A special report on the news industry: Impartiality
The Foxification of news
Jul 7th 2011 | from The Economist print edition
In the internet age, transparency may count for more than objectivity
ONE OF THE world’s most profitable news organisations is Fox News, an American cable-news channel that is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. In 2010 it is thought to have made a profit of over $800m on revenues of $1.5 billion, according to SNL Kagan, a research firm—more than its rivals CNN and MSNBC put together. Fox was set up in 1996 by Roger Ailes, a former media adviser to three Republican presidents, specifically to appeal to conservative viewers. Its star hosts, such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, offer distinctively right-wing opinion and commentary, though the channel insists that its news reporting is unbiased. Fox is famous for being opinionated rather than for being profitable. Bill Shine, head of programming at Fox News, thinks these two characteristics are related. “We offer opinions not seen anywhere else,” he says.
目前世界上盈利最多的新闻组织当属福克斯新闻，福克斯新闻是一家美国有线新闻频道，隶属于鲁珀特·默多克的新闻集团。2010年，研究公司SNLKagan指出，当年福克斯新闻盈利超过8亿美元，营业收入达15亿美元，超过了其竞争对手CNN和MSNBC的业绩之和。福克斯新闻于1996年创立，其创始人 Roger Ailes曾为三位共和党总统担任媒体顾问，对于保守派人士吸引力尤甚。其当家明星主持，如Bill O’Reilly和Sean Hannity，都旗帜鲜明的持右翼观点，尽管福克斯强调其新闻报道是公正客观的。Fox以其敢言而非盈利著称。节目总监Bill Shine则认为二者相互关联。“我们的观点在别处是看不到的。”他如是说。
In a world where millions of new sources are emerging on the internet, consumers are overwhelmed with information and want to be told what it all means. Fox is not the only news organisation that is unafraid to say what it thinks and is prospering as a result. Other examples include Al Jazeera’s unabashed support for reform in the Arab world, Jon Stewart’s satirical take on the news in the “Daily Show”, Rush Limbaugh’s hugely popular conservative radio show or even The Economist. Perhaps significantly, MSNBC, which has lately been positioning itself to appeal to a left-wing crowd, is picking up viewers (see chart 5). “It’s not quite as political as what Fox does,” says Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, “but we definitely have a progressive sensibility, a sensibility to the left.”
如今互联网上的信息来源数以百万计，消费者迷失其中，希望搞明白这些信息的意义。Fox并不是唯一一家敢于发声并因此不断发展壮大的新闻组织。其他组织，如Al Jazeera对于阿拉伯世界的改革给予了公正的支持，Jon Stewart在天天脱口秀上极尽挖苦之能，Rush Limbaugh广受欢迎的保守派电台秀，甚至还有The Economist。最明显的大概是近来声称吸引左翼人群MSNBC，它已经积聚其越来越多的人气（参见表5）。"我们没有福克斯那么政治化”，MSNBC的总裁Phil Griffin说，“但我们的确有着改革性的触觉，偏向左翼的倾向”。
CNN, meanwhile, continues to lose out to its more strident rivals, in prime time at least. Mr Griffin, himself a former CNN employee, reckons that the channel has failed to move with the times by favouring the “disinterested, at-arm’s-length anchor”. Mark Whitaker, CNN’s managing editor, disagrees. He says his (highly profitable) channel is known for “integrity and avoiding cheap opinion”, and for providing more global coverage than its rivals. “In this day and age you should have a point of view, but not necessarily one that’s rooted in knee-jerk ideology,” he says.
The idea that journalists should be impartial in reporting news is a relatively recent one. “A lot of newspaper people treat it as one true religion, when it’s an artefact of a certain set of economic and historical circumstances,” says Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab. America’s Founding Fathers nurtured a vibrant, fiercely partisan press with no licensing of newspapers or policing of content. During the 19th century newspapers gradually adopted a more objective stance, for several reasons. By appealing to a wider audience, they were able to increase their circulation and hence their advertising revenue. Consolidation, and the emergence of local newspaper monopolies, also promoted impartiality. “When you are the only paper in town, you can’t risk pissing off liberals by being too conservative, or vice versa,” says Mr Benton.
要求记者在报道中的公正性是近期才出现的观点。"许多新闻人将其作为真正的职业信条，而这一信条其实只是一系列经济和历史条件下的人工产物。” 尼曼新闻实验室的Joshua Benton这样说。美利坚合众国的创始人所建立的是具有强烈党派性的，充满活力的媒体，对于新闻媒体没有资质审查或内容限制。19世纪，出于多种理由，新闻媒体逐渐开始秉持更为客观的立场。通过吸引更多的受众，他们可以增加报纸销量，从而提高广告收入。媒体的间的兼并地方媒体大亨的出现更加促进了新闻的公正性。“如果你是镇上的唯一一家媒体，你不可能过分坚持保守主义而冒险去惹怒那些自由主义者，反过来也一样。”Benton先生说。
With the professionalisation of journalism in the early 20th century came a more detached style of reporting. In effect, a deal was struck between advertisers, publishers and journalists, says New York University’s Jay Rosen. Journalists agreed not to alienate anyone so that advertisers could aim their messages at everyone. That way the publishers got a broader market and the journalists got steady jobs but gave up their voices. Objectivity is “a grand bargain between all the different players”, says Mr Rosen. When radio and television emerged, America’s private broadcasters embraced impartiality in their news reporting to maximise their appeal to audiences and advertisers and avoid trouble with regulators.
These days different countries have different preferences. In Europe overt partisanship in newspapers is widespread and state-run television channels often have partisan allegiances: Italy’s three state channels are each aligned with specific parties, for example. The political independence of the BBC in Britain is unusual, and is in any case contested by critics who complain that it is too left-leaning. In India 81 of the 500 satellite-TV channels that have sprung up in the past 20 years are news channels, most of them catering to specific political, religious, regional, linguistic or ethnic groups. Only a few take an objective, pan-Indian approach, says Daya Thussu of the University of Westminster.
If impartiality is already the exception rather than the rule, the internet is now eroding it further. In America it undermines local news monopolies by reducing advertising revenue and providing access to a wide range of alternative sources, thus undoing Mr Rosen’s grand bargain. In Britain and other countries where news broadcasters are required to be impartial, at least in theory, the convergence of television and the web makes such rules seem outdated. Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC, said at a seminar last December that he thought the case for polemical, opinionated news channels was “persuasive”, though the BBC’s own news coverage would remain impartial. The internet has also compressed the news cycle, with headlines delivered instantly by smartphone or Twitter, creating a demand for immediate analysis and opinion.
如果公正已经成为一种例外而非规则，那么因特网更加剧了这种趋势。在美国，因特网正在蚕食地方新闻大亨，不但降低了其广告收入，也提供了更多信息来源，从而破坏了Rosen所提到的大交易。在英国和其他至少在理论上要求新闻媒体具备公正性的国家，电视与媒体的合流让这类规定显得有些过时。BBC的理事长 Mark Thompson在去年12月的一次研讨会上指出，能够引起论战并具备自己观点的新闻频道才“有说服力”，尽管BBC本身的新闻报道仍将保持客观中立。因特网也缩短了新闻周期，许多标题新闻都从智能手机或Twitter上即时发出，这也要求媒体进行即时的分析和观点论述。
Moreover, the internet makes it easier than ever to find and synthesise different views, says Krishna Bharat, the creator of Google News. The idea for the site occurred to him in the months after the attacks of September 11th 2001, when he became frustrated by the inefficiency of visiting lots of different websites to get a broader picture of the news. When news comes from multiple sources, a mix of strong opinions becomes more desirable. “It’s time to embrace the fact that certain news sources have a point of view, and that’s why they have the following they do,” says Mr Bharat. “I think there’s a place for all of them.” By undermining many of the traditional arguments for objectivity, the internet may thus cause a wider “Foxification” of news and a return to the more opinionated and partisan media landscape of the 18th and early 19th centuries. “Almost every country that has an open society is going to have some kind of opinion television programming,” says Mr Shine.
此外，在因特网上更容易找到并集成不同的观点，google新闻的创始人Krishna Bharat说。在911攻击事件后，他需要访问很多不同的网站来全方位了解关于该事件的消息，这种低效率让他抓狂，从而萌生了创建google新闻的想法。多个新闻来源迫使我们需要对各种有力的观点进行整合。“我们现在应该认识到，不同的新闻来源有着各自的观点，这也是他们接下来行为的原因，”Bharat说，“需要有一个地方把这些新闻集合起来。” 因特网在瓦解传统意义上公正性观念的同时，可能会带来新闻业更为广泛的“福克斯化”，并将媒体带回至18世纪和19世纪早期观点突出党派鲜明的媒体业环境中。Shine认为，“几乎所有社会开放的国家都会出现某种具有观点倾向性的电视节目”。
This does not mean that all news organisations should take overtly political positions. Mr Rosen is just one of many media watchers who think it is time to release journalists from the straitjacket of pretending that they do not have opinions—what he calls the “view from nowhere”. Journalists signal their impartiality by quoting people on opposing sides of an argument and avoid drawing conclusions, even when the facts are clear. “There have been times in the past when CNN has been criticised for being neutral—not only non-partisan, but not really having positions,” says Mr Whitaker. But lately, he says, “we have been stronger in taking a point of view when we think it is supported by our reporting and by facts.”
Transparency is the new objectivity
One way forward, suggests Mr Rosen, is to abandon the ideology of viewlessness and accept that journalists have a range of views; to be open about them while holding the reporters to a basic standard of accuracy, fairness and intellectual honesty; and to use transparency, rather than objectivity, as the new foundation on which to build trust with the audience. He cites the memorable phrase coined by David Weinberger, a technology commentator, that “transparency is the new objectivity”. In part, this involves journalists providing information about themselves. For example, on AllThingsD, a technology-news site owned by Dow Jones, all the journalists provide an “ethics statement” with information about their shareholdings, financial relationships and, in some cases, their personal life (two journalists are married to employees at large technology companies). “People are more likely to trust you if they know where you are coming from,” says Mr Rosen.
Rosen认为，向前推进的一种方式是抛弃无观点这种意识，认识到记者都是观点的，在准确，公平和诚实的基础的标准之上，给记者更多的空间，将透明性，而非客观性作为与受众建立信任的基础。他引用技术评论员David Weinberger令人印象深刻的表述，“透明性是新的客观性”。从某种意义上说，这意味着记者要提供他们本身的信息。在Dow Jones旗下的一家技术新闻网站AllThingsD中，所有记者都要求出示一份“道德声明”，其中包括他们所持有的股票，财务关系，某些情况下要提供其私人生活信息（有两名记者的配偶是大型技术公司的雇员）“如果读者知道你是什么人，就会更加信任你，”Rosen说。
Transparency also means linking to sources and data, something the web makes easy. Bloggers have long used the technique to back up their views. Ezra Klein, a blogger at the Washington Post, has suggested that news organisations should publish full transcripts of interviews online. WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, a fan of radical transparency if ever there was one, makes a similar argument. “You can’t publish a paper on physics without the full experimental data and results. That should be the standard in journalism,” he said last year. Mr Weinberger has observed on his blog that transparency prospers in a linked medium: “Objectivity is a trust mechanism you rely on when your medium can’t do links. Now our medium can.”
透明性也意味着要给出信息来源和数据的的链接，这在网络时代并非难事。博主们早已采用这种技巧来支持其观点。华盛顿邮报的一名博主 Ezra Klein建议新闻媒体在网上发布完整的采访记录。维基解密的Julian Assange是完全透明性的狂热支持者，尽管这一目标难以达到。他也提出了类似的观点，他在去年指出，“如果没有完整的实验数据和结果，你不可能发表一篇物理学论文。这也应当成为新闻报道的标准。”Weinberger在他的博客上观察到，透明性来自于媒体的链接：“在媒体无法给出链接的情况下，客观性是我们所依赖的信任机制。但现在我们的媒体可以做到。”