Monday, August 8, 2011

Fair and balanced

It's pretty fashionable to decry "fair and balanced" reporting.  "Fair and balanced" reporting involves featuring a person from each side, even if one side is plainly wrong.

If the news decided to write a story on the health impact of EMF radiation, they might find one person who claims to get headaches from them, and another person to say that they're totally safe.  Someone who reads this might conclude that the middle ground is most likely correct--that EMF radiation requires caution and further study.  (It's forgotten that further study has already been done, and baseless caution causes harm.)

But what is the alternative to "fair and balanced" reporting?  Would you like the article to declare one side right and the other side stupid?  This runs afoul of my rule against pointless opinions.  It doesn't really matter what the journalist thinks, because the journalist is just this person, you know?  The journalist doesn't have any special knowledge about the subject, because all the evidence is right there in the article.  If one side is so plainly wrong, the journalist doesn't need to say so in order for it to be plain.

On the other hand, people who complain about "fair and balanced" may have a point after all.  The alternative is not for the journalist to express a pointless opinion, but to let their investigation go beyond the balance.  If on one side they have a concerned father, and the other side a health researcher, it may seem that there is parity, since it's testimonial against testimonial.  But the researcher's opinion is really a reference to a scientific study--maybe it's worth investigating?  If one side has more relevant things to say, let them say it without having to "balance" it with irrelevant anecdotes.

1 comment:

GENETICS said...

Yeah, I agree with you. News is never really balanced between convenient political groups like Dems and Reps.

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