Wednesday, December 1

MSNBC Deserves a Citizen Kaning

MSNBC issues this invitation:
Be part of the dialogue of the issues affecting Americans. Tell us YOUR story by being a Citizen Journalist

Sort of has the same ring as the rhetoric of the old Homefront of WWII, doesn't it? Or an invitation to join the Buck Rogers Space Rangers, like on oldtime radio.

If "citizen" is to be used interchangeably with "amateur," then is a professional something other than a citizen?

There's even a credo:

As a Citizen Journalist, we expect the same from you as we do the entire MSNBC staff: Submissions must be accurate and objective. In order to uphold the journalistic integrity [sic], you must remove any personal biases from the story.

As though the words "accurate" and "objective" required no further definition. "uphold the journalistic integrity"? Was this copy written by a cartoon French waiter? Was it copyedited by anybody?

And what's this preachy "thou shalt not be biased"? I can't think of any codes of ethics that put the matter quite so bluntly. More typical is the Finnish Union of Journalists, which holds that "a journalist must aim at truthful, essential and unbiased information." There's some techniques you use to try to do this, the same way that scientific trials of medicines use double blinds and placebos. You have someone else double-check your facts, you use multiple sources for each fact, and all that time-consuming mumbo-jumbo that makes the actual job a bit more tedious than it seems in the movies and on TV.

(Besides, how on earth can I tell you MY story and be unbiased at the same time? My biases are what make it mine, right?)

You can deliver a better "how to" briefing on how to go about doing the same job you do, can't you, MSNBC? How about publishing the MSNBC code of professional ethics and letting us amateurs have a read? What? Don't have one? Well, tell us what your position is on the Tirana Declaration, then. Is it all right if we lead with a teaser like "Underage. Overexposed. Online" like I saw on one cable network promo for a report on teenagers on the Internet? How about if I only interview professional lobbyists, pundits, and experts for hire instead of people with current practical knowledge of a given subject. Can we tell 'em in the green room to sex up the rhetoric so can have a real rhetorical slugfest like the WWF crowd likes?

MSNBC comes up with a half-assed attempt to cash in on what it perceives as a hot topic. I call BS. If they were really interested, they wouldn't have downsized the guy who wrote their Weblogs Central Web log--which was pretty good. This might work, though, if you made a real effort to educate the public, with some real incentives to try to do good work: whip up some nice tutorials, hand out some free digicams, audio recorders, and stuff to the masses, put a more literate intern and maybe some real staffers on the project, program a half-hour of America's Most Informative Home Videos and get Alex Trebec to host it ...

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