Friday, April 20, 2007

Has The Independent gone mad?

(I quite like this headline though) Even when in the UK I was never a big Independent reader, I'm not sure why - perhaps I was brainwashed into being a Guardianista from an early age and never felt the need to change. Some years back I had to meet an MI5 officer in a café - it was a lot less interesting than it sounds - and do remember thinking to buy the Independent that day as I didn't want to turn up with the Guardian and prejudice the chances of my mate who was applying for a job and had given my name as referee. If I was being really cynical I should have gone the whole hog and bought a Telegraph but there are just some things you can't bring yourself to do.

Anyway - there was a time when the Independent had a reputation for being exactly what its name implies. Andrew Marr's book "My Trade" that I have mentioned here a number of times covers his period as the editor of the Indy and is interesting on the issue of how newspaper owners and their editors relate or don't relate to each other, and what happens when sales won't go up (panic mainly it seems). But on the actual journalism side he makes it sound pretty much like other papers. But over recent years - since Marr left? - it just seems to have gone loopy. I've just finished Nick Cohen's book (more on that later) and he makes a comment along these lines - although you could see that as one hack slagging off a rival paper. But whenever I'm in the UK and see it on a news stand the front cover is inevitably tabloid-esque block letters explaining how the world is about to end due to war/famine/global-warming/aliens/whatever. I can only imagine that subscribers end up clinically depressed. So I've have to link to the Alex at the Yorkshire Ranter who this week is showing that the Indy's standards of science journalism seem to be on a level with front cover style - very tabloid. He even explains why this might be.

All papers print stupid stuff from time to time, a minor scandals often result, but it just seems the Indy has chosen a very peculiar path, is striding on down it and not looking back.

8 comments:

Katie W said...

At least it still publishes stories you would never see in any of the other newspapers, todays headline is a bit rubbish (even if it is true, the legislation on abortion that went through the supreme court yesterday is unbelievable).
Yes the front cover can be a bit depressing, but the world is a bit of a depressing place at the momment thanks to George Bush, Global warming and various other reasons.
By the way I'm an Indy reader, can you tell!

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

The world is depressing but I know this and don't need a poster-type front page reminding me of this every day! As an Indy reader - how do you go on in life?! The righteous anger?! ;-)

I do like Johann Hari though. All of his columns I have read tend to be very sensible.

Anonymous said...

It is newspaper of the year, so who are you to diss it :)

Jod

KGS said...

British "journalism" is highly vitriolic under normal circumstances, that the Indy or even the Gaurdian would use such crap headlines during this present time period is not unusual.

The British media were at the forefront of spreading the lie of the "Jenin massacre", of which none have apologized for the role they played.

What I find interesting is the phenomenon of the news media's supposed sense of neutrality being trashed day after day in their papers, while they cling to the canard of their being professional journalists.

I find the NUJ's stupid boycott of Israel to be most telling.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

I also think the NUJ's boycott is stupid and its positive to see that lots of its members have stood up and said just that. But then, on the other hand you probably think the opinion pages of WSJ are "neutral". Everybody spots the "biases" of the media they don't like whilst denying them in those they favour.

p.s. sometime I'm going to do a search and discover how many times you use the word "canard". I think it is your favourite word! ;-)

KGS said...

Hi Toby,

I think that it would be honest and refreshing move for the news media to recognize and admit the that the bias does in fact exist.

Bias exists on both sides of the aisle, but I would direct you to an interesting UCLA study in which, yes, even the WSJ figures left of center. The difference here, is that its editorial pages are clearly conservative.

http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/page.asp?RelNum=6664

Not too many liberal papers can boast the same, the Helsingin Sanomat is one prime example here in the Finnish news media.

Anyways, this is not a case about kvetching about a newsaper's bias, solely because your pet cause is habitually skewered, this is about professional arrogance that borders on elitism.

I remember once when I fielded a question to the Maailman Näytamöllä (former) anchor Jarmo Mäkinen, "which came first, the media's bias or the publics" (he had stated earlier that the media is just giving what the public what it wanted), he answered that news journalism is a business, and that they are providing a product to the consumer. But one day the negative news reporting on Israel will swing back like a pendulam into the other direction".

I'm not holding my breath. When an activist journalist takes hold of the pen, he/she will continue to write material through their own biased prism, and to hell with the facts.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

> http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/page.asp?RelNum=6664

You've left that link before as I've read that press release in the past, but today the weather was so lousy I actually went and read the study. I wonder - have you?

Methodologically I find it rather unconvincing. I'm sure their statistical analysis is impeccable, the journal that published it is a premier economics journal, but as so often when economists wander into political science they seem to miss the qualitative woods for the quantitative trees.

Firstly, it is premised on US politicians and media sources discussing US think tanks, so at best it reflects the domestic debate. It is based on the idea that media bias is quantifiable by looking at who journalists appeal to for authority - but then it looks only at think tanks. If the news source quote "on the one hand the president said..." and "on the other hand think tank X said..." it would only count the think tank. Same problem if the authority cited is (ironically enough) an academic journal article! So if their own study was used as a counterpoint in a news article to a study put out by a media think tank, by their own methodology they would ignore the fact that a newspaper had mentioned them!?!

They also seem to be completely oblivious to decades worth sociology work done on media. Their idea of citation counting can't come anywhere close to be able to understand stuff that sociologists have been considering for years and years. As an example they don't even start to consider how do you account for absence. The US media in particular, but most European media to some degree as well, are exceedingly squeamish about what visuals they will show/print. It's hard to quantify but for example the unwillingness to print pictures of civilians killed by your own bombs in a war is a "bias". Not many will disagree with it - it is widely accepted social norm, but it remains a bias of a type. The study takes a very very limited idea of what liberal and conservative mean - basing it on the US congress - and then constructs a methodology that can only relate the results to that limited sample.

This doesn't mean that "the media" (a hopelessly vague term in itself) does or doesn't tilt in some way, it just basically means the study can't really prove any of the things that your press release claims it does. But that is press releases for you...

KGS said...

Toby: "It is based on the idea that media bias is quantifiable by looking at who journalists appeal to for authority - but then it looks only at think tanks. If the news source quote "on the one hand the president said..." and "on the other hand think tank X said..." it would only count the think tank. Same problem if the authority cited is (ironically enough) an academic journal article! So if their own study was used as a counterpoint in a news article to a study put out by a media think tank, by their own methodology they would ignore the fact that a newspaper had mentioned them!?!"

There are any number of ways to collect data, their decision to base the study on "how times that a media outlet cites various think tanks and other policy groups.[1] We compare this with the times that members of Congress cite the same think tanks in their speeches on the floor of the House and Senate".... is sound.

The info gathered and its findings are relative to the methodology used. I also believe that it is the only logical way to gauge such a complicated study. Many studies for an example, structure their data gathering according to different intervals, daily, bi-weekly ect ect., but the resluts should be comparitvely the same.

That it was political scientists doing the study, not economists makes all the difference, its irrelevant where they published the findings. I am sure that they would be able to convincingly defend their methodology from any of the cricitisms you or I might offer.

I would be interested in seeing a comparative study done using different methods (whatever that might be) but when doing such a study, there has to be some kind of solid base to start from.

My thinking is that regardless of whether they had a side by side study that included non-think tank source quotes, still using a similiar grading system to measure the political spectrum, the results would still be the same.

As for ommissions being a bias, you are "spot on", it happens on either side (for an example) in the reporting on the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

However, when one guages to what extent the imbalance favors, the majority liberal side of the media will reflect that imbalance to favor the side they champion.

Just looking at the way a headline to a story is structured is one of the most simplest, but effective ways to guage a trend or policy.

For an example: When the main principal party (X) causes an action that results in the wounding or loss of life of (Y), does the headline to the story include the name of (X)?

The overwhelming majority of headlines will include the name of Israel in any headline to a story where a strike injures or kills a Palestinian, while a headline to a story concerning a suicide/homicide terrorist bombing will not include the word Palestinian.

We could go on endlessly, the bottom line, the majority of the media leans either Left or Hard Left....with perhaps Venzeula being the odd man out. :-)

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