Gaffes and other non-stories we expect you to care about

Again, Cracked speaks the truth that journalists are afraid to mention.

Many (if not most) people don’t follow politics in order to find out who to vote for as part of their duty as citizens living in a democracy. They follow it purely as a form of entertainment. They’re like sports fans, rooting for their “team” to win.

via 5 Ways to Spot a B.S. Political Story in Under 10 Seconds | Cracked.com.

More information /= more facts?

Your Monday morning downer from fellow Dukie (grad school, anyway) Brendan Nyhan:

“In journalism, in health [and] in education we tend to take the attitude that more information is better, and so there’s been an assumption that if we put the correct information out there, the facts will prevail,” Nyhan says. “Unfortunately, that’s not always true.”

via The Death Of Facts In An Age Of ‘Truthiness’ : NPR.

Former Daily Show producer: Enemies aren’t that bad

The weakest bits on The Daily Show, dating back to the Craig Kilborn days, are the “let’s go out and have an embarrassing conversation with a weirdo!” segments. The best of those segments come about when the subject is smart enough to get the joke but merrily plays along anyway. The worst is when it comes across as a whole lot of bullying at the expense of someone who clearly isn’t used to television at all.

So that’s one reason I enjoyed this confessional from a former Daily Show producer about going out in the field and finding out that some people really aren’t that bad. Misguided, maybe. But The Daily Show is at its best when it makes fun of the ideas, not the people behind them.

The “Daily Show” guide to my enemies – The Daily Show – Salon.com.

Is balance no longer fair?

This Washington Post essay asserting that the Republicans have basically withdrawn from mainstream thought is going to get a bit of attention, to say the least. The pertinent comment for journalists:

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

And then this:

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

So are journalists now in an impossible situation in which a “balanced” view plays right into extremists’ hands, while calling out extremism will surely open the floodgates to bias accusations?

(via Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem. – The Washington Post.)

Something else in the Post Outlook section, “Five Myths About Conservative Voters,” raises other questions. If conservative voters don’t think the way the media think they think, then are the media misrepresenting their desires? And are journalists wrong in thinking that what we heard in the GOP primaries reflects what GOP rank-and-file voters really want?

Come on, Lisa de Moraes — get off NBC’s back!

I’ll grant that The Office has been erratic this season. But the ratings for the other three shows — 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Community — aren’t so much a signal of NBC’s decline as they are a signal of the USA’s sheer bad taste.

(And the fact that, as many commenters note, the folks who watch quality show are increasingly likely to watch on Hulu or elsewhere online.)

NBC Thursday comedy block: how bad are things? – The TV Column – The Washington Post.

Don’t let the losers — or the libertarians — write history

When I clicked on this link — When Losers Write History – Reason Magazine — I was optimistic. Two thoughtful Facebook friends of mine had shared it independently. I agree with the overlooked notion that newspaper journalists see the decline of their own industry with more bias than they’d view, say, the decline of the textile industry. The author, Matt Welch, was one of the better reads back in my media-wonk days.

And then, sadly, he gets it horribly wrong.

The knee-jerk journalists’ reaction will be that all these amateurs are unqualified to do “journalism.” To me, some are and some aren’t — frankly, with today’s tools, any reasonably intelligent person can do “journalism” of some worthwhile form.

But Welch commits three sins of omission:

1. We can all benefit from the feedback of an editor and the humbling process of paying dues. Today’s 20something bloggers rarely have that experience. Having a high school cross-country coach or small-town government official yell at you builds character and professionalism. (That said, a lot of 20somethings in traditional journalism don’t get this experience, either — people who go straight from college to The Washington Post end up as horrible writers on suburban beats.)

2. True investigative journalism costs a lot of money — possibly six figures for one project. No, this doesn’t describe the daily output of a typical news organization. Yes, it’s important to have a solid organization that can support it.

3. Remember when the Olympics were “amateur”? That meant the Games drew two types of people — the idle rich and state-supported propaganda drones. They were the only ones who could afford it. As the Olympics have loosened restrictions on amateurism, a true meritocracy has evolved, and the quality of athletes has soared. Do we want to go backwards in journalism, with the only participants being the independently wealthy, the childless (hey, parenting takes away a lot of your blogging time) or those supported by governments and (no offense to Mr. Welch) think tanks?

Add those issues to the mix, and we’re no longer talking about Welch’s analogy of replacing A&P with a mix of Wal-Mart and Whole Foods.