journalistic balance

The Consequences of He Said, She Said Journalism

For a long time, those closely watching the climate debate unfold have denounced “he said, she said, we’re clueless” journalism, in which reporters present a “debate” between those who accept the science and those who do not, and leave it at that. Let the reader figure out who’s right, the philosophy seems to be. It’s journalistic “objectivity” not to “take sides”—right?

Those criticizing this approach—myself emphatically included—are working under a key assumption: If journalists would take a stand on matters of fact (such as whether global warming is caused by humans), rather than treating them as un-resolvable, the broader political discourse would also shift onto a firmer footing. That’s because we would move towards having a shared factual basis for making policy decisions, rather than fighting over the very reality upon which policy ought to be based.

It’s in this context that a new study (PDF) published in the Journal of Communication, would appear to break new ground–by actually examining the psychological effect that “he said, she said” or “passive” journalism has on readers, and in particular, on their views of whether it’s possible to discern the truth.

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