Smart commentary

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One of my favorite journalists—one I hope to meet some day—Mort Rosenblum. Photo thanks to the International Journalism Festival, whose chroniclers used a Creative Commons license.

I read Rosenblum’s book shortly after its release a few years back. What a great piece of wisdom. Wisdom: that’s what journalism (and by necessity, journalists!) needs these days. It’s gratifying, then, to learn that Mort has a keen interest in all the NSA reporting of late by Poitras-Greenwald. Or Greenwald-Poitras. Whatever.

Rather than preach to the choir (have you seen my contact page, called Blowing The Whistle?), after the break I’ll offer some of Rosenblum’s recent thoughts, posted without fanfare on the Facebook page of his educational organization.

I think Greenwald’s new outlet needs to hire Rosenblum. And then me.

Rosenblum says:

Even if these NSA retirements are mere damage control with secret plans for more of the same, this is a triumph for public scrutiny. Now “mainstream media” and all various new alternatives can chime in as the selection process leads to hearings, and fresh light is shed into NSA’s shadows. At the same time, why not also focus on legislative lunacy, gerrymandering, lobbying, power abuse, and the rest?

And earlier, about the new journalism venture by Greenwald, Omidyar, Poitras:

My caution is that growing focus on big revelations with attitude tends to neglect the essential day-to-day reporting of small stuff, which foreshadow crises. It’s the seismology thing. We pay lots of attention when volcanoes blow, often too late for effective reaction. But we miss the lava perking away subsurface when there is still time to do something… Thoughts?

And earlier (but still in Oct.), a thought I might call Rosenblum’s biggest legacy on students of journalism:

The old curse of false equivalence is getting worse fast. Ironically, it’s comment on good old Qatar-based Al Jazeera that reminds us how balanced coverage ought to work. That hoary approach – on the one hand this, and on the other hand… — pretty much guarantees getting the story seriously wrong.

That’s how we allowed irreparable climate chaos. A panel of 3,000 global experts repeatedly said one thing. A TV weatherman in a bad suit and industry lobbies repeatedly said another. They got equal space until reality was too hot and wind-lashed to ignore. And even now…

When this clown Congress episode started, Washington’s hometown paper said it was because a “bitterly divided” Congress “failed to reach agreement.” That reminded me of Blaine Harden, one of the Washington Post’s past great correspondents. We were in Sarajevo just after the Serbs waged war on Bosnian Muslims and Croats. Someone mentioned how complex it was. Blaine replied, “It’s about as complex as armed robbery.”

That’s why the discussion is endless over “objective” reporting. No one sentient enough to write about humans can be truly objective. But it is possible to try and to come close. A skilled reporter examines as many sides as possible (there are never only two) and tries to steer the reader to a reasonable conclusion. Here is the catch: if the evidence comes down against the reporter’s personal prejudice, that’s the breaks. The job is to try to be right, not just persuasive.

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