Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Journalists become news when they do journalism

Allow me a brief detour from information graphics and visualization. Watch the video above and read a related post by Andy Ostroy. I found them thanks to Dan Gillmor. The video shows a journalist doing her job. As I tweeted after I saw it, it is a sign of our times that journalists become news when they act as journalists.

It shouldn't be surprising, though. For some reason, the video reminded me of J-School in Spain, almost two decades ago. One of the few things I remember from those years is that most of our professors were happy to pontificate about the inexistence of truth and the impossibility of objectivity. They were imbued with the vague, muddled, and deeply misguided spirit of some branches of continental postmodernist thought, which use some well-known facts ("our senses are imperfect; reasoning is prone to errors and biases") to build a house of cards of literary gibberish ("there's no way you can ever overcome those facts; therefore, all truth is just your truth"). As a parenthesis, here you'll get a glimpse of what I think about some authors we had to read and endure.

Anyway, as a journalist and as an educator, I am on the opposite side of most of my teachers: Objectivity is an ideal journalists should cherish, revere, and chase, even if we know it's impossible to fully achieve it (this is a trivial statement, by the way). Objectivity, according to definitions I agree with, consists of "striving, as far as possible or practicable, to reduce or eliminate biases, prejudices, or subjective evaluations by relying on verifiable data."

There are many tools human beings have used throughout the ages to defeat what Dean Buonomano calls Brain Bugs and Robert Kurzban defines as our inconsistent mind. First, be aware of your limits and weaknesses; second, be honest and open to criticism; third, get at least a rudimentary understanding of the scientific method, statistics, and probability (yes, Philip Meyer's Precision Journalism is still one of my favorite books). There's something about all this in The Functional Art.

Now, feel free to call me naïve and old-fashioned.