Saturday, February 03, 2007

Part of the Role of the Teacher: The Art of the Obvious

This is what I just emailed my ethics students. I email them a lot. Occasionally, one of them will complain that I'm cluttering up his/her inbox. (It's usually a "his.")

The following is a quote from an article on the death this week of the political columnist Molly Ivins. The writer makes the obvious point -- one of those obvious point we often forget -- that in a newspaper or tv news show, the issue is not only what you include but the fact that by including it you push something else out. A trivial story may seem quite benign. But what does it displace? Internet journalism gets pinched in a similar way not because you couldn't put every story in the world on your server, but that acquiring those stories would cost something -- in buying server space, in having your reporters spend time on one story but not another (since you can't write all the stories in the world), in having your gatekeepers spend time collecting stories even if they are free and then putting those "free" stories in some sort of hierarchy so that your page designers can create a page that directs readers toward those stories that will make your viewers "like" and your site and "stick" there .... The point is always that in the news business to turn towards one story means you are turning away from another. Nothing is free. No moment is (to get theological here) without sin.

On CNN's Reliable Sources on July 14, 2001, in those heady Chandra-riffic days before everythingchangedon911, responding to Howard Kurtz's question on the press's behavior on the "Did Gary Condit kill that woman?" story, Ivins said, "It's a disgraceful performance. Look, part of what happens is that in journalism there is a contest for the limited time and space we have available to try to present what is going on to people's attention. And we had the same problem during the Monica Lewinsky scandal; two-thirds of the world's economy collapsed while the press was simply obsessed with Ms. Lewinsky."

She said, often, that the sins of omission were the real crimes of contemporary journalism. Her columns so often filled that gap, talking about labor and working people and countries like the Congo and Indonesia.

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