As part of the 2011 Melbourne Writers Festival, a two-day conference called ‘New News’ was held at the Wheeler Centre last weekend. The keynote speaker was Jay Rosen, who chairs the journalism faculty at New York University. Jay has published his address on his blog, Press Think. Here’s an excerpt.
Imagine the entirety of the political reporting and commentary produced by the New York Times or the political staff of the ABC and plot it on a grid. On the left side of the page: appearances. On the right side: realities. On the top of the page: arguments. On the bottom: facts. Appearances, realities, arguments and facts. All political news should be divided into these categories, and journalists should organize their daily report into my four quadrants.
Under appearances we find everything that is just that: the attempt to make things appear a certain way. All media stunts. Everything that fits under the management of impressions. Or politics as entertainment. The photo ops. The press releases issued in lieu of doing something. […]
My suggestion is to report appearances as just that: mere appearances. Which would be a way of jeering at them, labeling them as not quite real. So the appearances section would be heavy on satire and simple quotation. In the US, Jon Stewart has become a huge star by satirizing the world of appearances. This would be a way to get in on some of that action. Appearances, then, means downgrading or penalizing politicians who deal in the fake, the trivial, the merely sensational. In other words: “watch out or you’ll wind up in the appearances column.”
Under realities we find everything that is actually about real problems, real solutions, real proposals, consequential plans and of course events that have an integrity beyond their fitness as media provocations. This is the political news proper, cured of what Tanner calls the sideshow.
But then there’s my other axis. Arguments and facts. Both are important, both are a valid part of politics.
So imagine my four quadrants.
Bottom left: Appearances rendered as fact. Example: the media stunt.
Top left: Phony arguments. Manufactured controversies. Sideshows.
Bottom right: Today’s new realities: get the facts. The actual news of politics.
Top right. Real arguments: Debates, legitimate controversies, important speeches.
Now imagine all of today’s political news and commentary sorted into these four quadrants. This becomes the new portal to political news. Appearances and realities, arguments and facts. To render the political world that way, journalists would have to exercise their judgment about what is real and what is not. And this is exactly what would bring them into proper alignment with our needs as citizens.
You can read the entire post here, and you can watch or listen to the video/podcast of a Wheeler Centre event of earlier this year, ‘Dumbing Down Democracy’, featuring George Megalogenis in conversation with Lindsay Tanner following the publication of Tanner’s book, Sideshow.
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