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  • Vice and Real Journalism

    Posted by Dan from Madison on May 1st, 2010 (All posts by )

    A long, long time ago I used to read Vice magazine. Frankly, I don’t even remember many of the topics. Just recently I subscribed once again. But why? I will answer that question in a bit.

    For the past half decade or so many bloggers, including myself, have excoriated journalists and the journalism profession in general – with good reason. The typical journalist of today seems to be more a political hack (or just a hack in general) than a true “journalist”. Many can’t even put proper sentences together. I admit that I am guilty of not possessing the best grammar skillz, but on the other hand, I am not getting paid for plying said skillz either.

    So what is journalism, then? Websters says (emphases mine):

    1 a : the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media
    b : the public press
    c : an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium
    2 a : writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine
    b : writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation
    c : writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest

    In my eyes, the typical journalist of today is a college grad who has almost zero real life experience in most topics of which they write. When I see an article about HVAC (my field of expertise) in the paper I can almost quote verbatim the manufacturer’s advertisements where the journalist has gotten most of their info from. Since the journalist has no education on HVAC or air movement or anything they are subject to online research on the subject. Typically these articles come out every spring and fall, and their point is to try to get people to maintain their HVAC systems or to caution the masses on carbon monoxide issues if there has been a local poisoning. These articles come out like clockwork and they repeat themselves every single time. On topics I am not as well versed on, I find it entertaining to “reverse google” a story. In other words if I feel that the reporter is uninformed on something (say, a manufacturing process) I like to take key terms from the story, google them, and many times – voila! – you can reverse engineer the whole story. Many blog items are able to be reverse googled as well.

    Since most journalists haven’t held a real job (or, at least what I would consider a real job), they tend to insert opinions into their stories that are misinformed, or just plain old partisan. I can’t count how many gun stories I have read where the story is slanted to the gun control side. That is just one example.

    Not knowing what you are talking about and being slanted to one side (typically left with most journalists) are the two things that, to me, have made journalism today a complete and total joke. Very few reporters actually take the time to learn about a subject before writing or care very much about what they are writing about. Perhaps this is because to get paid, they need “x” words by “x” date or their editor/boss needs that Sunday paper filled up with a story, no matter how lame. But that isn’t my issue. The fact is that modern reportage is in a sad state – and that goes for both print and screen journalism.

    A few months ago I stumbled upon VBS TV, the video version of Vice Magazine. I was blown away by the very high quality of the documentaries there. Each and every story includes a reporter or group that actually immerses themselves into the subject. From the Vice Wiki:

    Vice has championed the “Immersionist” school of journalism, which it regards as something of a DIY antithesis to the big-office methods practiced by traditional news outlets, and has published an entire issue composed of articles written in this manner.

    Shane Smith, co-founder, says:

    We’re not trying to say anything politically in a paradigmatic left/right way…We don’t do that because we don’t believe in either side. Are my politics Democrat or Republican? I think both are horrific. And it doesn’t matter anyway. Money runs America; money runs everywhere.

    From what I have seen so far, this seems to be true. The documentaries I have watched on the VBS.TV channel have all been pretty much straight up reportage. In the stories I have seen on Liberia, North Korea and other places they don’t really ever say whose fault something is or why a certain situation is like it is – they just show the scene and let the viewer put the pieces together later.

    Perhaps the fact that I have been exposed to so much lame “journalism” for so long makes me so excited to see someone like Vice go to a dangerous and insane place and bring it to me in color.

    I have probably spent 12 hours or so on the VBS.TV site watching their shows (some of them have adult content, so nsfw) so I decided to patronize them by subscribing to Vice magazine. I should receive my first issue in a few weeks and hope to do a follow up post when I get it.

    If you are interested in some real journalism I would suggest the VBS.TV website if you have some spare time this weekend.

    Cross posted at LITGM.

     

    5 Responses to “Vice and Real Journalism”

    1. Shannon Love Says:

      A real journalist? I saw one once.

      It was stuff and propped up in a museum between a dodo bird and a passenger pigeon.

      Perhaps a format and a new degree of integrity will bring the species back from extinction.

    2. Michael Kennedy Says:

      Apologies if I am being repetitive but Michael Crichton’s concept of the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect is what you are talking about.

      Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

      Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

      In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

      That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.

      But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.

      There are few news media stories and almost no movie/ TV programs about medicine that I can watch.

    3. Lexington Green Says:

      Every journalistic story I ever see about any legal question is seriously wrong in some way, with the exception of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. There is really no excuse for paying attention to these people anymore.

    4. zenpundit Says:

      Open tag for the italics at end of post BTW.

      I have to put in a word that when partisan hackery is egregious in a media article, the culprit is often the editor or an editorial policy to which all reporters must hew.

      Editors have no qualms deleting out personal opinions from reporters in stories that do not suit their or the publisher’s political convictions or latest crusade. Every reporter, even in a basically liberal demographic, can’t have the exact same views on guns, Israel, abortion and taxes – often down to the phrases and terminoloy – without a “little help” to impose consistency.

      Reporters have the most individual power when they decide to leave something pertinent *out* of a story, rather than deciding to put some point of information in it.

    5. Dan from Madison Says:

      Thanks Zen, fixed.