The newsroom circus

Michael Getler, the ombudsman for PBS, has written the longest online column — ever — about a remark NewsHour’s Jim Lehrer made recently:


Among the things Lehrer told the gathered students was to stick to the basics of news. “If you want to be entertained, go to the circus,” he said. “Don’t watch the NewsHour.”

Those of us who came to public broadcasting by way of commercial radio better understand the philosophy than those of us who have spent a lifetime in public broadcasting. Here’s the underlying theory: If you’re boring and you put the same faces on a panel to say the same things day after day, it must be a deeper, more insightful form of journalism.

Balderdash.

Getler doesn’t exactly say so — he’s too good for that — but he acknowledges what Lehrer doesn’t. There’s a lot of journalistic real estate between some of the nonsense on network TV news and the static inner-Beltway interpretation offered by NewsHour, and it’s not heresy to say so.

Many people who responded to Getler’s column, by offering suggestions for improvement said so.


Reduce the number of panels in which Democratic and Republican strategists simply contradict each other, often leaving the viewing audience numb and angry. There are simply too many of these in which the viewer is sacrificed on the altar of “balanced” news coverage that actually does not inform. This extends beyond politics to many other subjects. Sometimes, of course, this is necessary. But the key to making these segments useful is the interviewer, who must be prepared to challenge guests, not just with the other person’s opinion, but with facts and alternative analysis that helps viewers judge what is being said. Challenge and confrontation often does not seem to be in the NewsHour playbook.

Getler, in a courageous move, takes on the 800-pound gorilla that exists in most news organizations: The “indisputable sense of sameness.”


Nevertheless, it seems to me and those who wrote, that both the NewsHour and Washington Week would benefit from bringing at least some new faces, voices and settings into the mix. That’s not a reflection on the current staffs at all, and it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the commentary of Mark Shields and David Brooks (I do but they each have their critics within the viewership) or the always well-informed and trustworthy journalistic guests on Ifill’s Washington Week program. To be sure, there is a slightly varying cast of characters now. But there is an indisputable sense of sameness on these programs; the same formulas, the same approach to news and the way it’s presented, mostly the same people. Rarely does the off-beat or non-mainstream news item or analysis that may actually have broader resonance make it through the gate. To borrow a line that MSNBC’s Chris Matthews uses on his show: “Tell me something that I don’t know” or let me meet some people that I don’t know.

That’s a hard thing for news show producers to do. There’s nothing quite so comfortable as that which you’ve done before. The role of journalism is not to be a comfortable pair of slippers.

So let’s take Getler up on his request for suggestions. Whether it’s NewsHour, or MPR, or the local TV station you watch: What would you like to hear, see in the coming year that you’re not hearing or seeing now?

Be tough, but don’t be insulting. And, as always, if you have a person you think is doing great things that should be in News Cut, let me know. I’ll go anywhere, anytime for a good tale.

(By the way, on Friday at 9 a.m., MPR’s Midmorning will feature the ombudsmen for NPR and the New York Times. I’ll be live-blogging the show.)

  • http://bluetintedglasses.wordpress.com MR

    The ombudsman that has really impressed me has actually been Le Ann Schreiber of ESPN. ESPN is a massive, sprawling, hugely influential conglomerate that is on many platforms 24/7. She has managed to do a fantastic job of bringing an outsider’s perspective to all of ESPN’s coverage, providing kudos when they are deserved, and freely criticizing when deserved.

  • Tanner C

    I think most audiences simply want a little narrative and heart in the news. The cable news folks exploit this want by providing high drama (but incredibly shallow) coverage, complete with flashy graphics and sound effects. Conversely, Mr. Lehrer and the Newshour gang provide much deeper coverage, but it’s about as exciting as cottage cheese.

    But there are a few glimmers of news-y goodness out there. Earlier in 2008, when This American Life teamed up with All Things Considered to produce “A Giant Pool of Money,” they ended up with an hour of radio that contained both an attention-holding narrative and insight into the economic path from housing bubble to housing bust to credit crisis.

    There are other good examples of the narrative-information balance: Radio Lab, Freakonomics, Malcolm Gladwell, Brian Greene, etc.

  • bsimon

    I like Brooks & Shields. I liked Gergen & Shields before; perhaps better. I like Brooks & Dionne on NPR.

    There is certainly “a lot of journalistic real estate between some of the nonsense on network TV news and the static inner-Beltway interpretation offered by NewsHour.” But do NewsHour viewers, or All Things Considered listeners want that real estate covered by those programs?

    Back in their infancy, TV shows like 20/20 or 60 minutes were designed to address some of those things that couldn’t be effectively covered by the nightly news. To a small degree, they’re still performing that role, though I must say there’s a lot more crap masquerading as TV ‘newsmagazines’ than there is good content.

    Anecdotally, I enjoy some of the longer stories that make it onto Morning Edition or ATC. But those stories shouldn’t take over the shows. Late last winter, or in the early spring, Morning Edition did a 5 part story on local theatre. Day one was interesting. By day 5 I was questioning why so much time was being spent on a story that would be interesting to a (presumed) tiny subset of listeners.

    Does that real estate deserve coverage by news organizations? sure. But how much coverage?

  • Bob Collins

    By “journalistic real estate,” I mean ways of covering stories, not the stories.

  • Al

    Unfortunately in tough economic times, public radio has chosen to eliminate some of its programs already trying to fill that space between network news and Newshour, namely Day to Day and Weekend America. I doubt we’ve seen the last of the programming cuts, but I suspect NPR, MPR, APM, and PRI will look to the shows in the middle first. I just hope The Story with Dick Gordon isn’t eliminated. It’s worthy of promotion to Day to Day’s afternoon slot.

  • Paul

    I’ve been answering/responding to this question for twenty years in one form or another, to no effect. When I hear Carrie Miller or Gary Eichton interview Howard Zinn, or Amy Goodman the next time they’re in town I’ll start thinking that your serious about feedback. There are also a number of local personalities, Don Olson who’s been doing Northern Sun news on KFAI for twenty years. The guys a character with a lot history and interesting things to say. Frankly I’m not sure the Newshour can be salvaged.

  • Katie Z

    I definitely agree with Tanner C. I think what contemporary news audiences are looking for is news that is relevant and that resonates with them. With so many people getting news from bloggers or “infotainment” sources, I think audiences now expect to get a certain slant or perspective on the news. Personally, I feel frustrated (and bored) by newscasters who attempt to appear non-biased and disinterested and end up seeming just plain un-interesting. I’m also somewhat amazed by reports of major world news and catastrophes that are related as if the reporter were reciting from the phone book. Maybe this is a professional standard — but, maybe that’s something that needs to change.

    If I had my druthers, here’s a few things I’d change about MPR:

    – More relevant news in the mornings — when I first wake up I want to know about every headline that hit while I was getting my nightly 6-8. Save the in-depth stuff and human interest pieces for later. And, if something crazy is going on with weather or traffic, please please tell me (I hate having to switch to WCCO for that).

    – Better local arts coverage. Seriously, why not?

    – More news reports from alternative viewpoints. Very rarely I catch a piece from a young person or from someone with a unique personal experience that relates to current events, and it’s usually the best story on the radio. With all the hype about “public insight journalism” I think these unique perspectives and first-hand accounts are going to be well received by news audiences.

  • bsimon

    “By “journalistic real estate,” I mean ways of covering stories, not the stories.”

    If we look at the Murrows, Kronkites and Kuralts, what’s wrong with they way they covered the stories?

    Lehrer might be ‘boring’, but his show is the most informative 45 minutes on television. What’s wrong with that formula?

    The argument about Washington Week is stronger.

    More locally, TPT’s Almanac does some minor experiments; the first one that comes to mind is the cartoonist who explains what happened at the Capitol during the previous week. At the end of those segments I’m left wondering “WTF was with all the drawings?”

    In my opinion, if you’re going to be a news program, deliver the news. That’s it. If you’re not trying to be the news, go ahead and experiment. MPR’s ‘In the Loop’ is a good example.

  • Brian F

    I disagree with Katie Z re: the unbiased/detached way in which news is delivered. I appreciate opinion and commentary, but I also bristle everytime I hear words like “tragic” used in describing news events – yes, even those that are, in fact, tragic. If a bridge collapses, I want an objective story that gives me the facts. I recognize human tragedy when I see it – I don’t need a journalist to tell me that. Commentary and personal opinion have their place, but they should not be the only thing journalists provide.

  • Bob Collins

    I was just in a meeting on another subject and intoned this: “The biggest challenge we as a newsroom have in 2009 will be providing solutions. It’s no longer enough to tell people about a problem. People know the problems. They don’t know the range of solutions.”

  • Alison

    I don’t think people know many of the problems facing our society, or at least the nuances or root causes of them. Take the myriad of problems with industrial style agriculture. I would never have suspected some of the horrors of modern ‘agriculture’ existed had journalists not investigated them. These aren’t things that are immediately visible when you walk down an aisle at Cub or SuperTarget. There are plently of other problems for journalists to investigate, so don’t give up on it in pursuit of the latest buzzword in journalism.

    I also don’t want journalists providing the solutions. A range of people with ideas maybe, but deciding the solutions, definitely not.

  • Bob Collins

    //I also don’t want journalists providing the solutions

    I don’t think THEY are providing the solutions. I think they are providing people who have some solutions.

    I think the biggest criticism I have — especially of public broadcasting — is its ability to leave the listener/viewer with a sense of despair. That doesn’t do anybody any good, and it doesn’t solve a problem.

    It also, I think, embeds the sense that the problems are someone else’s to solve. Nowhere is this more evident right now than with Barack Obama. Every day I read comments from people that they’re waiting for Barack Obama to do this or Barack Obama to do that.

    But in the process, they’re ignoring that Barack Obama has already sent the call out for Americans to volunteer and take certain steps.

    A problem without a solution is always going to be a problem. And the role of a journalist should be more than leaving people to say “tsk, tsk, isn’t that awful; someone should do something about that.”

  • Alison

    Going back to my modern agriculture horror stories example (and there are plenty of other examples), public radio did provide people with ideas. I have heard from a range of people providing real alternatives on this issue. I just don’t buy that we aren’t hearing from people with solutions.

    Also, there are problems that we do need others to address. There is little I can do as an idividual to convince multi-national institutions to re-start their portions of the economy. I’m not going to personally call up the leaders of Isreal or Hamas to broker a deal. The world is waiting for Obama to address some problems because Bush seems to be taking an incredibly lame lame-duck stance on many issues.

  • Tanner C

    When I was in college, I had this professor who had a teaching style akin to Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Every class, he droned on and on in monotone. He sat in his chair the entire class, never moving or asking for class input. I hated it. People skipped the class all the time. Now, don’t get me wrong, the professor was incredibly smart and considered a leader in his field, but he was as dull as unbuttered toast.

    I had another professor in the same department, and she was amazing. Just as bright and established in academia as the boring prof, but she made the material come alive, often by connecting it to our lives or providing an interesting analogy. Her style didn’t cheapen or harm the content.

    I guess my point here is that I don’t think this has to be an either/or debate. The problem with the Bill O’Reilly-Keith Olbermann style of journalism is its idealogue approach. They start at the conclusions they want and piece together cherry-picked information to support those conclusions. I don’t think (hope?) that many people want to see O’Reilly-Olbermann-esque shows dominate news media, but I think a lot of people would appreciate coverage that mirrors Malcolm Gladwell’s approach. Gladwell doesn’t have a ideological agenda — he has a drive to find truth and present it in an engaging way (often using narrative).

    If the audience has changed, shouldn’t the formula change as well? Edward R. Murrow was a great reporter and seeker of truth, but when he created his style, the internet didn’t exist and mass communication in general was much more limited. We can keep the Murrow drive for truth in journalism, even if we change the presentation style to better fit the audience of today.

  • JSmith

    Just offhand I’d like to say I really enjoy The Story, as well as the various APM specials among other things.

    I guess what I enjoy is when someone finds a piece of news, digs up all the facts, interview a ton of people, and puts together the information with a nice presentation.

    Obviously this is what people would normally consider “journalism”, but it seems lately to be a lot of talking points and headlines.

    I also absolutely love interviews, but the interviewer should always be challenging who they interview and make sure they stick to the facts. Note that I don’t mean badgering them.

  • Bob

    No offense to you as a middle-aged white guy, Bob, but I keep wishing for the day when major elements of journalism and news programming — gathering the news, delivering the news, making the editorial decisions, running news enterprises, and serving as the subject matter experts/guests on news-related programming — become much more diverse. I think this white maleness had a lot to do with how the media in general fell so quickly into line with Bush and shamelessly beat the Iraq war drums.

    I truly believe that if journalism looked and felt more inclusive, there would be better coverage of more deserving stories, issues, policies, etc.

    Regarding the issue of PBS leaving people in despair, I am O.K. with that. Remember, a pessimist is just a well-informed optimist.

  • Bob Collins

    //a middle-aged white guy, Bob

    No offense taken, but I do admit to tiring of the phrase “old, white guy” or “middle aged white guy.”

    It’s the subject of another post but it’s a phrase we should think about before using it. It is meant — usually — as a negative… being not only old but also white.

    I’ve written in the past about the need for more diversity in the newsroom. When we finally achieve it, let’s try not to define people by their race.

    It’s an insult no matter what color we’re talking about.

    By the way, this newsroom and many others had more women working in them than men when the Iraq war started.

  • Bob

    Indeed, when we do achieve the necessary media diversity, gender, race and age won’t matter. Right now, they still do. But it’s good to know that your newsroom has a decent balance, at least gender-wise…

  • Bob Collins

    It wasn’t always the case. MPR regularly goes to journalism conventions to try to attract people to Minnesota. It’s pretty hard. Or was.’

    One of the concerns in many newsrooms is the media meltdown and layoffs wiping away diversity efforts.

  • Paul

    Just out of curiosity, does MPR/NPR/TPT have any idea what their ratings are? Are a lot of people really listening to Market Place Report?

    As few general comments on the discussion thus far.

    I don’t mind bias, I’m tired of journalists pretending to be unbiased. I’m more concerned about accuracy. I’d rather have biased journalists telling they found out that White House claims of WMDs appear to be false than have a bunch of journalists pretending to be unbiased repeating press releases uncritically.

    Bob Collins has said that they don’t provide the solutions, they find people who have solutions. That’s exactly the problem, a lot of journalism has deteriorated into mere quote collection, and newsrooms can get lazy and fall into the habit of collecting quotes from the same people over and over again. The range of voices is restricted. I don’t think there’s any process for vetting who gets to talk. No matter how wrong and inaccurate they are I keep hearing the same people over and over again. If someone turns out to be unreliable you have to stop using them, find the ones who got it right and talk to them. Beyond that, verify what people are telling you for crying out loud. If they say: “oh that’s all on record at the historical society” (something told to me by several officials once while working on a story) go over there and check it out. If someone is lying or misinforming you that’s a story in and of itself. This idea that there are two sides and it’s up to each side to make their case degrades journalism into a mere conduit for PR and leads to misinformation when the “two” sides are not evenly matched. Getting back to the original point about News Hour, it’s also boring as toast. A report that says “this is what I found out” is simply more interesting than a report that says: “this is what so and so says”. Cut back on the number of stories if you must, but in depth reporting isn’t about finding more people to comment, it’s about investigating the story and reporting the results.

    Be careful about looking for stories that “resonate”. That seems to lead to boring and stupid interviews with people who don’t actually know anything but were in the neighborhood when something happened. I don’t want to hear someone I can relate to, I want to hear what happened. If it’s a good story an it’s reported well it will resonate. Don’t look for stories you think will resonate, just find the stories and report them well.

    As far as solutions are concerned, your never going to get there unless you completely change the way you approach reporting. You have to do some primary research of your own, you have to talk knowledgeable experts instead of “both sides”, and you have to have reporters that are familiar with the subject matter. You can’t take someone who did a story about puppy mills last week and expect them to produce a piece on global warming this week. Solutions mean picking a horse not just presenting the horses for everyone to look at. Bob Collins has repeatedly championed “middlism” the idea that the answers/truth/solutions are somewhere in the middle. In fact answers are rarely in the middle, usually someone has got it right and someone has got it wrong. Are there WMDs in Irag? The answer wasn’t in the middle, the guys who said “no” were right. You can’t hope to offer solutions if you not willing to step off the yellow line in the middle of the road.

    Finally, stop worrying about depressing people. The news doesn’t cause depression, circumstance’s and chemistry cause depression, that’s a psychological fact. Sometimes there’s just a boatload of bad news, whatever. If the news outlets in this country had gotten it right about the economy, Iraq, etc. even though it was bad news, we’d all be better off and have less bad news to deal with today.

  • Bob Collins

    //Bob Collins has said that they don’t provide the solutions, they find people who have solutions. That’s exactly the problem, a lot of journalism has deteriorated into mere quote collection, and newsrooms can get lazy and fall into the habit of collecting quotes from the same people over and over again.

    You’re equating “people who have solutions” and “quote machine.” That’s incorrect. What we’re talking about is in the course of a story about a problem, it’s not that hard to keep going and talk more about people who are trying to solve that.

    Now, these days a lot of people think that the answer to every problem is to just vote for politicians who match their philosophy, those of us who are older than, say , 35, have probably lived long enough to know the fallacy of that approach. Politicians don’t take the lead on solving problems. They just don’t. Politicians follow the lead of others — usually late in the game. Often too late in the game.

    And Barack Obama knows that, as I’ve already written. His was a call to Americans to take to actively solving problems. Those aren’t quote machines, those are people doing what they can to solve a problem and I don’t minimize those people. There’s nothing wrong with telling the story about a problem from the people who are actively trying to solve it.

    As far as the middle is concerned, your view is that the middle consists of people who never stray from the centerline in either direction. My view is the middle is occupied by people who weave from one lane to the other.

    Your view is that people should choose one lane or the other, and while that might be the only road to take for people who want the rest of the world to be just like them, it’s not a realistic journey for free-thinking people.

    If I choose, for example, to accept the same position as a Democrat on a particular issue, I have not forfeited my right to agree with a Republican or an Independent on another issue. And I’m not about to use this space to apologize to you for not agreeing with you on whatever political belief you happen to hold. It doesn’t work that way. It shouldn’t eve work that way.

    I’m not worried about depressing people although I do think it’s about time people recognize that a hopeless people cannot affect change, #1. #2, I think the role of a news organization is to take a snapshot of whatever piece of the world they serve and have that snapshot be accurate. That world is a mix of horrible tragedy and uplifting joy and any snapshot has to be faithful to the accuracy of the picture.

    I also take issue with the “blame the media” approach on the economy. I heard plenty — PLENTY — of stories over the last 10 years about the dangers of debt, for example. And while it might be convenient now to find the media boogeyman a convenient scapegoat again. the fact of the matter is many people just chose not to believe it.

    I am by nature not an optimist. Quite the opposite in fact. I think pessimists, though, think optimists are people in denial when quite often they’re people who are quite aware of the challenges but haven’t given up.

    There are plenty of people who think if the news doesn’t make you want to kill yourself, it’s not serious news.

    Obviously, I disagree.

  • Paul

    Bob Collins,

    I’ve read your last post three times, and I’m at a loss. I think you started this thread with a request for feedback as to how to improve MPRs news coverage. Well, what exactly are you willing to change? What solutions are you willing to pursue? Are you serious about engaging in some critical self analysis or are you just trying to appear willing.

    I equate “the middle” with consensus. If you are serious about pursuing solutions you have to be willing to abandon the consensus. I’m not seeing anyone suggest that you (and by you I’m speaking figuratively no personally) have adopt a particular ideology or join a political party. You can talk about weaving around the yellow line, I think the problem is your road is too narrow. All I’m saying is add a couple lanes and run into the ditch on occasion.

    Obviously the media isn’t responsible for the recession, the war etc. But the consensus has been wrong in a big way several times over the years and the media that has been tied to that consensus has been wrong as well. This doesn’t cause crises, but it has contributed to an inability to have rational discourse and make good public policy. A good example right now is health care. It is currently impossible to have anything but an autistic discussion about health care reform because no one who advocates a single payer system can get anywhere near the door much less in the room. You want to find solutions? Why not do a story about the folks who have been promoting single payer? Do a story about how and why every major actor in the health care industry is committed to shutting out single payer. The consensus is that we can resolve this crises by tweaking the health care market. The consensus is wrong. How are you going to cover this? Are you going to give us “snapshots”?

    I understand and appreciate the “people power” approach to problem solving, and individual actions indeed can make a difference. But that’s not an excuse to stop speaking truth to power. At the end of the day it’s our collective actions via public policy that shape big issues and solve big problems.

  • Bob Collins

    //I think you started this thr//ead with a request for feedback as to how to improve MPRs news coverage.

    The request was: Whether it’s NewsHour, or MPR, or the local TV station you watch: What would you like to hear, see in the coming year that you’re not hearing or seeing now?

    //Are you serious about engaging in some critical self analysis or are you just trying to appear willing.

    I don’t question the truthfulness or integrity of anyone who posts here on News Cut. I’d appreciate it if you would please honor us by not doing so. Thanks.

    // Well, what exactly are you willing to change?

    Maybe something. Maybe nothing. It depends on what people are looking for.

    You’re saying, for example, that because you equate “the middle with consensus. If you are serious about pursuing solutions you have to be willing to abandon the consensus.”

    And that’s fine. But that’s what what you think. That doesn’t mean you’re right. It means it’s just what you think. So perhaps in order for a news organization to prove it is serious about an intelligent discussion of issues, to you it has to abandon a search for answers in consensus, but that doesn’t mean you’re right any more than it means they’re right.

    I think you’re wrong, which of course doesn’t mean you actually are. To my way of thinking, the unwillingness or inability to consder opposing points in a search for answers to problems, is what leads to what’s happening now in Gaza.

    // I think the problem is your road is too narrow. All I’m saying is add a couple lanes and run into the ditch on occasion.

    I was merely pointing out that you misunderstood, and henced mischaracterized — what it means to be in the middle. How you equate “the middle” doesn’t mean that’s my definition of it. So I can’t very well defend your definition. If you want to add a ditch on each side of the road… fine… I still say people in the middle travel from ditch to ditch. I think what you favor is traveling all the way in the ditch.

    // a single payer system can get anywhere near the door much less in the room.

    I’m sorry, I’m all metaphored out on this thread. What do you mean by “room.”

    //At the end of the day it’s our collective actions via public policy that shape big issues and solve big problems.

    Yeah, maybe. What big problems has public policy solved lately? At the moment I can’t think of one.

  • Paul

    Bob says:

    “And that’s fine. But that’s what what you think. That doesn’t mean you’re right. It means it’s just what you think. So perhaps in order for a news organization to prove it is serious about an intelligent discussion of issues, to you it has to abandon a search for answers in consensus, but that doesn’t mean you’re right any more than it means they’re right.”

    The consensus that Iraq possessed WMDs was wrong. That’s not what I think, it’s history. Not all news organizations fell in behind that consensus. Don’t you wish you were one those who hadn’t?

    You appear to be saying that you are unwilling to look beyond the consensus. That’s interesting.

    We haven’t solved any big problems in 20+ years. The question is why? I say part of the problem is that we simply haven’t formed and deployed an rational public policies. Where was the energy policy, the health care policy, the economic policy? The Great Stupid (1980-2008) was all about deliberately having no real policies. There was a time when we had policies, we won WWII, pulled out of the Great Depression, built a world class public education system, sent thousands of WWII to college, etc. Are those days gone forever?

  • Alison

    Paul – While we haven’t quite ‘solved’ the problems of discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity, we have made incredible strides. As a member of one of these groups, I am absolutely stunned by the changes in acceptance and equality in just the past 20 years. We haven’t achieved equality yet and all of the progress wasn’t made by public policy (though some was), but the changes give me hope that we are ready to tackle some of the problems you listed.

  • Bob Collins

    //You appear to be saying that you are unwilling to look beyond the consensus. That’s interesting.

    I don’t really have a response to this because you are making up your perception and then asking me to defend your perception. I don’t see the value in that.

    You acknowledge that public policy is the way to solve big problems, but then acknowledge that public policy hasn’t solved a big problem in 20 years.

    I simply don’t think that the reason for that is that there’s just too much of this working together stuff that’s causing that situation.

    You also use the word “collective”. How does one work in a collective way without some sort of consensus on aspects of the road we’re on?

  • Paul

    Alison,

    We all take hope were we can get it. Public policy is the biggest barrier to GLBT equality right now, and until that policy changes, there can be no true equality. You can change attitudes, but you also have to change laws.

  • Paul

    I’ve always said public policy can solve problems, but it has to be the right policy. The problem for 20+ years is that we’ve either had the wrong policy or no policy at all. There’s no contradiction in my position. I’m not the one who doesn’t think policy matters. To the extent that we as a society and a nation have failed to develop and enact good policy, we’ve failed to work together effectively.

    Consensus is fine as long as it’s arrived through rational and informed discussion. The problem with the consensus media is that the consensus is not arrived at that way. Again, I’m not obsessed with WMDs but it’s a clear example; the consensus that Iraq had WMDs was NOT arrived at through critical and rational examination of the evidence. The media consensus frequently is little more than an expression of the status quo. Maybe it would be better to suggest that you have to look beyond the status quo.

    It looks to me like the formula for change you are describing is simply a way to preserve the status quo.

    Getting back to news sources; I listen/read/watch news sources that challenge the status quo and look beyond the consensus and I’ve been better informed by doing so.

    Bob says:

    “So perhaps in order for a news organization to prove it is serious about an intelligent discussion of issues, to you it has to abandon a search for answers in consensus, but that doesn’t mean you’re right any more than it means they’re right.”

    I don’t expect you to defend my definition. If you want to it might be nice if simply explain what you mean by this statement. It looks to me like your refusing to look beyond consensus. I guess this is the thing- it looks to me like your consensus is not arrived at so much as it is predetermined. For instance, getting back to health care. The current consensus is that single payer solutions are not to be seriously considered. How did you arrive at that consensus?

  • Bob Collins

    //The current consensus is that single payer solutions are not to be seriously considered. How did you arrive at that consensus?

    *I* haven’t arrived at that conclusion. Nor have I arrived at the conclusion that it’s not the answer.

    I have arrived at the conclusion that while folks are having a public policy debate, on a system that , were it approved tomorrow would still be years away — there are real live people in the here-and-now. Some people are helping them. Some people aren’t.

    To me, they’re more than props to be used in a public policy debate.

    And back to the original part of the post, THAT’S the problem I have with NewsHour. Only “experts” get to offer solutions.

    So, sure, the big scheme of thing a complete answer involves policy, but for the here-and-now, I’d like to hear more stories about what we asa individuals can do.

    So maybe making a big pot of stew and dropping it off at Dorothy Day won’t end end hunger, but maybe someone will get a bowl of stew so that people aren’t starving while the “experts” talk.

    I think far too often, people engage in a political discussion and the think they’re actually doing something and caring more.

    I’m under no illusion, however, that I’m accomplishing anything significant with this blog. That’s what separates me and NewsHour. They think they are.

  • Alison

    Paul – Changing attitudes will result in changed laws and policies. While Prop 8 was a defeat, the 48% voting against it IS evidence of a big change. And California isn’t the only state in the union and marriage isn’t the only measure of progress.

    Of course, all of this is off topic for Bob’s question, so I’ll stop on this topic.

  • http://www.trailblz.com Brian Hanf

    Wow Bob.

    How about a new thread, this one is a little off topic I think. (not that far off, but did get a way)

    I think the starter question is something that can be talked about in greater detail.

    So…

    Jim Lehrer thinks that Jon Stewart is a Joke.

    But the problem is everyone knows the name of Jon Stewart’s show, what is Jim Lehrer’s show called.

    Jon interviewing a guest is interesting, playful. I am informed afterwards.

    I think I watched Jim interview someone, once.

    I think someone who is skilled and given the room by their network could make a show like NewsHour more watch able. Suggestions: why not interview a State Rep from OR, WA, MO, or other out of the belt way state (and I don’t mean the leaders, rank and file State Reps). Why not have the fringe Congressional Members on, why just the ‘leadership’ – I know they do some times, but why not at least every other week. Why have 2 sides presented each week, why not the other 5 (exclude the 2 main sides).

    This 2 sided presentation is what I think kills the serious political news (or one sided), everyone knows that problems are not that simple and to try and believe (and present) that is our only choice is bad idea, and is not informative or entertaining.

    But what media source is presenting the bill that doesn’t have a chance (even though it might be a good idea) or the bill’s author on to talk about why the other 2 sides don’t solve the problem. I don’t mean the weird bill’s, I mean well thought out solutions to the big problems of the day.

  • Bob Collins

    The beauty of the Daily Show is it’s not bound by some outdated model that says journalists have to pretend absurdity doesn’t exist.

    Ironically, the highlight of the careers of two most respected journalists of our time — long credited with the model of a perfect journalist — both involved noting the absurdity of something.

  • bsimon

    Brian Hanf-

    It sounds like you aren’t familiar with PBS’ NewsHour. I don’t get to watch it as much as I’d like, but they do tend to have more guests than just party leadership. The last time I watched the show was several weeks ago, during what I think was a GOP Governor’s convention. Their guests were Tim P & Gov Sanford, of GA, I believe. As one would expect, the Govs (both Republicans) agreed on some issues, but disagreed on others – the Detroit bailout being one. This was an in-depth interview digging deep into current events. It certainly wasn’t as amusing as a Jon Stewart interview, but it was far more informative.

  • Paul

    “So, sure, the big scheme of thing a complete answer involves policy”

    “Changing attitudes will result in changed laws and policies.”

    So we agree that changing, developing, and implementing good public policy is a necessary objective. That seemed to be in dispute for some reason. I don’t know anyone who advocates policy discussions to the exclusion of direct personal action. Most of the people I know cook stew and attempt to shape policy somehow. Policies don’t necessarily take years to implement by the way.

    Getting back to Lehrer, used to watch religiously, haven’t for years. The show became irrelevant to me. I expect my news sources to stimulate informed discussion about personal and public policy. For instance, a personality I mentioned previously- Don Olson, will play a speech by Howard Zinn ( an expert) about foreign policy one week, and interview a local high school student who organizes against recruiters on campus the next week.

    I like the idea of not pretending somethings absurd, let’s see some more of that.