Fat Steve's Blatherings

Sunday, May 29, 2005

How to be "Fair and Balanced" -- a Preliminary Report

      Roger L. Simon has started a discussion on what the upcoming Pajamas Media should be and do.  Question #1 is: What is "fair and balanced?"  After giving some thoughts of his own,
      Trouble is - it's not so simple.  Many established media companies across the political spectrum have asserted they were "fair and balanced" or something similar only to get pie in the face, figuratively and literally.  And is "fair and balanced" even possible from a human endeavor?
he asks for comments.

      There are some extraordinarily good suggestions over there, and it's worth reading in full, if you have time.  So far (I'm in the process of cataloging them), I'd say the the ideas fall into three overlapping categories:

      1) Be honest.  Explain what you're trying to do, and why you're trying to do it; correct mistakes, but leave the old mistakes visible rather than erasing them; don't determine what cause or conclusion you want to advance, and then leave out facts that undercut that cause; tell the whole story; advance equal portions of all sides to a proposition; don't cherrypick sources or quotes to slant a story; rigorously distinguish facts and opinions; ; don't use scare quotes; keep and open mind; always remember and admit that you may be wrong.

      2) Be accurate.  Report without fear or favor; always seek to inform; tell who, what, where, when, why, and how upfront; don't weasel or spin; follow the evidence; give "just the facts," as Sgt. Friday says; repeat a person's own words.

      3) Be transparent.  Seek to identify all sources; describe sources as fully as possible, especially anonymous sources; don't call a single usource "sources"; tell us your own biases upfront; support everything in the story; make decision criteria public; be self-critical; use peer review and feedback; guard against groupthink; track and publish the accuracy of reporting and analysis.

      This is a conversation well worth taking part in, and I urge you to do so.



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