Episode 2: Toni Konz-Tatman

Episode 2

Before interviewing longtime education reporter Toni Konz-Tatman, I talk about the concept of false balance and the occasional need (of both journalists and educators) to present “both sides” of every issue — as if every issue can be boiled down to two simple opposing perspectives.

Notes on Episode 2

False balance, “both sides,” and “he said/she said”:

Toni Konz-Tatman:

Episode 1: Robert Bell

Episode 1

Episode 1 guest: Middle school teacher Robert Bell.

In this episode, I introduce myself and the show, interview middle school teacher Robert Bell, and spend some time discussing euphemisms like “diverse,” “urban,” and “right to work laws.”

Notes on Episode 1

Schools:

Written works:

Announcing my podcast and radio show, From Classroom to Newsroom

I’m pleased to announce that I will be hosting a weekly radio show on Forward Radio called “From Classroom to Newsroom.” The show will cover journalism, education, journalism education, and education journalism, and each week the show will feature an interview with someone about one of those four topics.

I’ve already recorded four shows:

  • Episode one: Interview with Louisville middle school teacher Robert Bell
  • Episode two: Interview with education journalist Toni Konz
  • Episode three: Recording of “Real or Not Real?” panel discussion at Frazier Museum
  • Episode four: Interview with current and founding members of Manual’s Black Student Union

Right now recorded episodes are airing Mondays at 10 AM and re-airing Wednesdays at noon on Forward Radio at 106.5 FM. After the show airs live, it will also be available for download as a podcast through iTunes.

 

Three local TV stations putting trash on Facebook.

As Gay Adelmann pointed out, three local Louisville stations posted their own versions of the exact same story today.

All three of these are “news” reports about a Texas woman’s Facebook post. Yes, three-fourths of our local stations felt the need to report a story about a random woman’s social media thoughts.

But it’s not just our local stations that saw fit to share this “story.” If you type “texas woman cotton complaint” into Google, you find that dozens and dozens of local “news” stations and websites have done the same thing.

Adelmann called the story both “click bait” and “race bait,” and I think her assessment is accurate. All you have to do is briefly skim the comment sewers on any of these sites to see that the articles are deliberate attempts to provoke a certain demographic that is highly likely to watch local TV news — older, less educated conservatives.

So what does this incident tell us about local TV news outlets and their behavior on social media?

  1. Their performance on social media has nothing to do with newsworthiness and everything to do with clicks, shares, likes, interactions, and so forth. (Another perfect case study for this: WLKY’s awful Twitter feed.)
  2. They are more than willing to stoke racial tensions and encourage the worst types of internet commenters by posting pointless, insignificant stories like this.
  3. They are imitators, not innovators. Look how many “news” outlets posted this story on their websites. They saw it go viral for other organizations and they wanted some of those eyeballs.

I should add that this doesn’t just happen with non-news stories that appeal to conservatives — it also happens with liberals. For just one example, take a look at this On the Media report about liberals’ susceptibility to Russia conspiracy theories.

If you encounter stories like these on social media, you should do the following:

  1. Fact-check the story. Was the story told on multiple news outlets? Was it confirmed by outlets that are ideologically different from (or even opposed to) the original source? Was it confirmed by multiple name-brand, known-quantity outlets, or by a bunch of websites you’ve never heard of?
  2. Let’s say you’ve fact-checked it and it turns out to be true. Then ask yourself: Why are the news outlets publishing this story? Is it truly newsworthy? Will it have any actual impact on your life? Or is it just reinforcing your own beliefs about the world?
  3. So the story may be true, but it’s not really newsworthy. Now what? It’s easy: Don’t share this crap. Don’t click like, or share, or retweet, or whatever. If possible, hide it in your feed. Not only are you doing yourself a favor, you’re doing the rest of us a favor too — because social media companies use your participation to justify inserting that story into everybody else’s feed. If you don’t participate, that works against those types of stories. So don’t indulge. Move on.

According to NYT, the concept of false balance “masquerades as rational thinking”

Unbelievably, New York Times public editor Liz Spayd declared yesterday that one of the most widespread critiques of mainstream news media doesn’t even qualify as “rational thought,” and is in fact a sneaky partisan attack.

Keep in mind that this is the same newspaper that, two months ago, ran a Paul Krugman column in which Krugman diagnosed false balance (also known as false equivalence, “both sides do it,” or “bothsidesism” as Krugman labels it) as the reason that Donald Trump remains competitive in polls.

Spayd is troubled by charges of “false balance” because the New York Times has run many investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server scandal, and many readers have written in complaining that the NY Times is, in the words of one reader, “drinking the false equivalency Kool-Aid.”

As someone who receives the print version of the New York Times, I can say that there are, on average, two to three anti-Trump pieces in the paper every day. Frequently they are front page news stories, but there are also anti-Trump editorials and op-eds as well as lengthier articles deeper in the paper. If readers think the NYT treats Trump and Clinton as equally bad choices, then readers are wrong. The New York Times is clearly devoted to reporting all of Trump’s errors, gaffes, stumbles, fumbles and faux pas.

That said, Spayd overreaches in her column when she declares that “the problem with false balance doctrine is that it masquerades as rational thinking.” There is nothing irrational about critiquing the news media’s (at best irritating and at worst grossly irresponsible) tendency to seek balance. After all, that is precisely what journalists are trained to do, and if they do it poorly that means they were trained poorly as novices and edited poorly as professionals.

Furthermore, false balance tends to show up far more often in commentary than in coverage. Here is an excellent case study from the New York Times’ own David Brooks, appearing on NPR’s All Things Considered on Friday:

BROOKS: [Trump] was saying things – as E.J. pointed out – which were just ridiculous – the support for Putin, the oil comment, the idea that we should leave back some core of people and take Iraq’s oil is moral idiocy. First of all, it wouldn’t work. Second of all, it’s called imperialism. And it’s been done and it didn’t work, and it’s an outrage. And it sort of goes under the radar because he’s just ill-informed about what it would actually take.

She was just as bad, but in a different way. She’s certainly well-informed, but she was so ungracious and so unpleasant and so evasive that I think on style points, which matter a lot in these sort of things, she showed just tremendous vulnerability.

So you see, Trump’s ideas and policies are “ridiculous” and “moral idiocy” and an “outrage” and “ill-informed,” but Clinton was “ungracious” and “evasive” so she was “just as bad.”

That’s false equivalency. Krugman correctly diagnoses the problem, Brooks gives us a textbook example of it, and Spayd says that pointing out this journalistic error is irrational and partisan. Go figure.

InsiderLouisville columns

November 20 2014

http://insiderlouisville.com/business/inside-local-media-wfpl-reporters-depart-amid-newsroom-turmoil/

December 18 2014

http://insiderlouisville.com/metro/pressmatters-assessing-news-value-social-media-comments/

February 3 2015

http://insiderlouisville.com/opinion/press-matters-tragedy-amplified-confusion-murder-victims-gender-identity/

May 5 2015

http://insiderlouisville.com/metro/communities/press-matters-the-term-officer-involved-shooting-is-a-euphemism-journalists-should-avoid/

July 2, 2015

http://insiderlouisville.com/metro/communities/press-matters-local-media-not-guilty-of-stoking-anti-police-sentiment-for-higher-ratings/

August 4, 2015

http://insiderlouisville.com/metro/press-matters-journalists-have-no-business-doing-pr-for-the-powerful/

March 3, 2016

http://insiderlouisville.com/metro/press-matters-media-misses-biggest-story-of-trump-rally/