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October 5, 2006

Distracted by Journalism

This book writer has not been book writing much these past two weeks. I am completing an article for the Columbia Journalism Review -- arguing that newspapers and newscasts need to surrender their attachment to the distribution of news to survive in a world where news comes so fast and so cheap. Analysis, point of view, are the solution, I argue, as they were for weeklies when dailies took over the business of providing fast news.

So the story of disbelief remains suspended at a particularly bad moment in its history: with Hypatia, one of the last of the pagan philosophers, having been torn to pieces; with debates on the good and how to live one's life shrinking into debates on whether the Father and the Son were One or just almost One; with the philosophy schools in Athens about to be shut down.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at October 5, 2006 8:40 PM


I think you know by now from our many classroom discussions that I'm with you on the CJR article. Let's just hope that "analysis" and "point of view" won't just mean rather ill-informed writers perpetuating absurd arguments and blatant falsehoods in an authoritative tone of voice. We have a bit too much of that now, I think. I'm also completely behind revealing our biases rather than pretending objectivity.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 6, 2006 4:02 PM

One thing to reveal a bias (with you on the positive side of that, MelindaB); quite another to use one's bias as the lens through which all information ('facts' or others' perspectives)must pass in order to be reported. I too look forward to Mitch's CJR piece. We seem to live in a media age in which bias has become the currency allowing someone the right to speak: if you represent a particular--desirable economically, ideologically etc.--point of view, you are given ink/airtime. If not...

...thus I'm curious as to how the public sphere of Hypatia's day 'reported' her dismembering (think it might have something to do with her relatively obscure place in philosophy today?) or whether the 'reporting' of the closing of the Academy by imperialism is similar to the deafening silence in the US about the attacks last week on habeas corpus that are bringing us one step closer to fascism? (gosh, sorry, I forgot we're too busy now compiling lists of gay republicans)...

Posted by: JM at October 6, 2006 9:52 PM

Absolutely, JM. I think reasoned argument and reasoned thought should take notice of others' perspectives and uncomfortable facts. Even sophomore level college English classes generally teach that arguments should present and challenge opposing views. I propose not just "here's what I think is true and here's why I'm biased in that direction" but a reasoned analysis that takes into account all relevant facts/perspectives (without going so far as to give space to the patently ridiculous).
Revealing our biases and perhaps our intellectual limitations may permit the reader and the writer to understand where weaknesses may enter and consider the argument from a more informed position. Unfortunately, we now attempt to combat bias with "balance", which is logically fallacious and counterproductive to providing the best available version of the truth. The reader should be informed that one p.o.v. may have more weight than another and why that is so. We should never pretend that an argument that the world is flat has the same weight/validity as an argument that the world is round. Balance too often gives the impression that two grossly unequal propositions are equal and simply matters of opinion.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 8, 2006 12:38 PM

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