27 December 2011

Journalism of assertion and the art of confabulation: the difference between honesty and truth

Saving Ethical Journalism —

For better or worse, journalists provide meaning in society. But when journalists screw up and don't get caught, that mistake can become common knowledge. And since the modern definition of "journalist" seemingly encompasses everything from aggregators to commentators to bloggers and beyond, the ramifications of this reality are extensive.

Writers Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel coined the phrase "journalism of assertion" to refer to how modern news outlets portray assumed truths as real truth. This is a professional form of a confabulation — a psychological disorder that involves people who tell lies that they wholly believe are true.

So does this mean unscrupulous online journos need some e-Prozac? How do we sift through the massive amount of online information and decide what's true? Based on a news organization's reputation? The credibility of the author? The quality of the piece?

Online fact checking is easy, especially if sources are also links to the original material. But what about all other statements that appear as fact but don't have a source? Is this because most of society has agreed that something is true without giving it much thought? Is this acceptable, or should be be more critical?

Also, what is the responsibility of the reader in all this? If readers are also news-gatherers, what role do they play (or should they play) with online fact checking?

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