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can get almost cartoonish. Haste is partly to blame, she says. Audiences have come to expect such instant coverage that “news gets aired before it’s been carefully digested. There’s a scramble to frame the story quickly in a simple, dramatic way.” The more outlandish shows, Seyb is relieved to report, actu- ally have very small audiences. He quotes a 2010 Pew survey indicating that the three legacy networks’ nightly news shows reach almost 22 million viewers, “roughly four times the com- bined number watching each cable news channel’s highest- rated program.” News viewership has been shrinking, but more slowly for the broadcast networks than for cable. Given that most citizens are pretty much centrists on most issues, Seyb suspects “those lost viewers aren’t moving to ultrapartisan blogs: I hope they’re retreating to the Web sites of reputable newspapers and periodicals.”


In any case, for many online-media advocates, impartiality is not necessarily the gold standard; transparency is. WikiLeaks’ Assange has argued that, just as a physics paper includes the raw data and results it’s based on, a news report should include full citations or links to its sources. Technology-and-ideas thinker David Weinberger has blogged, “Objectivity is a trust mechanism you rely on when your medium can’t do links. Now our medium can.”


CAVEAT EMPTOR, LECTOR, AUDITOR... With or without source links, Nancy Cambria says, “I think most news consumers are hungry for information and are will- ing to take steps to find credible sources of news.” But profes- sors Devine and Marx, as well as columnist Lantigua-Williams, who teaches writing at a community college, protest that they have to work hard to instill those discrimi- nation skills in their students. Marx’s students “often arrive with a certain naïveté. They’re used to watching or reading a big-name news source like CNN or the Times, and they think those are always ob- jective and trustworthy. In class we compare different stories on the same event or issue, so they can see how different the coverage can be.” Lantigua-Williams’s students have a weakness for “using information (regardless of the legiti macy of its source—damn you, Wiki pedia!) that aligns nicely with their personal point of view and experience, which to them is the ultimate barometer of validity.” Tailoring one’s informa- tion input is made even easier, she notes, by handy podcasts, custom news feeds, and social networking. It can get “to the point that we self-


select out of the real world and into niches populated only by similar, and perhaps similarly misinformed, people.” Jochnowitz says older folks have their own naïveté. “Four of my pals—a maintenance worker, a former journalist now in pub- lic relations, a retired colonel who was a Pentagon liaison to the White House, and a PR and education veteran—regularly fall for ‘amazing’ photos or stories on the Web that they e-mail to me, which I send back with Snopes links to gently correct them.” Rosenbaum recalls a study trip to the USSR in his student days: “I was hanging out with a reporter for Pravda, drunk on a Moscow sidewalk. He said, ‘You Americans believe what you read in the papers. We Russians know how to find the truth by reading between the lines.’ I never forgot that.” Jochnowitz hopes that “in their heart of hearts people know there are still news sources with integrity.” Unfortunately, he says, “those sources have been so vilified as the ‘mainstream media’ by politicians and pundits that people are losing trust in them.” He muses, “Which is more dangerous to our republic: the lies, or the distrust in legitimate news sources that they breed?” One good sign, according to Marx, is that the recent contro- versies around Assange’s leakers and Murdoch’s phone-hackers made such big news. He says it proves that “at least people are interested in these issues of journalistic ethics. They’re having the conversations.”


MAD, MAD, MULTIMEDIA WORLD The success of venues like the Huffington Post—with its repack- aged news, original reporting, volunteer bloggers, and links ga- lore—may presage a hybrid journalism that will function as the future fourth estate. As the Econo- mist points out, Al-Jazeera draws on stables of trusted amateurs, and CNN’s iReport network numbers some 750,000 volunteers who sub- mit photos, videos, and written ac- counts. In fact, iReport sourcing for coverage of last spring’s Japanese earthquake and tsunami helped CNN win its best ratings in years. Rosenbaum predicts that “fund-


“THE BARRAGE OF NEW SOURCES, LEGITIMATE AND NOT, HAS BEEN CHALLENGING, FRUSTRATING, DISORIENTING, AND EXCITING. THE ETHICAL ISSUES ARE INTENSE.”


ing sources will emerge to support new journalism, and user-generated news will never replace professional reporting.” The evolving alliance may be fraught and dicey for some time to come. Undaunted, Nancy Cambria concludes, “The barrage of new sources, legitimate and not, has been challenging, frustrating, disorienting, and exciting. The eth- ical issues are intense. But ulti- mately, we are being given more material to do our jobs and do them better.”


FALL 2011 SCOPE 17


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