Short Attention Span Theater and the decline of Journalism

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Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government

Freedom of the Press

“I am… for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents.”

— Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1799

So Freedom of the Press, protects even the stuff, we disagree with.

You don’t have to like it, what someone says, writes, or legislates … or tactlessly expresses.

But they have a Right to do so none the less, according to our historic icon Thomas Jefferson.  

The pen, should trump, the sword.

Funny how “Money” got all lumped in with Free Speech, though?

Must of been all those Gieco “googley eyes” commercials

Now seriously, “free speech” is definitely something to be thankful for.

Without it, it’s back to the dark days of “feudalism” … hey wait a second … ?


by George A. Krimsky, the former head of news for the Associated Press’ World Services

Thomas Jefferson felt so strongly about the principle of free expression he said something that non-democrats must regard as an absurdity:

“If it were left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

The implication of those words is that self-governance is more essential than governance itself.  Not so absurd, perhaps, if you had just fought a war against an oppressive government. […]

What did that Jefferson know anyways — Newspapers, are now going the way of the garage-based pamphleteers.

I wonder where President Numeral Three would put modern day “blogs”, on that long spectrum of News/Opinion Conveyance inventions?  

Hey maybe bloggers are the new “agents” of that “4th Estate”,  that he was famous for framing?  

{of course that assumes a semi-interested audience for the blogger, of course.}

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Generally speaking, pretty well, although the concept of a free press is challenged and defended every day in one community or another across the land. The American press has always been influential, often powerful and sometimes feared, but it has seldom been loved. As a matter of fact, journalists today rank in the lower echelons of public popularity. They are seen as too powerful on the one hand, and not trustworthy on the other.

In its early days, the American press was little more than a pamphleteering industry, owned by or affiliated with competing political interests and engaged in a constant war of propaganda. Trust was not an issue. What caused the press to become an instrument for democratic decision-making was the variety of voices. Somehow, the common truth managed to emerge from under that chaotic pile of information and misinformation. A quest for objectivity was the result.

Many critics have questioned whether there is such a thing as “objectivity.” Indeed, no human being can be truly objective; we can only seek objectivity and impartiality in the pursuit of truth. Journalists can try to keep their personal views out of the news […]

But … that ship of Objectivity has sailed, it seems in the 21st Century — due to the advent of “Short-Attention-Span Theater” [SAST (c)].

Most News today, has to have an eye both eyes on the profits, on the audience, on the human interest aspect of a story.

To be {profitable} News, these days, a hot story needs “a hook”;  

And a good hook is usually based on good Drama … ie. interesting Story-Telling.

Even if we are forever slow, to learn the lessons of those Stories …

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What Jefferson and the Constitutional framers could not have foreseen, however, was how modern market forces would expand and exploit the simple concept of free expression. While media with meager resources in most developing countries are still struggling to keep governments from suppressing news that Westerners take for granted, the mass media in America, Britain, Germany and elsewhere are preoccupied with their role as profitable businesses and the task of securing a spot on tomorrow’s electronic superhighway. In such an environment, truth in the service of the public seems almost a quaint anachronism.

Is the capitalist drive an inherent obstacle to good journalism?  In one sense, the marketplace can be the ally, rather than the enemy of a strong, free media.  For the public to believe what it reads, listens to and sees in the mass media, the “product” must be credible. Otherwise, the public will not buy the product, and the company will lose money. So, profitability and public service can go hand in hand.

Objectively, we could Debate that Journalist’s Corporate “conclusions”.

How many years did Murdock operate in the Red, in order to establish his Right wing Propaganda Franchise?

And just because large blocks of the public “flocks to a certain Style of {profitable} Media” — Does it mean that Style is either “Credible” or “Objective Journalism” ?  

People flock, for lots of reasons …

Does anyone remember the ground-breaking format (at the time) of CNN’s Spin Room — that sprung up during the national crisis episodes of Bush v Gore?   Instead of focusing the public’s attention on the weighty issues of States Rights vs Federal Rights — they quietly re-programmed us to associate News and Commentary with a fast-paced sport, like Boxing, or Indie Car racing.

… that was the Beginning of the End of {free press} Journalism … (or so I always thought)


What is Objectivity anyways?

I’m frequently told I’m not being “Objective Enough” — especially in my posts that intentionally appeal to emotions and framing, at the expense of expounding on the dry, dusty “facts” — that few care about anymore.

I’ve also been told this is a “Fact-based site” — So get with the Program!

Aye, aye Captains.  Sometimes there’s just TOO many of you guys, to keep EVERYONE Happy!

Objectivity (journalism)

From Wikipedia

Objectivity is a significant principle of journalistic professionalism. Journalistic objectivity can refer to fairness, disinterestedness, factuality, and nonpartisanship, but most often encompasses all of these qualities.

In the context of journalism, objectivity may be understood as synonymous with neutrality. This must be distinguished from the goal of objectivity in philosophy, which would describe mind-independent facts which are true irrespective of human feelings, beliefs, or judgments.

Sociologist Michael Schudson argues that “the belief in objectivity is a faith in ‘facts,’ a distrust in ‘values,’ and a commitment to their segregation.”  It refers to the prevailing ideology of newsgathering and reporting that emphasizes eyewitness accounts of events, corroboration of facts with multiple sources and balance of viewpoints. It also implies an institutional role for journalists as a fourth estate, a body that exists apart from government and large interest groups.

Well that puts a whole new spin on it, doesn’t it?

Objectivity is a faith in ‘facts’ and a distrust in ‘values’  …

Isn’t “faith”  {ie. assumed credibility} to some degree or other, a “personal value” ?

We all put different degrees of credence, into different things  (ie Facts, Statements, Assumptions, Beliefs, Principles, and Values  … Political Parties, … their Leaders.)

Perhaps in order to pursue the noble goal of Objectivity, we as modern-day “pamphleteers”, should occasionally focus on that last bit in the Objective definition:

“… corroboration of facts with multiple sources and balance of viewpoints … role for journalists as a fourth estate, a body that exists apart from government and large interest groups.”

In other words, occasionally we should strive to act as “independent outside Observers” striving for an balance of viewpoints — a wide variety of Viewpoint  {like the variety, expressed daily, right here on [insert Blog name Here] } ?

I generally assume that “opposing points of view” each usually have their own valid points and sub-points, even though you may have to deep to find the individual  “kernel of truth” sometimes.  

In any case, “opposing points of view” have a valid place in the marketplace of ideas, as long as we hold up the Free Press as “an ideal” — even though, not always as a “general operating principle”.

And yes, Freedom, includes the freedom to respond — even if that ends up generating more heat, than light.  {usually when the search for “those kernels”, are abandoned, in the heat of the moment.}

PS.  As our Short-Attention-Span Theater info-nuggets Media trailers, continue to get ever briefer, and ever more difficeint of nutritional content {‘food for thought’, that is} … we should remain mindful of their source, their marketing motives, and the precarious foundation of Democracy, upon which they will continue to tread … until one day when that “national town square“, is simply gone

Parting Question:  Which direction is the way forward?

The floor is yours.  


    • jamess on November 25, 2010 at 17:21

    We, as a society, are losing the benefits of “honest debate

    in exchange for the detriments of “rehearsed rhetoric“.

    There are real long term issues, facing society and humanity —

    that are rarely discussed in any substantive way, in today’s Media.

    What did we learn from the Housing Bubble Crisis, for instance —

    and what should be done about it?

    to correct the past;

    to protect the future?

    We, as a society, no longer have time for all that (honest debate) —

    We have elections to win,

    rhetoric to spread,

    audiences to capture,

    pages to turn.

    Onward, charge!

    The Future lies in wait — that a way!

  1. Words of Mass




    What is media but another way to make money.  For it to “sell” it has to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  It has to be acceptable to large masses of people who have been lied to on a generational basis.

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