BBC on Bryson

The BBC has a few kind words for my favorite writer. I agree wholeheartedly that there’s something soothing about football results and shipping forecasts. I might have a romanticized view of England, but I always picture a genial nation of people sharing obsessions over train schedules, watching bad television and having a terrific sense of humor about everything.

Coincidentally, I’m finally reading Bowling Alone, a study of the fragmentation in American community life. I’ll be curious to see the reasons given for our lack of participation in politics, clubs, etc.

But aside from that book, we’re clearly not as culturally unified as England. In some ways, that’s good. We don’t have to watch reality TV shows or listen to 50 Cent. It’s also reassuring to know that we Americans don’t all think the same way (a point that often eludes European commentators who don’t grasp that we aren’t as homogeneous as their own countries).

But it’s sad that we can’t have these differences without the underlying unity that England has. Our individualistic streak has some unfortunate side effects — chief among them a lack of respect for others and a lack of good manners. In England, the eccentrics are tolerated quite well, as Bryson is happy to show. Here, our eccentrics are a little scarier.

Objectivity redux

Just posted something in another forum that seemed worth repeating. It still makes a little bit of sense out of context:

Too many self-proclaimed media watchdogs take a tone in which any bit of uncomfortable reading is just another “lie of the liberal media,” and that creates a poisonous atmosphere in which whatever well-intentioned journalists are left in the field are doomed to fail.

Let’s back up to a funny (and common) occurrence when you’re on the other side of the complaint window: So often, readers assume they know the ideological bent of a reporter or manager, and they’re laughably wrong. The Republican/conservative/non-Clinton-supporting journalists I’ve known are often just as likely to attract “liberal bias” claims as anyone else. Why? Because they do their job, holding everyone accountable and giving pre-eminence to the facts.

And that, not “getting both sides,” is true objectivity. If one “side” takes a position that the reporter knows to be nonsense, it’s the reporter’s obligation to say so.

And that’s the point of the CJR article. Nothing less, nothing more.

BTW — things did improve a bit since Colonial times, sort of. During the Civil War, newspapers were still partisan scandal sheets. As time went on, newspapers found there was money to be made in being the voice of reason. Those newspapers ran the partisan rags out of business, and most towns became one-paper towns. Then the papers HAD to be all things to all people. They were objective, though some would say they were dull. Now, their dullness is being exploited by smaller papers and TV stations without such a sense of responsibility.

That’s the brief history — I’ll let others decide if that’s “improvement.”