November 10, 2004
Credibility: rough notes

Bits and pieces which will hopefully form the basis of a discussion about journalistic credibility.


Mainstream news organizations, like the Washington Post, are very concerned with creating an air of authority and maintaining the illusion that their reporting is utterly consistent, complete, fair and authoritative. Indeed, it requires authoritarian methods to get tens to hundreds of writers, reporters, copyeditors and editors to absorb and mimic the approved style and approach (something for which journalism school has prepared them well). And regardless of how well a story is researched, reported and written, it cannot be singularly authoritative -- any such appearance is the just the effect of style that we have been trained to read as "objective" or "true."

It appears that the mainstream press can't or won't understand the deficiencies of this approach, or why people would want something different, even if it appears less definitive.Indymedia is interested in creating no such illusions of authority or compreshensiveness. Indymedia challenges the reader to think, "is this bullshit?" And, if so, challenges her to respond directly to the item in question, or, even better, create her own piece that responds to, expands on or explicates the first.

AnarchoGeek: (lots of geeks):

Credibility doesn't reside in the article itself but rather it's source. This is how the corporate media constructs it's credibility. They provide a uniform editorial 'voice' upon which they base their credibility. By having indymedia forcing every poster to be anonymous we are shifting the credibility away from the author in two directions. First and foremost we are pushing it on to 'indymedia' itself which means really the editorial collective which is tasked with hiding the 'bad' posts. Secondarily, credibility also is derived from the post itself, the form and content of the post must be judged by every reader.
The NY Times is the bastion of credibility, their stories always reinforce a hegemonic perspective despite adherence to the 'facts.' Now many in alternative journalism want to out do the NY times, using the same objectivity but just replacing it with another paradigm for viewing the world. I don't think this will work for two reasons. First off they have almost all the money. Secondly we aren't advocating the kind of world that will fit neatly in to one modernist perspective. Unlike the Marxist-Leninist of old who had THE answer, today we have many answers and even more questions. For a credible media to be created in this new networked, postmodern if you like, world we need to fully reconstruct what we mean by credibility.

And some comments by Bastard, of IMC Portland:

Corporate and other journalists are deemed credible because they theoretically will be held accountable for not reporting the facts. Accountability is thought to come from their peers, from the courts, from the community. Obviously, in today's environment, today's journalism, this is clearly not the case. There is no accountability.

I've included the whole (somewhat sloppy) discussion (which happened in SubEthaEdit!), below, as it contains more bits that I want to refer to in the future, and which might be useful to others.

If I had to name the topic I want to deal with, it'd be "the rhetoric of authority", and how it fits into liberatory practices of journalism.

posted by dru in journalism
Thoughts: One side: instead of pretending to be objective or detached, media should be honest and clear about their attachments and biases. This gives the reader (participant!) a role in figuring things out, and making decisions for themselves. Once readers become participants they will understand the types and limits of "bias". --dru

Fox News and talk radio don't really claim to be objective, but they are not creating the kind of participatory media we want to create. --evan

I wonder if they actually do claim objectivity, but that the claim seems ridiculous to us? --dru

That's true, they say 'fair and balanced' but they clearly aren't. They do make very partisan comments publicly. --evan

I would say that the NYTimes does too, but gets away with it.--dru

* * *

Another side: "objectivity" is very well established as a metaphor/frame of reference/tone... hegemonic as it may be, it remains extremely valuable as a rhetorical device at the very least. Emotional response can sometimes lead to not getting all the facts (who, what, when, where .. but not why or how).--dru

Backing up: is an objective or authoritative tone necessarily a hegemonic or exclusionary way of addressing an issue? If marginalized folks use an authoritative tone, is it re-creating hegemony from the other direction, or is it usefully subversive? Maybe both?

[This point is interesting, but ultimately the tone is not as important as the intent. If the intent is to address an issue honestly and openly, it should be ok for someone to state in a self-affirmitive way what they believe.--bastard]

I guess it's more subtle than that... a question of whether the voice says "this is just me and my beliefs" (whether that's communicated passively, or through the over-assertion of values...ranting). Speaking authoritatively seems justified, *if* the author has processed the literature that already exists.

* * *

When MediaGeek says "any such appearance is the just the effect of style that we have been trained to read as "objective" or 'true,'" I tend to place more importance on style than he does. As (I think) Susan Sontag said, we spend a lot of time saying that form and content are indistinguishable, but then we go ahead and distinguish between them anyway. --dru

Idea: I see the Dominion ( as being a layer resting on, depending on, the openness and bottom-up structure of open publishing. People represent themselves, discussions happen, facts arise. The dominion processes this for folks who don't have time to do the sifting, and puts it into a language that's familiar... comfortable. I'm curious about whether this is ultimately counterproductive, a mid-step to a new kind of journalism (kind of like the old kind), or sustainable in the long term(?). --dru

[From the description, it is not sustainable. It is not counterproductive, strictly speaking. But, it is reformist at best. Journalism needs to cease to exist as a tactic. It is just broken. Publishing needs to be "push" and not a "pull" process. Instead, of readers having their content sifted through, they need to generate their own content. That is the new phenomenon. Again, we need to move beyond journalism. --bastard]

* * *

Can we work on what is meant by this: "we need to fully reconstruct what we mean by credibility"? What role does the old credibility (process, tone) play in what we might imagine as a new kind of credibility? (Or is credibility something that needs to be shattered and redistributed?) --dru

[There are other aspects to credibility. Corporate and other journalists are deemed credible because they theoretically will be held accountable for not reporting the facts. Accountability is thought to come from their peers, from the courts, from the community. Obviously, in today's environment, today's journalism, this is clearly not the case. There is no accountability.
Also, credibility is thought to come from the fact that they are getting paid. Paid signifies professional and thus credibility, more than someone doing it for free. This turns the reality of credibility on its head. When someone is getting paid their writing and analysis will be influenced by their need to continue to get paid. Whereas, someone doing it for free, whatever "bias" they may have, is reporting what they actually feel to be true. Or, at least a better approximation. Therefore, I feel generally that people not getting paid should be considered far more credible.
So basically the journalism of today has created an accountability/credibility myth. Asking anyone not critically analyzing media will tell state this credibility/accountability myth. --bastard ]

* * *

The problem to me is that the new models are limited in their viability. There are limits to the amount of investigation that individual citizens can undertake. They're good at sharing their opinions, photos, firsthand accounts, and reposting mainstream stories, but what about looking into World Bank projects involving pipelines in Cameroon? Or a better example: sifting through thousands of public policy documents. So I think that people should get paid for this work; it's a question of developing a better understanding of what constraints this puts on them, and how this can be limited. --dru

[ I think the problem is question of organization. One person getting paid to exclusively work on sifting through documents or doing investigation may work. But, also many people volunteering a little time to investigate could work, probably more efficiently...or at least the total effort would be greater. Basically, people can't give away the job to people getting paid. --bastard]

* * *

I agree... at least in principle. People who want the information should take responsibility for the tasks involved, to the extent that these tasks can be divvied up. The amount of collective energy and unity involved in some examples would have to be truly impressive indeed, though, so in some ways its a questions of practical limitation: cultural biases against cooperation run deep, time and space and fragmented projects are always there, limiting how people are involved. There are real challenges here, which have to be balanced with *getting work done*. But while the system can use radical rethinking, I think there is value left over in the journalistic tradition that shouldn't just be discarded. I'm interested in how traditional, organized, process-based models can be combined with the anarchy of imc spaces. Maybe moving this forward involves providing specific structures that people can feed into in individual ways, with low barriers to entry. To switch the direction from a lower common denominator to numerous higher ones. --dru

[ I think indymedia, as one tactic, is already what you are describing. My experience has been that the tactic, when properly implemented, is organized, process-based, and brings together the collective effort and gets massive amounts of investigative work done. Pratically speaking the amount of volunteer time that some people I know and that I have experienced is huge. Some people have changed their life in order to be able to work on media without getting paid. I think that is what is necessary. It is only necessary IF we have come to the place where push has met shove, in terms of not getting the truth. I think we are there. So, radical changes, one's that don't even show balance between livelihood and activism are required now. Purity of tactic. Perhaps, after the crisis we re-integrate. --bastard ]