norman Sims–who may know more about literary journalism than anyone else alive, saying I got it “pretty right” with my discussion (thanks, Norm).

Sims did note, however: “The only thing I would add is that books and magazines have the ability to pay literary journalists for the months and years of reporting that they put into a project.  Blogs and the Web so far do not have the financial power to reward the writers.”

He’s right, of course. That’s why I think that existing magazines (such as Time or Newsweek) have the best chance of engaging in the kind of literary journalism I recommended, spreading a lengthy in-depth story over several sections or chapters for a period of several days or weeks. One problem potential problem is that too many news organizations still treat their Web operations like abused stepchildren, separate and inferior to the printed product, and allocate resources accordingly.

Readers do the same, to some degree, which is part of the reason that books (even those written by the likes of Jerome Corsi) have more credibility than other media for many folks. The fact that anyone can create a blog, and because so many Internet sources are blatantly false and/or partisan, adds to the problem.

But it seems to me that a news organization with established credibility–and with enough money to back the experiment–might use a new literary journalism format to further enhance its own journalistic reputation and the reputation of Web journalism, while providing a great service to readers in terms of both style and substance.

Posted in Journalism, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Literary journalism & the Web: the newest “new journalism”? (Part I)

Posted by James McPherson on August 14, 2008

The print version of a recent Columbia Journalism Review article is subtitled, “A new kind of journalism takes root in a struggling Detroit neighborhood.” An interesting aside is the fact that the online version is titled “Crossing Lines” while the print version uses “Drawing Lines,” but the key point remains: that a Detroit News blog is going beyond tradition journalism to improve an impoverished Detroit neighborhood. In the words of CJR’s writer: They “aren’t just reporting the neighborhood’s story. They’re affecting the story. In some ways, they are the story.” (emphasis in original)

The activism draws criticism from even among others at the News, who worry that it compromises the newspaper’s credibility. The concern is worth consideration, complicated by the proliferation of blogs coming from news organizations throughout the country. But the fact is, for most of those organizations, credibility in a traditional sense is pretty much a lost cause for a couple of reasons. First, if “credibility” is code for “objectivity,” there’s no such thing as an objective reporter (or historian, or teacher). Second, Americans like the news media in general just a bit more than they like George W. Bush or Congress.

Journalism is changing, as it always has. The term “New Journalism” has been used most prominently with the journalism of the 1880s and 1890s and then again with the literary journalism of the 1960s and 1970s, but has also been applied to the Penny Press of the 1830s and the civic journalism movement of the late 20th century. “New” just keeps happening.

Besides, campaigns by newspapers are far from new. Newspapers have always advocated for issues they saw as being for the civic good (even if far too often their biases corresponded with the desires of the Chamber of Commerce). My own local daily, the Spokesman-Review, recently devoted an entire month of front-page attention to the issue of child abuse, and its own annual Christmas fund is front-page news every day from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas.

We know that bloggers are changing news, even if–as recently reported by a Poynter Institute columnist and others–the most popular blogs tend to look and act much like mainstream news organizations. That shift worries people on both sides, though a careful reader could be much better informed about issues by relying only on blogs than on a local newspaper or–God forbid–television news.

One of the most interesting things I got out of last week’s Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication convention was a discussion that–combined with the CJR article (which I read on the train on the way home from AEJMC) and some other tidbits of information–prompted the idea that blogging might actually “save” the 1960s-style literary journalism, which has faded significantly from the types of magazines that most Americans actually read. More on that in an upcoming post.

Posted in History, Journalism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Ignorance and the electorate

Posted by James McPherson on July 7, 2008

My conservative buddy and I share one thing in common–both of us are consistently surprised by the ignorance of many people on both sides of many political arguments, and even more surprised at how willing many of those folks are to prove how little they know. One example, a variation of which shows up repeatedly on conservative blogs, is this one, which I came across today on a Fox New blog (I changed nothing, including spelling):

“Why isn’t anything being mentioned about Obama raised as a musilum achooled with terriorists and the FACT that during a democrate ralley he ‘REFUSED’ to salute the flag or say our anthem??????????? Please advise me. And the people want him as a President!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Versions of that comment continue to circulate via email. Aside from the fact that you “say” the Pledge of Allegiance and “sing” or perform the Anthem, if people keep spewing the same ignorance (admittedly, Fox News anchors did the same before being forced to “clarify” the false report)–despite the fact that credible sources on both sides (including even the less-credible Bill O’Reilly)–have repeatedly disputed these lies, what hope do we have that they’ll understand the intricacies of policy debate? It’s no wonder there are so many folks who consider anyone with an education (even a high school education, judging from the comment above) to be elites.

Four recommendations I’d humbly offer for would-be political pundits:

  1. Read at least ten times as much as you publicly write (even if you have to move your lips and trace along with your finger while you read, it will pay off in the long run).
  2. Get your information from a variety of sources, conservative and liberal.
  3. Not every thought need be quickly shared (to paraphrase a quote attributed to many: “Better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt”).
  4. Exclamation marks do not enhance an argument, even if you add an extra dozen.

Obama leads the Pledge of Allegiance

Posted in Media literacy, Politics, Religion, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »