One of the questions that came up, as it almost always seems to at these kind of affairs, was whether we need an institution or entity that presents the news in an unbiased manner — a true “newspaper of record” or an honest “that’s the way it is” newscast — or whether we can get by nicely without one, relying on the facts to emerge from the clash of partisan media outlets. The three panelists who addressed this question were Jane Hall, Cliff May, and me. Each of us agreed that an unbiased fact-presenting institution or entity would (at a minimum) be desirable. But Cliff and I took the position that we’re unlikely to get one (as much as I like Fox News, I’m not one of those conservatives who believes that it fills that bill, although it comes closer than its critics assume).
My pessimism on this score is tempered somewhat by my view that MSM outlets have a strong economic incentive to abandon their biased approach. We know that big newspapers are losing readers and big newscasts are losing viewers. Normally, when an enterprise is faltering in the face of new competition, business consultants will say that the solution lies in focusing on the core of the business and on competencies that its competitors lack.
The theoretical core of the modern (or pre post-modern) news presenting business is the presentation of news in a trustworthy manner — “the most trusted man in America,” and all that. And this is a competency that the MSM’s competitors — or at least bloggers — lack. People don’t blog because they want to be objective or (perhaps to put it better) neutral. Generally speaking, people blog because they are passionate partisans regarding the issues on which they focus.
Unfortunately though, as Claudia Rossett pointed out during the Pajamas programt, it seems that people don’t embark on careers in tradtional journalism in order to be neutral either. Certainly, Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times didn’t.
So, in the end, our pessimism seems justified.