Two stories on NPR recently got me thinking about parallels between journalism (something with which, I should note, I have no experience) and libraries. This post got long, so I’ll treat one of them here, the other later.
First, in re the recent blogoversy on the Juan Williams firing. Tell Me More, the NPR show on which I have the biggest crush ever (sorry, Carl Kasell; my fling with you notwithstanding), addressed it, and the following quotes from Richard Prince struck me:
And as John pointed out, we have distinctions between news analysts and opinion people. And as Vivian Schiller, the CEO, said, Juan is not supposed to be giving opinions even – well, not on NPR – and when he does it on other networks, it reflects on us.
Well, your show is not – you’re not in the same category as a reporter would be for NPR, who has to go out and, you know, and give the illusion of objectivity.
Now, again, I’m not from a journalistic background. My thinking on objectivity comes from my background in classics, classical history in particular, where the understanding I got is: there is no such thing as objectivity; we’re all biased; and part of the effort of writing history is the attempt to understand and filter through our own biases, to see how they impact the history we write, and to understand how other writers’ reports of history are influenced by their stance. Truths are out there, but you have to triangulate them as close as you can through clouds of bias and error and incomplete corpora.
It seems to me — and again, I’m not a journalist — that journalism is much like history only realtime, the triangulating of truth through clouds of bias, without the benefit of emotional separation but with far better corpora. And thus it is strange to me that we should expect our news reporters — be they “analysts” or “opinion people” or what-have-you — to be tabulae rasae, without any sort of bias. It seems better to me that we have their opinions on the table, so we know what those are and can adjust our understandings of what they say accordingly. Having those biases hidden for me doesn’t create more trust — it creates less trust, because it’s just an illusion that they don’t have bias (or, at least: bias distinguishing them from the social mainstream), and obscures important evidence. It’s a safe and comforting mirage of trust that holds up only if you don’t think about it.
I put this here because there’s an information literacy tie-in — because questions of audience and bias and context are important for how we evaluate information — and I am wondering how people teaching information literacy are handling this. And, for that matter, how people from other disciplinary backgrounds theorize this whole issue. What say you?