Transparency vs. objectivity in journalism

Poynter has a really good piece up this week about Nate Silver and the future of bloggers as journalists (OK, so I oversold that a little, but still, that's sort of the gist).

Silver, as you probably know, predicted a landslide for President Obama in the electoral vote in this year's election. While news media were busy talking about the 1% difference in popular votes according to polls leading up to the election, Silver was figuring out which polls made the most sense in which states and predicted that Obama would have 313 electoral votes on election night.

Conservatives, and even some in the media, thought that was ridiculous. If their polling was so close, how could Obama win 313 electoral votes to 225?

Actual electoral vote count: Obama 332, Romney 206.

Not only was Silver right about a landslide, he was off by 19. I don't know where that came from; maybe Virgina and Nevada (13 and 6 electoral votes, respectively).

Part of the bloggers vs. journalists debate over the years has been this. Bloggers are typically politically biased, while journalists are objective.

Here's the thing: That's not true. In The American Journalist, we find out that most (nearly three-quarters of them, in fact) journalists lean to the left. And while we might call that a liberal bias in media (particularly in print), content analyses show over and over that while some newspapers lean left on the editorial page while others lean right, as a whole, newspapers tend to pick on whoever's in office, regardless of their politics.

I'd argue that people who attack every story objectively are dull writers.

We want to hear both (or all, really) sides of every story, not no side of every story. And if the writer is honest with me about his or her viewpoint, it's easy to forgive a viewpoint injection. It's when the journalist injects a viewpoint under guise of objectivity that we have a problem. You can disagree with a writer, but you can't disagree with a piece of paper in front of you (well, you can, but it can't put up a coherent argument – it's a piece of paper).

Poynter also notes that the Times didn't take on a risk when they signed Silver; someone else had already dropped $700,000 on a couple of books. Good for him.

I'll ask you: Would you rather read a strictly objective article by a journalist with no viewpoint (nor the guts to take a side), or a biased article written by a smart person who uses all sides to tell you why s/he thinks s/he is right?

Give me smart, biased journalism any day. Just give me all the information so that I can make a decision, too.

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