Fair and Balanced
The media industry (a.k.a. MSM) has been accused of bias. But now that Roger Simon is leading the formation of Pajamas Media the possibility of falling into the same hole arises. So he asks Bloggers how they would do it again if they could.
Toward that end I would like to start a conversation on the subject on here spread over several days. And I thank those in advance who would be kind enough to participate. Let's start with the "Big Kahuna"... What does "fair and balanced" mean anyway?
There are probably two answers to this question, one for those interested in the "truth" no matter how inconvenient, and those who prefer to pursue a vision which must remain untarnished by empirical warts. The problem with providing answers for the first sort is that the truth is sometimes nearly incomprehensible because it does not lend itself to a neat narrative. One of the motivations for creating a network of citizen pundits and reporters is diversify the narrative by taking the news object (here used in the sense of an entity with properties and methods) out of the consensus atmosphere of editorial boards and decentralizing it. This makes the news 'truer' insofar as it removes the neat underlying story from the headlines. But it also makes the world more incomprehensible. A world in which the good guys are not always good and things not always what they seem would come too near the observation that life is sometimes absurd.
I suspect that while life may be absurd many people do not want news to be likewise. There's a real case for providing a redacted vision of the world, as embodied in a consistent viewpoint because most people want news to have explanatory power. Consider a football game. Without the artificiality of teams, uniforms and goal-lines, spectators could not cheer for one team over the other, which is what they came for: not to see chaos on the field. Extry, extry, programs: you can't tell one team from another without a program. Hence, most writers (and media companies too) find audiences -- liberal audiences, conservative audiences, airhead audiences, etc -- who pay to see the world represented as they would like to understand it, perhaps because they can understand it in no other way. Media providers need audiences so badly they sometimes resort to inventing them. The Canadian blog Angry in the Great White North believes that one of the great, but dubious achievements of Canadian liberals has been to invent a wholly synthetic identity which the intellectually lazy voter could readily adopt. By repetition and subliminal suggestion Canadian liberals have sold many the idea that to be Canadian is to be liberal, with the lower case and upper case "L". 'You want the truth', Jack Nicholson rhetorically asks in a Few Good Men. Well, he cynically answers, "you can't handle the truth! ...", the world wants "the luxury of not knowing what I know ."
Of course that's only partway true because the world can't handle a lie either. The wreckage of despotic empires and discarded ideologies is testament to the fact that falsehoods no matter how well constructed never ultimately survive collision with reality. Therefore while it is not necessary for a "fair and balanced" media regime to require the absence of a viewpoint it is vital for it to possess an element of chaos, a place beyond the reach of consensus and established narratives, where raw facts can be allowed to constitute themselves into new and perhaps better memes. Fortunately, the structure of the Internet provides much of this uncontrollability by default. The challenge is to allow the readers to directly access it. I believe the key challenge will be to provide drilldown and aggregative tools which readers can use to get as arbitrarily close as they want to the underlying facts and to rejig them in new ways. They should have the choice of either accepting an interpretation from a source they trust or rolling their own. It is largely, but not entirely, a software development challenge. The real power of the Internet revolution is that it has given readers unprecedented and unmediated access to information (the media mediates) and new ways to aggregate and synthesize facts. Pajamas Media was an natural product of that upheaval, the storm petrel of a storm whose dimensions we have yet to grasp.