Truth, Balance and the News

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Journalism is not stenography.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

In our email this morning we found this:

…if my e-mail box is any indication, more and more listeners are finding NPR’s traditional approach to reporting both sides of an issue to be increasingly unsatisfactory and frustrating.

I sense a rising anxiety and impatience among large numbers of NPR listeners who urge that the network take a more activist — or at least a more openly skeptical — role in the media landscape of the United States.

NPR Ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin, How NPR Covered the Death of a Symbol,, June 13, 2006

Dvorkin, in his column, airs a suggestion from a reader that NPR adopt “truth with edge.” His colleagues in the newsroom at NPR were nonplussed. But perhaps “truth with edge” is the wrong phrase; it implies activism, an agenda. But is something broken with the journalist’s sacred concept of “balance”? Do two opinions add up to the truth? Is it ever possible to look at a falsehood — from any side — and call it for what it is, a big steaming pile of horse apples?

Information is important to a democracy; it shapes our every voted decision about death and taxes and the pursuit of happiness. We have only to look at the struggle in the conservative blogosphere to supplant traditional media — and in the progressive blogosphere to reform it — to understand that this fight, to determine how we approach and pass on information from our government, is important.

So tonight, with Jeffrey Dvorkin on the line, we’re asking: is the concept of “balance” sufficient? Is it skepticism or activism that will get us closer to truth? Is the press working right now? Is it giving us the information and perspective we need to make decisions as a democracy?

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Ombudsman, National Public Radio

Jay Rosen

Professor, NYU School of Journalism

Blogger, PressThink

Brent Cunningham

Managing Editor, Columbia Journalism Review

Adjunct professor, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism

William Powers

Columnist, Off Message, National Journal

Extra Credit Reading

Brent Cunningham, Re-thinking Objectivity, Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 2003.

Jeffrey A. Dvorkin, How NPR Covered the Death of a Symbol, “Truth with Edge” , NPR Ombudsman, June 13, 2006.

Jay Rosen, Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over, “The paper doesn’t have a voice”, PRESSthink, January 21, 2006.

Chris Mooney, Blinded by Science: How ‘Balanced’ Coverage Lets the Scientific Fringe Hijack Reality, Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 2003.

RuthAlice Anderson She’ll Take Truth Over Balance, Poynter Forums, May 17, 2006.

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