A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

So How About Some NEWS For A Change

I have been meditating for some time now about how little I can seem to find out about what is going on in the world, how little real news I can seem to obtain from the most popular and commonplace sources. I have also been observing with some care how those of my fellow bloggers who claim one form or another of "bias" in news coverage don't really seem to need to know very much about the world at all.

This is perhaps why they are so sensitive to news coverage that appears to them to be politically skewed. A taste self-formed around strong opinions finds mere facts rather bland, and is always nosing out stronger flavors in any presentation of them.

One of those bloggers, whom I like a lot, and with whom I can sometimes get beyond our widely divergent political views for some straight answers to important questions is The Anchoress. She is one of those who see the entire business of journalism as a Mainstream Media dominated by either an unconscious, or a covert Liberal political agenda. She yearns for the objective and unbiased coverage she remembers from her childhood.

I have suggested to her that what she actually remembers is a broad political consensus in America oriented by three things: common experience with the Great Depression and World War II, common involvement with the post World War II American prosperity due at least in part to the social compromises of the New Deal, and a common enemy of Communism behind an Iron Curtain.

Objectivity is in the eye of the beholder and for about twenty-five years we were all largely looking in the same direction in America, and anybody who wasn't was clearly on the fringe. When most everybody has the same attitude, it can pass for an unbiased presentation of objective fact.

That world and that consensus has utterly vanished. The only objective thing left is what happens, and if what happens is described clearly and truthfully, within the limits of mere human error, any inevitable flavor of opinion about what happens in the description is beside the point. News is what happens, and we appear to have so little of it available to us in America that most of us have forgotten what it is really like.

When I was perfectly willing to concede that the "MSM" might have a Liberal political bias, I asked her the following question: If the news sources you are exercised with are doing news wrong, who is doing news right? Her answer to that question was the new CBS News feature blog--developed after the fall of Dan Rather over the Bush National Guard news forgeries--called The Public Eye. Here is The Public Eye's stated purpose:

Public Eye's fundamental mission is to bring transparency to the editorial operations of CBS News, transparency that is unprecedented for broadcast and online journalism. And what, exactly, is transparency? It has several aspects, but most simply it is this: the journalists who make the important editorial decisions at CBS News and CBSNews.com will now be asked to explain and answer questions about those decisions in a public forum.

When I saw this, I thought to myself, "Now I know why most blogger critics of news coverage [whatever their political views] and I are simply not on the same page!" I am interested in news. They are interested in "news coverage". I am interested in fact. They are interested in "media". I am interested in information. They are interested in a Philosophy of Journalism.

It makes me feel old-fashioned. And it fills me with bewildering dismay when I look at the new manifestation of it Pajamas Media. It also has stimulated me to confront certain things in my blogging. I have spent a fair amount of time commenting on a number of conservative blogs, [they are mostly on my blogroll, the ones that aren't I simply find indigestible] marshalling a catalog of facts to demonstrate that my host or hostess is talking through their hat out of ignorance on this issue or that.

I now see that this is largely pointless. They aren't particularly interested in either news or facts as such. Pajamas Media, for example, has its collective heart set on three things: identifying examples of "media bias" and stigmatizing the perpetrators, featuring the few tidbits of news out there which can be a launching pad for their own political agenda, and rounding up the circle of blogs who swiftly move from commentary on the facts, to commentary on the commentary on the facts. This, in the eyes of the Pajama Brigade, is the future of "citizen journalism"

What the Pajama Brigade are clearly not interested in are the stories from the various newswires which live in the Column Left of the PJ site under the heading of News. The PJ's are even less interested in the various sub-categories under the column of News: United States, World, Politics, Health, Lifestyle, Entertainment, Business, and Sports.

They have contracted out this News function to an organization called Newstex, who provide, for a fee, "content on demand". When the PJs first appeared a couple of weeks ago I was curious about this news source of theirs. No indication of prices were on the Newstex site, so I dropped them an e-mail for information. The cost is a minimum of around $2500 for newsfeed and rights. And details would have to be negotiated over the phone.

The overall tone of the operation is that of a modest but unassailable professionalism. But this well modulated tone cannot conceal the strong impression that the corporate assets largely consist of a good fileserver, paid first party licensing fees, access to a professional web designer, and a nondescript rented suite of offices.

This fee, of course, was far too rich for my blood and it didn't seem polite to waste someone's time pretending otherwise, so I didn't press for more information. But Newstex is clearly not providing the PJs with the a great deal of personal editorial service. All of the News subcategories unquestionably have an automatic filter, with no human editorial intervention. Thus the following ice hockey results are the sort of thing you might find in the Science section:

SAN JOSE, Calif., Dec. 11, 2005 (The Canadian Press delivered by Newstex) -- Jonathan Cheechoo scored twice and Joe Thornton had a goal and stretched his multipoint streak to a team-record five games in the San Jose Sharks' 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.
This is presumably because it mentions sharks and hurricanes. And the following top news results in the Business section:

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 11, 2005 (AP Online delivered by Newstex) -- Richard Pryor startled audiences with his foul-mouthed routines, but his universal and frequently personal insights propelled him into one of Hollywood's biggest stars. The pioneering comedian, whose audacious style influenced generations of standup artists, died Saturday of a heart attack at age 65, said his business manager, Karen Finch.

Which the automatic filters kick over there because of Pryor's involvement in the "entertainment industry" and the mere circumstance that his death was announced by his business manager.

Since the PJ's have unquestionably exercised no human editorial intervention to correct this either, we can safely say that News is not the site's Priority One, and that the citizen is far more emphasized in "citizen journalism" than the journalism.

Unfortunately, news is my Priority One from news media. And I have thought for several years now that I am simply not getting enough facts from my news coverage. So I decided to pull my self up by my own bootstraps [to "boot" myself in techie lingo, though I won't say where] and go searching for outlets of real news to put into my blogroll. The preliminary results are to the left.

The first thing to note is that there are absolutely no radio or television news sites whatsoever. These outlets still have no more than snippets of real news. The can be long snippets like those of CBS's 60 Minutes, or short snippets repeated over and over for hours such as you find on CNN's Breaking News within its many daily repackagings.

This is what the video outlets modestly call in-depth coverage, though it is highly ambiguous just what substance they are deep in. The radio is more honest, or at least more automatically transparent, about the ephemeral character of electronic media news offerings once the eye-candy is stripped from them.

The meat of the news is still in newspapers, and, even more so in the better of the newspaper web sites. My tentative findings about the best of them are in the blogroll, and I look forward to testing their staying power over time.

A few very nice surprises are already apparent. The two newspapers from the Deep South I have selected, the Miami Herald and the Houston Chronicle are jam-packed with lots of news nobody else seems to have. The Chronicle and the Boston Globe do a far better and more sensible job of presenting the AP & Reuters wire than those two services do in presenting themselves. The Washington Times does an excellent job of presenting the UPI wire, as well. This is highly useful since UPI seems to always come up with relevant details of an event which the writers for the other wires miss.

The China newswire, Xinhua, is easily a formidable rival to the other wire services and picks up significant segments of Middle East and Asia coverage that the other services don't. The South African Mail & Guardian and the Egyptian Middle East Times do the same things for Africa and the Middle East, respectively. And the Middle East Times is an oasis of relatively objective coverage in a region not known for it, as it is not known for it's commitment to democracy.

Canada's coverage of itself is tremendously thin gruel compared to the equivalent coverage in the United States. The top special correspondent coverage of World News can be found in the International Herald Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, and Guardian World Dispatch.

Another surprise is how much further down the rungs the rest of the Guardian operation is compared to it's rivals in both World and UK coverage.

Finally, the best news analysis, hands down, can be found at Knight Ridder Washington Bureau. And the countries of Central Europe--Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Benelux--still are some of the most insular in their lack of English language coverage and less willing to acknowledge English as the de facto lingua franca of the world. The only place more insular is Quebec, for obvious and sensible political reasons.

I am looking forward now not only to having more news to read, but more news to write about, ending the fruitlessness of my many encounters on Conservative blogs and my impatience with the narrowness of focus of the Liberal and Centrist ones.


Blogger The probligo said...

I am surprised at your ranking of Guardian. It is always (still is?) a source of in depth analysis and opinion.

But I agree with your overall comment.

My favourite sources?

My home newspaper for leads - www.nzherald.co.nz

Then to news.google.com and news.bbc.com. One soon gets to recognise the Reuters and AP items feeding through.

The important point you have hit on is - never discard a source without very careful thought.

First choice for me is always the paper closest to the story - like the SMH for the "race riots" in Sydney.

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