Why journalists ‘got in the business’

WHY JOURNALISTS ‘GOT IN THE BUSINESS’…. Perhaps no problem is more pernicious in American political journalism than the “he said, she said” phenomenon. Media outlets have come to believe telling news consumers the truth, rather than what “both sides” are saying, is somehow irresponsible. Coverage, then, tends to simply pass along competing talking points, while the public turns to blogs to help separate fact from fiction.

Occasionally, outlets like the Associated Press get it right, and publishes meaningful, constructive fact-checking pieces. Greg Sargent chatted today with its D.C. bureau chief, Ron Fournier, about the practice.

[H]e told me something fascinating, if not all together unexpected: Their fact-checking efforts are almost uniformly the most clicked and most linked pieces they produce.

Journalistic fact-checking with authority, it turns out, is popular. Who woulda thunk it? […]

“What we tend to forget in journalism is that we got in the business to check facts,” Fournier says. “Not just to tell people what Obama said and what Gingrich said. It is groundless to say that Kagan is anti-military. So why not call it groundless? This is badly needed when people are being flooded with information.”

Amen.

The fact that these worthwhile pieces tend to be the most successful ones should tell the industry something — if you give the public what it needs to know, the public will probably respond positively.

The AP is far from perfect on this front, but it does deserve credit for getting it right. I recently applauded its piece, for example, rejecting efforts to characterize the BP oil spill disaster as “Obama’s Katrina.” Greg noted a few other recent articles, including a solid piece pushing back against Republican criticism against Elena Kagan on “judicial experience.”

“The ones that get the most traction are the fact checks,” Fournier added.

I can only hope that means he’ll publish more of them.