Turning inner space into outer space

May 24, 2012

How newspapers could get a view from somewhere

Over at Giga Om, Mathew Ingram elaborates on Jay Rosen’s complaint about what he calls the “view from nowhere.” By this he means that newspapers are so obsessed with being objective, with not taking sides, that they wind up being bland and pleasing no one.

Their prescription is for reporters to use a more interpretive style of writing. Instead of merely reporting what each side says about an issue, writers are encouraged to give us an idea of which side is more credible.

Reporters, they argue, should be respected for their many years on the beat, and thus what they say would carry some weight. Sounds good, but there is a big problem with this tack.

First, reporters are under pressure to come up with new stories with fresh angles every day. They rely on good relations, or least workable relations, with their sources to get these stories. If they slant a story in a way that makes some of their sources look bad, then those people are less likely to co-operate with them on future articles.

It’s true that a lot of these people deserve to look bad, but their tips can still be fleshed out into something for the greater good. Writers can ill afford to bite the hands that feed them — even if what they’re being fed is self-serving.

Over the years, the solution to this dilemma has been to leave it to columnists and editorialists who are able to stand above the fray, and write what they like without fear of retribution.

Still, there may be new ways to get around this. How about a What It Means box? These could be mini-editorials of a couple of sentences giving an interpretation by editors on the significance of the story. If the editorial board or a columnist has more to say, the box could make reference to the page number it’s on.

Readers, and the people quoted in the story, could easily get used to a separate interpretive item — and reporters could keep a safe distance.