View from nowhere

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In journalism ethics and media ethics, the term "view from nowhere" describes a kind of false neutrality in reporting, whereby journalists disinform their audience by creating the impression that opposing parties to an issue have equal correctness and validity, even when the truth or falsehood of the parties' claims are mutually exclusive and verifiable by a diligent researcher.[1] Media critic and professor of journalism Jay Rosen has been a notable promoter of the term and critic of the practice, and Rosen borrowed the term from philosopher Thomas Nagel's 1986 book The View From Nowhere.[1]

Overview[edit]

The goal of objective and unbiased reporting ("just the facts"), often leaves subjective decisions about the meaning and value of facts in a news report up to the audience, but sometimes the facts of a particular story can have only one reasonable set of meanings. In such a case, a journalist must clearly define what facts are members of this set, and what beliefs are not a member of this set.

A journalist who does not help the audience evaluate which set of facts are most reasonable has taken the view from nowhere, this harms the audience by allowing them to draw conclusions from a story that includes untrue possibilities. It perpetuates confusion or generates bad conclusions where none would otherwise exist. Taking the view from nowhere can result from lazy or sloppy reporting just as easily as the active self-censorship of legitimate criticism. By broadcasting a view from nowhere to many people, the truth possibility set (with erroneous inclusions) is actively (re-)confirmed over and over again to the audience. Due to the one-to-many nature of broadcasting, this can lead large groups of normally reasonable people to make bad decisions.

Writer Elias Isquith argued, in an article for Salon, that "the view from nowhere not only leads to sloppy thinking but actually leaves the reader less informed than she would be had she simply read an unapologetically ideological source or even, in some cases, nothing at all".[2]

Common patterns of illogic characterize view-from-nowhere reports[edit]

A journalist who excludes relevant pieces of information from the set of true facts is telling a lie of omission; if the audience had all the missing data, it would reach a different conclusion. A journalist who strives for neutrality may also fail to exclude popular and/or widespread untrue claims from the set of facts about the story. A journalist may fail to confront their audience's biases and wrong conventional thinking because they forget the existence of the people on the other side of camera or printing press, and thus don't analyze their audience and address the audience's preconceptions.

Jay Rosen has suggested that some journalists of weak character who don't want to anger any party in any way because they lack the necessary personal courage to confront wrong beliefs will adopt view-from-nowhere reporting.[3]

Innumeracy[edit]

Journalists suffering from innumeracy may also be a source of view-from-nowhere reports.[clarification needed]

Self-censorship[edit]

A journalist who knows or suspects his bosses, station, and/or network are biased may self-censor, thus producing the view from nowhere in an otherwise honest journalist who wants to protect his employment.

Special access to sources[edit]

Politicians or other sources who benefit from view-from-nowhere journalism grant more access to the journalists who promote a view from nowhere, thus crowding out other journalists, leading to a disinformed public, and bad public policy that harms everyone, this feedback loop creates a self-reinforcing cycle of bad journalism in politics and bad politicians in office.

"He said, she said" pattern[edit]

The hallmark pattern of view-from-nowhere journalism takes the form of "A said X. B said Y." and then the story ends without comment, where X and Y are mutually exclusive claims and Y is absurd. The reporter fails to reject Y or conduct further investigations to illuminate what reasonable observers in the audience would conclude if they were able to do the reporting themselves.[4]

Thus view-from-nowhere journalists are often accused of acting like stenographers instead of journalists,[5] merely repeating whatever statements are told to them, including obvious lies from well-known liars with obvious conflicts of interests, the lies and liars may be presented to the audience as though they possess credibility equal to all other honest claims made by other people.[6]

Anger from all sides is not an indicator of balance, fairness or truth[edit]

View-from-nowhere journalism sources often try defend themselves by claiming "Both sides are angry at us, therefore our reporting fair, balanced, and correct", this is illogical, as equiposition of angered parties has no bearing upon truth or falseness of a report, "fairness" or objective "balance", especially when the balance of truth is 100 percent lopsided to only one party.

A good reporter avoids view from nowhere, then suffers accusations of "bias"[edit]

The aggrieved parties whose claims are wrong often accuse "bias" against the reporter who stakes out the truthful position. Naïve audience members will confuse "perspective" with "bias", especially when the truth is unwelcome to them, every human must have a perspective. A good journalist will be aware of their own perspective and disclose it to the audience if it is relevant, and take steps to accommodate their own known blind spots, but an accusation of bias implies that the reporter has blindly or deliberately altered the story to change the conclusion an audience should draw from a report.

Mitigation[edit]

Admitting that all reporters must have some biases does not make neutrality for all stories into the objective, honest framing for all stories. Neutrality is only reasonable for situations where the facts support that middle-of-the-road position. A good journalist will address their own preconceived bias at the beginning of the story. Not every journalist's bias is so great or relevant to every story that it alters the reporting in a meaningful way that would lead the audience to wrong conceptions of the topic.

Audience awareness[edit]

Educating the public to be vigilant for this condition in news stories protects some of them from its negative effects.

Editorial awareness[edit]

News sources can protect their entire audience from this effect if all reporters stories are reviewed by editors who use a quality checklist for all stories which includes an assessment of the false neutrality bias of view-from-nowhere reporting.

Transparency[edit]

A good journalist takes steps to ensure their perspective doesn't become bias, altering the facts or analysis of the meaning of the story, and shares this information about their bias-fighting behavior on the story with the audience, the audience can then decide for themselves if enough was done to mitigate bias, if it was relevant at all.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Maras, Steven (2013). "The view from nowhere". Objectivity in journalism. Key concepts in journalism. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity Press. pp. 77–81. ISBN 9780745647357. OCLC 823679115. 
  2. ^ Isquith, Elias (12 April 2014). "Objectively bad: Ezra Klein, Nate Silver, Jonathan Chait and return of the 'view from nowhere'". salon.com. Salon. Retrieved 2017-10-10. 
  3. ^ Rosen, Jay (26 August 2011). "Why political coverage is broken". pressthink.org. Retrieved 2017-10-10. 
  4. ^ Rosen, Jay (15 September 2011). "We have no idea who's right: criticizing 'he said, she said' journalism at NPR". pressthink.org. Retrieved 2017-10-10. 
  5. ^ Greenwald, Glenn (13 January 2012). "Arthur Brisbane and selective stenography". salon.com. Salon. Retrieved 2017-10-10. 
  6. ^ Rosen, Jay (4 June 2004). "He said, she said, we said". pressthink.org. Retrieved 2017-10-10. 

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