Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The envelope please ...

From Norman Solomon at, a list of the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2004. Agree or disagree with his selections, it is not hard to figure out that this has been far from journalism's shining year.

One award, the "Stenographic Pride Award" to Judith Miller of the New York Times, does raise some bedrock issues of modern journalism that we are all struggling with:

Defending her use of anonymous sources like Ahmed Chalabi, a highly unreliable Iraqi exile, in prewar front-page stories on Iraq's supposed WMDs, reporter Miller explained: "My job isn't to assess the government's information and be an independent intelligence agency myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal." Miller did not explain how her job differs from being a PR agent for the U.S. government.
I'm comfortable with how Miller defines what she was doing -- if a media outlet, in its entirety, explores all the views, permutations and combinations of an issue. (I make no endorsement or criticism of the NYT's body of work; I have not fully researched it.)

Critics, on the other hand, suggest journalism should try to find "the truth" in every story. I'm not sure every story can do that -- but a body of work should. However, in these days of ever-shortening attention spans, is a "body" of work really relevant anymore? Does anyone pay attention long enough to absorb the entire body?

It's not a new question. When we serialize an investigative report, for instance, there always is the valid criticism that while many people will read that big splash on the front page of the Sunday paper, many fewer will read the more mitigating story that follows on Monday.

It's a question worth thinking about.

(Thanks to Crawford Kilian for the pointer.)


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