Objectivity and Competition

Matthew Yglesias considers the idea that everyone complains about the conventions of journalistic objectivity, but no one does anything. His suggestion is that when competition and the tubes join forces, something will get done. I’m sceptical. At least I’m skeptical that anything good will get done.

Let’s note that the problem of journalistic objectivity has already been solved by one major news organization: Fox News has clearly gotten away from the ‘he said, she said’ style of political reporting, in favor of the ‘he said, she said, but we know that the democrats are liars’ brand. Fox News is very popular, and its imitators on the internet will continue to avoid journalistic objectivity. Eventually we’ll get liberal versions of Fox News, but it’s only for contingent reasons that a liberal Fox News would be a great place to get your news right now.

Nor is competition going to change anything–Fox News clones have an important place in the market. Most people won’t go there, because the partisanship will turn them off, but the mainstream news sources they gravitate to will have every incentive to be bland and inoffensive. The internet creates a space for thoughtful news sources, but it doesn’t produce the people who are interested in them. Matt says “managers and reporters who manage to consistently cover the news in a way that people find useful will prosper, while those who fail to do so will suffer.” This is true, but it only matters if people find traditional ‘objective’ journalism less useful than the alternatives. Frankly, I think that people only find traditional journalism frustrating when they take the time to educate themselves and start to see its limitations. This process takes time, some intelligence, and an interest in politics, so it’s likely to lead to a niche market, with or without the internet.

In short, the internet has done and will do great things to make quality political coverage available to people who want it and can recognize it for what it is. But unless the internet changes the people who consume the news, it won’t change the news that they consume.


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