Saturday, 6 December 2003

French versus American journalism

Jay Rosen of PressThink has an interesting interview with Rodney Benson, a professor at NYU who is comparing the journalistic practices of American and French elite-oriented newspapers. Particularly interesting (to me, at least) was the discussion of the working theory of journalism’s role in mass politics, as articulated by Rosen:

A self-governing people need reliable, factual information about what’s going on, especially within their government. News provides that. The citizen at home absorbs the news, and maybe an editorial or column, and then forms her opinions. On election day she carries the information she got from the press, plus opinions formed on her own, into the voting booth, where she operates the levers of democracy. And that’s how the system works. Perhaps the most concise statement of this theory is, “get both sides and decide for yourself.” What you decide is your opinion. Later on, you vote based on that. For both activities one needs to be informed.

I’m not entirely sold on that model of opinionation in the mass public, which seems hopelessly idealized given Converse’s evidence of nonattitudes and Zaller’s R-A-S model, but it’s an interesting model nonetheless. I also found this comment by Benson interesting:

Sociologist Herbert Gans, who wrote the classic newsroom organizational study Deciding What’s News, has said that the American press could do more to promote democracy if it were less concerned with objectivity, and more concerned with presenting multiple viewpoints. Well, the French press, both individual media outlets as well as the system as a whole, does seem to me to approach more closely this kind of a “multiperspectival” ideal.

Anyway, if this sort of stuff interests you, go RTWT™.