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Journalists Fight Back

(AP / CBS)
You gotta like a guy like the Los Angeles Times' Tim Rutten. Here's a guy who one day quotes Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" in a book review and then turns on a dime and pens an insightful piece on the newspaper industry.

The latter is definitely worth a read – especially for the dead-on description of news snobs -- and one passage in particular caught my attention:

So how do American newspapers manage this passage while holding on to their "souls" -- that sense that they are, uniquely, businesses worthy of constitutional protection because their bottom line reckons service to the common good alongside profit and loss?

One way is to maintain the serious news media's postwar tradition of nonpartisan journalism, leaving advocacy to the editorial pages. As they give themselves over to more analysis and commentary, newspapers will have to be more vigilant about being genuinely honest brokers of ideas, opening their news columns to a far broader spectrum of serious opinions and perspectives -- liberal to conservative -- than even the best of them do now. Politicization is the enemy rather than the logical consequence of that process. Newspapers can distinguish themselves from the current undifferentiated cacophony of substantial and frivolous opinion on the Internet -- and best serve their readers -- by insisting that their analysis and commentary conform to the discernible facts. In a society that seems more deeply and reflexively divided along partisan lines, that would be more than a service.

So Rutten is suggesting that journalists use their heightened knowledge of their subject matter to add value to their work. (Sound familiar?) He's the second mainstream reporter this summer to suggest that a more muscular form of journalism might be the key to newspapers' survival. Back in June we had Ron Fournier of the Associated Press making a plea for "accountability journalism:"
We can be provocative without being partisan. We can be truth-tellers without being editorial writers. We can and we must not only tell people what happened in politics today, but why it happened; what it might mean for our readers and their families; and what it might reveal about the people who presume to be our leaders. Sometimes, they're just plain wrong.
While fact-checking may be a little more slippery than one would think – as my colleague pointed out last week – there are a few simple things that journalists can do immediately to step up their game. If journalists serve as mere stenographers – like Kate in "Taming of the Shrew," agreeing that the sun is the moon (how about that reference, Rutten!) – then they will continue to lose their relevance in MediaLand.
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