This past week, I found myself caught up in one of those annual political conversations that seem to punctuate every Thanksgiving gathering. Only this year it was a little more pertinent, what with all of the events of the past few weeks. A conversation about my journalism schooling quickly led to my uncle and I discussing the crazy landscape of American politics and how the press, for better or for worse (let’s be honest, usually for worse) has a massive impact on shaping people’s beliefs in this country. This is actually something that has been weighing particularly heavily on my mind lately and has led to me switching my emphasis to Investigative Journalism.
So- when I got a chance to sit down and read through the articles on Sakai, I was intrigued.
Here’s what I think: As for NPR’s coverage in the first story, my opinion is nuanced, and that’s because, well, I have an opinion. Admittedly, I am not the biggest Breitbart fan, and by association I’m not a very big Steve Bannon fan either. I consider myself to be pretty socially progressive, and so some of the stuff that comes out of that website flat out disgusts me. Whether or not the content being pushed out by Breitbart is overtly marginalizing demographics like women, muslims or members of the LGBTQ community, I do personally believe that the snide, dismissive content on the website feeds into those misogynistic/racist/etc. narratives in many people’s minds. Another layer is that as an aspiring journalist, I don’t think Breitbart produces very quality stuff. It would be reasonable to assume, then, that I think NPR didn’t hammer Breitbart, Bannon, Pollak and co. hard enough, and erroneously “normalized” their racist tendencies by portraying them on par with the NPR host’s points.. Certainly, part of me feels this way. However…
I think that at a certain point, true, effective journalism ultimately has to leave it up to the reader/listener/viewer to form their own opinions. In my opinion, truly quality reporting will inform the media consumer as wholly as possible without spoon feeding them the “right” or “wrong” answer. Good reporting should lead the audience to the water, not tell them what to drink. Of course, this is easier said than done. I do think that NPR did a decent job of maintaining neutrality, especially in the second story, where I think that they could’ve gone after Pollak a lot harder about Bannon’s sexist remarks and his accusations about “Code Switch’s” racism. But I guess I almost need to qualify that by saying that while I do think good journalism needs to present information in an equal light and allow consumers to reach their own decisions, only truly equal and accurate information should be presented as such.
The in a nutshell version: Journalism shouldn’t tell you what to think, but it should present verified, proportional information in context that lets the reader make decisions for themselves. I don’t think the NPR pieces were guilty of telling readers what to think, but I do think that they could’ve done a better job of contextualizing and perhaps debunking some of the more questionable points that came up in the interview.