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Balance vs. accuracy: Josh Marshall's take

In a speech delivered last month at Ithaca College and newly published at Alternet, the Talking Points Memo founder makes a compelling case that independent/alternative media can get at the truth more effectively than big organizations like CNN, which want to please everybody all the time. Note, as you read, that the implications of his argument are actually nonpartisan:

There are a number of reasons why it's important that there be an alternative media, not a media culled by a handful of major corporations. The one I want to focus on is the way that the mainstream media consistently and, as part of the ethos, prioritizes balance over accuracy in reporting the news -- particularly political and campaign news. The way that John McCain has had a series of specious commercials and campaign events in which either he or his running-mate say things that aren't spin or stretching the truth, but by any conventional English-language definition: lies, things that are false and are said knowing that they are false. Until the last few days, the headline would be: Lots of lying in campaigns, everybody's sad about it.

There's a lot of reasons why that is a flawed conception of journalism. It's not a personal fault of the journalists in question -- that's the model they're trained to operate in. As the concept of journalistic objectivity has evolved, it's become a corrupt model of journalism, rooted in the economic changes of business in journalism over the last half-century. Earlier in the last century, you had a medium-sized city like Pittsburgh or Louisville or Phoenix, the model of those newspapers was not that they would serve an entire community.

But then there is CNN's model: Everybody should be watching CNN, everybody. If that is your model, if you are the single newspaper in San Francisco or Kansas City or St. Louis, you are just highly constrained about how rigorous you can be in the accuracy of your reporting. Because the whole model is: You are appealing to everybody. With the conglomeration of media -- not just the major corporations nationally, but even at the regional and city level -- you have single news organizations that have something close to a monopoly. It creates a great deal of pressure to embrace that flawed model of journalism.

One of the things that is most important about independent media is that you have news organizations not part of the model where they ideally want to be everybody's dominant news source. If that's not the case, you don't have that need to satisfy everybody -- and that underlying need to prioritize balance over accuracy.

That's why the existence of an independent media sector is so important. Also, the more voices you have, the more takes on the news, you're just going to have a more vibrant and diverse news ecosystem - as opposed to having two or three gatekeepers that control the news.

 (Via Romenesko.)

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