Elsewhere

Bloomberg’s Social Media Policy: Ethics From Nowhere

Bloomberg has set up a social media policy for employees, and it seems enlightened in some points, but inevitably it falls down the hole that Jay Rosen calls the 'view from nowhere' (after Thomas Nagle):


Q. You’ve been using this phrase, “the view from nowhere,” for a while–

A. Yeah, since 2003

Q. So what do you mean by it?

A. Three things. In pro journalism, American style, the View from Nowhere is a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer. Frequently it places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position “impartial.” Second, it’s a means of defense against a style of criticism that is fully anticipated: charges of bias originating in partisan politics and the two-party system. Third: it’s an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view. American journalists have almost a lust for the View from Nowhere because they think it has more authority than any other possible stance.

 Q. Well, does it?

A. What authority there is in the position of viewlessness is unearned– like the snooty guy who, when challenged, says, “Madam, I have a PhD.” In journalism, real authority starts with reporting. Knowing your stuff, mastering your beat, being right on the facts, digging under the surface of things, calling around to find out what happened, verifying what you heard. “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.” Illuminating a murky situation because you understand it better than almost anyone. Doing the work! Having a track record, a reputation for reliability is part of it, too. But that comes from doing the work.

[…]

In fact, American journalism is dumber than most journalists, who often share my sense of absurdity about these practices. A major reason we have a practice less intelligent than its practitioners is the prestige that the View from Nowhere still claims in American newsrooms. You asked me why I am derisive toward it. That’s why.

So, Bloomberg expects us to believe that its employees have no political beliefs — or even if such a thing were possible, that would be a good thing — because it prohibits those employees from expressing those beliefs:

Ellie Behling, Bloomberg updates social media policy for reporters

Personal Conduct
  • We should not use social networks to express political opinions or to advocate on behalf of a particular issue or agenda. Posts should never express bias based on race, sex, religion, or nationality.
  • Reporters and editors cannot use social media to express opinions related in any way to their professional assignment or beat. We must be mindful readers depend on our reporting for observation and insight derived from fact – not from opinion or gossip.
  • We must be transparent at all times about our occupations. Most social networks include a personal profile section, which is usually the best opportunity to provide background information.
  • Do not join groups on social networks dedicated to a particular political opinion or cause.
  • Do not engage in arguments with those critical of our work or critical of Bloomberg News.
  • Do not disparage the work of others. 
  • Assume internal Bloomberg discussions and meetings are “off-the-record” unless otherwise stated.

This policy almost offensive, as when it implies that the only alternative to discussing facts is opinion or gossip. Making inferences or conclusions from facts is not gossip or opinion: it is grounded in logic, and the basis of science.

More importantly, we know today that human cognition is grounded in values: we cannot make decisions or take action without having a value system. We know that reporters are human, as well, and there is no way to step back from an issue if you are close enough to decide which facts are pertinent and relevant to a story. People always have political beliefs, and they are always based on value systems.

So, it’s all a pernicious lie. Bloomberg and other media companies that want to pretend that journalism and journalists can be value-free are free to do so. But we know it’s a pretense: one that implies we are uneducated fools, and will go along with the pretense.

This entire edifice could be called the ethics from nowhere: to pretend that journalism can be effective without affect, and to hold up a value-free view-from-nowhere as real and beneficial when it is impossible and dangerous.

And none of this has anything to do with social media: its about social discourse, a much greater domain.

The Five Things Bloggers Rub Into The Face Of Professional Journalism

Jay Rosen, The Twisted Psychology of Bloggers vs. Journalists: My Talk at South By Southwest

Journalists today are under stress. The stress has five sources. Bloggers put all five right into the face of professional journalism.

One: A collapsing economic model, as print and broadcast dollars are exchanged for digital dimes.

Two: New competition (the loss of monopoly) as a disruptive technology, the Internet, does its thing.

Three. A shift in power. The tools of the modern media have been distributed to the people formerly known as the audience.

Four: A new pattern of information flow, in which “stuff” moves horizontally, peer to peer, as effectively as it moves vertically, from producer to consumer. Audience atomization overcome, I call it.

Five. The erosion of trust (which started a long time ago but accelerated after 2002) and the loss of authority.

Read the whole thing.

I am not a scientist. I am a journalist. I did not gather with indifference all the facts and arrange them patiently for permanent preservation and laboratory analysis. I did not want to preserve, I wanted to destroy the facts. My purpose was [to] see if the shameful facts, spread out in all their shame, would not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride. That was the journalism of it. I wanted to move and to convince.

Lincoln Steffens, cited by Jay Rosen in The Twisted Psychology of Bloggers vs. Journalists: My Talk at South By Southwest

Jay Rosen On The View From Nowhere

Jay interviews himself, clarifying the philosophic underpinnings of the term ‘the view from nowhere’ that is being widely used these days regarding journalistic objectivity, and largely because of Rosen’s consistent usage:

Q. Who gets credit for the phrase, “view from nowhere?”

A. The philosopher Thomas Nagel, who wrote a very important book with that title.

Q. What does it say? 

A. It says that human beings are, in fact, capable of stepping back from their position to gain an enlarged understanding, which includes the more limited view they had before the step back. Think of the cinema: when the camera pulls back to reveal where a character had been standing and shows us a fuller tableau. To Nagel, objectivity is that kind of motion. We try to “transcend our particular viewpoint and develop an expanded consciousness that takes in the world more fully.”

But there are limits to this motion. We can’t transcend all our starting points. No matter how far it pulls back the camera is still occupying a position. We can’t actually take the “view from nowhere,” but this doesn’t mean that objectivity is a lie or an illusion. Our ability to step back and the fact that there are limits to it– both are real. And realism demands that we acknowledge both.

Q. So is objectivity a myth… or not?

A. One of the many interesting things Nagel says in that book is that “objectivity is both underrated and overrated, sometimes by the same persons.” It’s underrated by those who scoff at it as a myth. It is overrated by people who think it can replace the view from somewhere or transcend the human subject. It can’t.

Q. You are very critical of the View from Nowhere in journalism. It’s almost a derisive term for you.

A. That’s true. I let my disdain for it show.

Q. Why?

A. Because it has unearned authority in the American press. If in doing the serious work of journalism–digging, reporting, verification, mastering a beat–you develop a view, expressing that view does not diminish your authority. It may even add to it. The View from Nowhere doesn’t know from this. It also encourages journalists to develop bad habits. Like: criticism from both sides is a sign that you’re doing something right, when you could be doing everything wrong.

Jay goes on to eviscerate bad policy decisions at MSNBC (Keith Olbermann), NPR (viewlessness rules), WashPo (declined to estimate rallies’ sizes on the Mall to avoid ‘leaning’), and so on.

A beautiful and grounded polemic against dogmatic stupidity.

Unbundling The Web, One Link At A Time

Nick Carr wonders if we should sequester all of out links at the end of posts, instead of spread wherever they are referred to, to minimize distraction from what the author is getting at.

Links are wonderful conveniences, as we all know (from clicking on them compulsively day in and day out). But they’re also distractions. Sometimes, they’re big distractions - we click on a link, then another, then another, and pretty soon we’ve forgotten what we’d started out to do or to read. Other times, they’re tiny distractions, little textual gnats buzzing around your head. Even if you don’t click on a link, your eyes notice it, and your frontal cortex has to fire up a bunch of neurons to decide whether to click or not. You may not notice the little extra cognitive load placed on your brain, but it’s there and it matters. People who read hypertext comprehend and learn less, studies show, than those who read the same material in printed form. The more links in a piece of writing, the bigger the hit on comprehension.

The link is, in a way, a technologically advanced form of a footnote. It’s also, distraction-wise, a more violent form of a footnote. Where a footnote gives your brain a gentle nudge, the link gives it a yank. What’s good about a link - its propulsive force - is also what’s bad about it.

I don’t want to overstate the cognitive penalty produced by the hyperlink (or understate the link’s allure and usefulness), but the penalty seems to be real, and we should be aware of it. In The Shallows, I examine the hyperlink as just one element among many - including multimedia, interruptions, multitasking, jerky eye movements, divided attention, extraneous decision making, even social anxiety - that tend to promote hurried, distracted, and superficial thinking online. To understand the effects of the Web on our minds, you have to consider the cumulative effects of all these features rather than just the effects of any one individually.

Carr is not explicitly trying to ‘unbuild the web’ as Jay Rosen styles it. He’s worried about our vagrant attention, like a school marm that simply wants us to get back to practicing our penmanship instead of looking at the clouds out the window.

Carr has forgotten that the journey is more important than the map, no matter how skilled the cartographer.

So this is actually not an knock against the architecture of the web, but an attack on flow: the way our minds work when presented with the increasingly fluid and meandering streams of information and connection that make up our online world.

Carr’s all about focus, and getting things done. It’s not that links are bad, in and of themselves: it those that click on them, wander off for ten minutes reading some supporting or dissenting opinion or three, they are the malefactors. How dare them! Don’t them know they are supposed to read the essay word for word the way the author intended? The liberties they take by wandering all over!

It’s the same problem with newspapers, I bet Carr would say. The editors in their wisdom know how much of the newshole is supposed to be devoted to stories, and what’s on the front page. That’s their expertise. We aren’t supposed to make those decisions for ourselves!

Anyway, I think that Carr is just a bit too bookish and disconnected from the pulsing flow of the web to see what’s at play, here. Carr has forgotten that the journey is more important than the map, no matter how skilled the cartographer.

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