The view from nowhere

Over at The Atlantic, Conner Friedersdorf has a great piece defending NPR journalist Caitlin Curran’s right to involve herself in the Occupy Wall Street protest. Sadly, like a teenage boy between the sheets, NPR impetuously fired off a you’re fired missive, so concerned is the reputable news organization with the accusation of having a view from somewhere.

In highlighting the absurdity of NPR’s action, Friedersdorf brings up many excellent points. Surly no one with at least a few functioning neurons in their brain should be surprised that an NPR journalist supports the OWS movement. Furthermore, Ms. Curran was a theater and arts correspondent – i.e., her beat was far away from that which she ‘involved’ herself in and so accusations of impartiality ring pretty hollow. Finally, and most importantly for Friedersdorf, why are journalistic operations still so obsessed with the fallacy of the view from nowhere? Or as he puts it:

To borrow a phrase, every editor who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that propagating the myth of “objective journalism” is indefensible. A newspaper or radio program may try to hide or obscure the fact that the people responsible for its content have opinions, convictions, and biases. But it is impossible to function as a journalist without making subjective judgment calls about newsworthiness, relevance and emphasis, or covering issues about which you have an opinion. Pretending otherwise requires willfully misleading the public.

Although I agree with the general point Friedersdorf is making here, I must say that, however philosophically “indefensible”, perpetuating the myth of the nowhere view – or the myth of objective journalism as – is, I believe, a good thing for journalism.

Of course I acknowledge the limitations of the idea. I get that there can never be a view from nowhere, that all reporting and all storytelling is inevitably infused with authorship, with partiality. But, in the same way that Truth likely will never be known, I still think that the ideal of it should be upheld.

There’s something noble in pursuing something like the story in itself. Something like the story without bias. And regardless of the nostalgic impossibility of this kind of Kantian notion, it still can serve as a kind of lodestar in the night of inter-subjective madness.

Perhaps part of the reason I feel this way is that without the ideal of the nowhere view, we’re left with CNN and their shameless glorification of the intrepid journalist. The personality of the news deliverer becomes more important than the story being delivered. If I had taken a marketing class in college perhaps I would sympathize a bit more with the dilemma CNN finds itself in. Should they report the news or report reporting the news?

It’s all very meta, in fairness it’s not just CNN that does it, and I suppose English and continental philosophy majors can now comfortably go to sleep at night knowing that CNN, of all things, has back up their claims that we’ve slid into a post-modern world.

But I have reservations about this world. I don’t like it when Anderson Cooper getting slapped around on Tahiri Square becomes a bigger story than the revolution he’s in Tahiri square ostensibly to cover. I don’t like it when, when you watch CNN, every ten minutes there’s another shameless plug for Richard Quest, or Becky Anderson or Wolf Blitzer or whomever. And I will not go into this whole ‘i-report’ boondoggle they seem to be so proud of.

Having said all this though, in no way do I support NPR’s decision to fire Ms. Curran. She was absolutely not injecting herself into any story she was there to cover. Like all humans, she wears many identity hats, and one of them apparently supports the OWS movement. Another reports on theater things. And there is no good reason to believe that the expression of her former hat in any way compromises the duties she has in her other hat. Had she been out protesting something to do with Broadway, then I would likely feel differently. But she wasn’t.

The point I’m trying to make regards those who throw the story of themselves into the story of the beat they’re there to cover. It’s very difficult to satisfactorily, and honestly, pull this feat off. And unless I’m studying journalism or want to read exceptional works of first-person, long-form journalism in the style of Ryszard Kapuściński, I just don’t care to be constantly reminded who produces the news and how it is produced.

Stop documenting the creation of the news and start reporting the news. While it might be the case, as has been said, that impartial reporting is a fallacy; it most definitely is the case that reporting about reporting is really annoying.

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