Bob Sipchen on Journalism and Blogging

Local blogger and vocal Times critic sat down with Bob Sipchen, the Sunday Opinion Editor to talk about the paper’s “Outside The Tent” feature, blogging reporters, objectivity & transparency and even encluded a follow up e-mail from Sipchen. It’s an interesting read for sure and a pretty good look inside the head of one of the people making decisions over there. I’ve got some thoughts of my own that I’m including after the jump.

While this entire series of posts is well worth reading it’s part two that really draws my attention. As a blogging flagwaver and a firm believer that Journalism is killing itself on many levels this is the part that sticks out to me:

Sipchen said that the reason reporters shouldn’t blog has to do with journalistic objectivity. The “higher beings” at the paper have a view of journalism that comports with his own view, which is that there is a real benefit to making an effort to be objective. The paper strives to have its reporters hold their biases in abeyance. The reader should not know what a reporter’s political viewpoint is after reading a story.

Personally I think that a giant catalyst behind many bloggers, and blogging in general is the fact that the above sentament is a total crock. No offence to Bob intended. It’s repeated time and time again by Journalists almost to the point of feeling like it’s something that if said enough times will magically come true. Many people don’t believe that Journalists are unbiased anymore. At one point perhaps, but those days are long gone. Everyone has an opinion and everyone has an angle. Fox News says it’s unbiased and Newsweek says it’s unbiased – so how come both sources will report the same story totally differently? It’s because there’s no such thing as “unbiased.” So the question then becomes who is more biased, or how much bias are you willing to put up with? That’s why people are turning to blogs. With blogging, you know the bias up front. I can read Koz and LGF and from two very biased opinions figure out what the real story is. With biased news I’m being told their version is legit without having any gague how much bias is behind it. And that topic came up next:

I asked Sipchen about the school of thought that journalism should be more transparent – that reporters and editors should be more forthright about disclosing their biases. I mentioned that some variant of this view has been advocated by many blogger-journalists, such as Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, and (to some extent) Dan Gillmor. I noted that Marc Cooper’s recent “Outside the Tent” piece made the same argument about the paper’s reporting from Iraq.

Sipchen expressed strong disagreement: “When I’m reading a newspaper story out of Baghdad, I don’t give a rat’s ass about what some 28-year-old reporter thinks.” Sipchen said that he wants the reporter to tell him the facts on the ground, not what the reporter’s conclusion is about those facts. “Why on earth should I care about what the reporter thinks?” Sipchen asked rhetorically. “Maybe he’ll become an expert and I’ll care then.”

And I think that’s the mistake that Journalists make on a daily basis. Just saying something is unbiased doesn’t make it so. It is biases so saying it isn’t just muddies the water. You are getting that 28 year old reporters opinion wether you want it or not, or wether you know it or not. Wouldn’t it be better to know walking into the piece that this person feels a certain way about the topic so then you know about the bias ahead of time? I certainly think so. But, because we don’t there’s mssive confusion and people swearing up and down that something is fact because they read it in the news when it fact it was just some reporter’s cleverly hidden opinion. That’s why I have family members who are absolutely postive that their is a rock solid connection between Saddam and 9/11 and that of course the US found tons of WMD in Iraq. These aren’t stupid people, they are people who haven’t been clued into the fact that the news they are getting isn’t unbiased like they are being told it is.

All this aside, I think it’s fantastic that Mr. Sipchen talked to Patterico about this kind of thing. We might not agree, but the discussion is what’s inportant and the only way we’re going to actually get any where. There’s more commom ground between bloggers and Journalists than either is too excited to admit and both sides talking like this only helps clear the path.