Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Journalism bites?

My much-alluded-to piece on broadcast journalism is now up on eSkeptic. My understanding is that it will run in the magazine in May.

The emails have been a-comin' fast and furious....


Tony M. said...


That was one of the finest pieces of writing that I have read in a while. Thanks!

Have fun ... Tony.

Elizabeth said...

Love it!

Elizabeth said...

Steve, sorry, this is not related to your (excellent) article, but you must see it:

(About time, I'd say. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I heartily recommend it to SHAMbloggers.

Elizabeth said...

Another take on the same subject (praise of unhappiness) by Wilson here (worth reading as well):

Zoe said...

Hi Steve,

Was wondering about excerpting a bit of this for the April issue of a community magazine Independent Voice in Kingston, ON.

Please drop me a line!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for posting Wilson's link--
I know this subject is close to your heart.

And since we are on it (the subject, not your heart), yes, happyism reigns with an iron fist in American mental health (as well as in popular culture). The damage this terror does to individual and social psyche is rarely discussed among professionals (though you have, admirably, done it in the past on different, SHAM-related and not, occasions).

However, not all psychiatrists and psychologists are victims of the
happiness imperative--please check out K. Dabrowski's theory of positive
disintegration for, what I hope, will be an interesting discovery of an
alternative (more humane and creative) view of unhappiness, depression and
other forms of mental suffering, and their role in human development.

More here:

and here:

Elizabeth said...

Sorry to veer off from your article--didn't mean to! (Though the subjects are related, after all.)

Carl said...

Good stuff Steve though heavy sledding in spots, is that the phrase?

Steve Salerno said...

I should probably address this on-blog, as I just got my second request for reprint rights.

The journalism piece is promised to Michael Shermer for Skeptic's May issue. It cannot be published elsewhere prior to that. But your interest is appreciated, and I'd be happy to discuss those possibilities after Skeptic runs the piece in hard copy.

Lana said...

Excellent article! Thanks, Steve.

Elizabeth said...

So, as you say, Steve, on the one hand "we end up drowning in the tides of a hurricane that never makes shore" fabricated by the media, and on the other we are bombarded by the societal no. 1 commandment to be happy no matter what; and, as if this was not enough, we are told--again and again--that our success and fate are exclusively in our own hands (according to the second-favorite American myth, that of a self-made man).

Where do these explicit and not so much messages leave the average Joe, who does not have the means or ability to de-hype the media and inoculate himself against the tyranny of happiness, success and independence at all costs? Oh, and let's not forget the edict of conformity hanging over his head as he is trying to figure out a way to achieve all the above while remaining pleasantly acceptable to other average Joes.

It's an impossible psychological bind to be in. It is no accident, of course, that SHAM is so robust in America, while in other parts of the world it occupies only some obscure corner in bookstores. Americans are perpetually walking down a wobbly plank, it seems, not sure when and where it'll collapse. Some hope--even false hope--is better than giving up their chance for the hyped-up American dream.

An aside: I'll be reading your article tonight with my 15 year old son (right after the evening news, when we learn what to do when an asteroid hits Earth and what it means for our morning commute). Stay tuned.

GridLok said...

Wow, you're some wordsmith! But gently now. To apply your own yardstick: "Do the math … please"; I am certainly unable to. You cite sensational examples of sensationally poor journalism and ethically questionable media practices. However, while examples (and spectacular ones at that) can be found of journalistic malpractice, what you do not provide is the statistical data from which one might determine the extent of the apparent malaise. You refer only to American examples, yet even in this limited sample, I suspect there are those journos practicing their craft (across the media spectrum), who do so with an admirable determination to give a 'balanced' account of the events on which they comment. These practitioners of the scribers art, diligently deliver their considered opinion in a multitude of (relatively) low profile organisations serving local or regional consumers. They too turn a skeptical caste on the portentous offerings of their high profile colleagues. What are the numbers? I cannot possibly determine. Nonetheless it would seem not unreasonable to ask that, from a source such as your own, there be at least a nod-in-passing to the possibility of an alternative commentary. In short; yes there surely are reprehensible practices in the field of journalism. Yet until we have information on that field that goes beyond the 'f'rinstance', may not the bona fides of the questioner be questioned?

By the way, ought not there to be a distinction between 'reportage' and 'journalism'? A reporter being: One who 'reports' and whom one might expect to be, constrained by substantive and verifiable issues. A journalist being: One who examines that on which a report may well have been made, then records their assessment and response. By their very nature, journals enshrine a far more idiosyncratic rendering than do reports. To this extent journalism is entertainment. In bemoaning the outcomes, surely one must consider the market to which they cater. For in the U.S.A., as amongst all human societies, the market is the ultimate determinant.

Hey! They that live by the sword … ! Hmm. Perhaps I'd better sheath mine, before I cut myself.

By the way, believe it or not, this is a first-time blog. For more of the rationale that underpins my response, see the entries in the Universarian blog … um, er, it's not actually up-and-running yet - I only just signed on.

Steve Salerno said...

Gridlok, you raise (very good) issues that I'm sure will be echoed in the coming days and weeks--if not on this blog, then perhaps on Shermer's (Skeptic). I think it's best that I wait and address all of the feedback--and there's been a ton of it off-blog--in one common-sense format. Let's see what evolves.

Thank you for weighing in, and good luck with Universarian.

Adam said...

I read the article in eskeptic, it was fantastic. I'll be keeping up with your blog from now on.

Cosmic Connie said...

I finally got a chance to sit down and read your article, Steve, and it's superb. And while Gridlok does raise some excellent points (and I look forward to reading G's new blog), it's also true that in the US anyway, the works of the diligent reporters and journalists who try to provide balanced coverage are, in fact, greatly overshadowed by the product of the 'if it bleeds it leads' crowd. It could, I suppose, be argued that by not giving the alternative commentary any attention you are simply perpetuating the problem. However, I look at your present article as just a beginning. You're defining the problem (as you did with the selfish-help movement in SHAM). Perhaps a look at the alternatives will be fodder for a future article -- by you or someone else.

At the very least, you've reminded us once again that the problem with journalism is more complex and deep-rooted than the "liberal bias" of which journalists in the US have so often been accused. I think one thing most of us can agree on is Gridlok's observation that "in the U.S.A., as amongst all human societies, the market is the ultimate determinant."

moonrambler said...

I have a subscription to a daily newspaper and I routinely fall behind on reading it. Then I catch up a week later, sometimes several weeks later. It's weird to see how many stories are written about events that never happen. Look at all the headlines with the word "might" or "may" in them. An obvious example in my local area are the news stories (not editorials) which have appeared for years, about how Brett Favre may retire this year. Or he may not. Then there are stories about how a presidential candidate might come here. A candidate might choose a particular person as a running mate. A town might vote in favor of a new athetletic facility for the school. And so on. This seems to be a new way of being on top of news, by reporting it before it actually occurs. By the time it occurs, like the hurricane in your example, it's old news.

Steve Salerno said...

Moonie, exactly. I wrote another piece for the Washington Times, once, which I titled "Waiting for Floyd." In it I talked about the media's fondness for "pre-news," which--as you indicate in your comment--is all this coverage of stuff that MIGHT happen or COULD happen, which is covered simply because it's more dramatic and enticing than the news that actually DID happen...but in no way is it reality. At least not yet. It's like all of this hand-wringing over whether Obama will beat Clinton, Clinton will beat Obama, can McCain beat either of them... What does any of it mean until the votes are actually cast by the American public?

The Crack Emcee said...


I haven't read the article yet but, in case you didn't mention it (as you'd probably expect from me) I'm sick of "balanced" journalism:

There aren't always two sides to every story and it doesn't help a serious discussion of an issue to pretend there is.

I put up a post about it here.

I'll be reading your piece tonight. Congrats on it in advance:

I'm sure I'll dig it.

The Crack Emcee said...

Yea, Steve, that was great. Unfortunately, it reminded me of life with the wife, who would angry at me for dismissing so much of what the news consisted of: "May", "it's possible", etc. It's clear that was a big part of why she spent so much time concerned about something going wrong with her health (or any other possible disaster within the realm of imagination) but bought the equally outlandish idea that little grey men were running things without our knowing it. I seriously worried about that woman. Sigh.

Anyway, you've done it again, and gave me a good laugh with that quote about Lord Jones at the end.

Thanks, Man.

Steve Salerno said...

Crack, well, I'm not so sure you'll "dig it," because basically it takes the position that there are, in fact, any number of sides to any issue, and that serious journalism should never take sides or, especially, have "causes." (I know this is a very controversial position to take, but for example, journalism's coverage of 9/11 should not have communicated the message that the terrorists were wrong to try to kill us all. The media should've simply reported what happened, without the human melodrama and the tone of moral indignation. Objectivity must be maintained even when--especially when--the stakes and the emotions are high.)

But as always, I'm curious to hear what you have to say. And even in cases when I myself take a strong position on something (as here), I allow for the fact that I may very well be wrong.

Steve Salerno said...

P.S. Crack, I wrote the first comment before I read your second one (in praise). I'm a bit surprised at your enthusiasm for the piece, but hey, I'll take the kudos. They can be hard to come by at times.

The Crack Emcee said...

Naw, Man - really - that was good piece of writin': It was informative and it flowed well too.

And I wasn't calling for advocacy journalism but just more clarity. Like, rather than merely saying, for instance, "homeopathy is water", or admitting the premise is "impossible", most of the media insists on saying something like "there may not be one molecule of the original substance left in the preparation." That's one of the reasons NewAgers can dismiss what skeptics say about it: They almost always leave the door open, when there's no reason to do so, and the NewAgers, U.F.O.ers, etc., get to feel smug about their ignorance because of it.

Seriously, I'm all for objectivity, but if something's impossible then, damn it, say it's impossible and get it over with. Not to do so is just being unnecessarily PC.

The Crack Emcee said...

Hey Steve,

Christopher Hitchens has made my point much better than I could. No surprise there.

The Crack Emcee said...

Here's another one. I'm telling you, man, that's the problem. Or a big part of it anyway.

Anonymous said...

The only problem I see about this is discounting the fact people are human. Humans are biased and even the most "fair" journalist puts his or her slant into what is being reported without even trying. For example, Hurricane Katrina was a level 5 hurricane. That was a fact. All anyone could report would be that fact. If a journalist goes into the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he or she is going into some biased and emotional territory. If the journalist reports how the majority of people who were not evacuated were black, is he or she biased? If that journalist also reports that New Orleans has a long history of ignoring hurrican warnings, is he or she blaming New Orleans' residents for not evacutating? Your own blog on Shilts displayed this perfectly. For good or bad, people tell you who they are by what they write. 9/11 is another example of this. New York, NY is the capital of journalism in the U.S., most experts would say. How many journalists decide to go to Iowa to start their journalism career? They generally go to NY, NY to make connections and to further their careers so 9/11 was probably beyond their personal scope when it happened. It would be comparible to having a bomb go off in your front yard. It was very personal to the media business. Now nearly seven years later, maybe journalists can look at 9/11 with some objectivity, but that takes time. Whatever a journalist does seems to be a no win situation. Whenever I read "news" articles, I take into account the location of the article, the journalist, and his or human factor. I understand what you are stating, but to me it seems a bit naive and discounts the fact journalists are human with all that entails.

Steve Salerno said...

These are all excellent points, Anon--incredibly, there's only one on this entire thread, so I don't have to be more specific than that. In particular, you remind us that there is no such thing as "pure objectivity." As a professor of mine used to say, "Even when we write about objectivity, we're doing it subjectively."

Thank you for your input.

moonrambler said...

It's nearly a month later, but since in my comment on this subject, I mentioned the way the media handled Brett Favre's non-retirement over the past few years, I wanted to add a couple points to that. When Brett's announcement was made Tuesday, the media immediately launched into speculation about Favre being at odds with the Packers organization, that they didn't try to get him to come back, and so on. In his press conference yesterday, when asked about this, he said something like, "There have been untrue statements in the press this week." The press couldn't wait until Brett made his statement -- they had to spend two days speculating.

Also, after every season, I sell off the pile of newspapers that covered Packers games and events. Take a look at the photo I used for the main picture -- rather hilarious, considering.