Since I published the video explaining Scuffed News, a few people have raised an understandable objection, one I think I can address.
It goes roughly like this: “What value do you see in still attempting to be politically neutral? Do you not have opinions and values? How do your values not affect your work, and if they did, why would that be a bad thing?”
It’s a good question, and I didn’t address it in the video. The key, I’d argue, is the difference between “bias” and “agenda.” I have biases and opinions, a background and a sensibility. To some extent those are so deep as to be sub-cognitive, and they will absolutely influence my work as a reporter, often in ways I don’t even notice. In that sense, “bias” is unavoidable.
I can, however, try to avoid pushing an “agenda.” Sometimes something that looks like an agenda will emerge, but with the help of a critical audience and careful attention, I think it can be corrected and largely avoided. And that is what I’m trying to do. I can attempt to come at people in an open, listening way, and hear them out without aiming to "get" them or make them look bad. Then I can try to present what they say in a way that's generous to them but also fair to the audience. Sometimes they look bad because they are bad! That’ll happen. But even in that case, something's been documented that's worth knowing in a way that is more even-handed than if I’d decided, "I'm going to go out and find people who look bad and then show everyone how bad their group is."
Another objection I’ve heard is that an attempt at “neutrality” could prevent me, or anyone, from “calling things what they are.”
My response to that is that "calling things what they are" is much trickier than most people give it credit for. A correspondent asked me (obviously in the context of Trumpism) if I think immigrants are people. Yes, of course I think immigrants are people. I think they're one of America's great strengths, and I don't actually have a strong personal feeling about border protection and undocumented immigration (call me a Chamber of Commerce shill if you want, I just don’t have it in me to be mad at the guys still roofing a house at 8:30 p.m. on a Friday). More to the point, I've never once met a person who says immigrants aren’t people. I've interacted with a lot of folks over the years who think nobody should live in the country without getting the proper documents from the U.S. Government. That is a view reasonable people can have, and reasonable people can engage with. Certainly there are racists among those who want stronger borders and immigration enforcement. But if I go into every interview with a person who wants a stronger border describing them as someone who doesn't think immigrants are people, what good is that? What's the point? It's not necessarily how they think at all, many of them would (reasonably and angrily) object to the characterization, and it shuts down any conversation.
I think too many people are too certain about "calling things what they are.” That goes both for the MAGA crowd ranting about how the Democrats will usher in Socialism, and the folks who dismiss any disagreement on undocumented immigration as an attempt to dehumanize all immigrants. And you could go down the list of issues.
Not sure how much of this type of sausage-making is interesting to everyone, but there you have it. Time to finish this video from Dalton.
McWhorter: “Third Wave Antiracism” is a toxic religion — Persuasion
Something of a counterpoint re: wokeness, American pride — Will Wilkinson
Greenwald v the Media, part 3,456 (he’s got a point) — Glenn Greenwald
Hygiene theater is still a huge waste of time — Atlantic
Jeep’s Super Bowl commercial forgot the UP — Detroit Free Press
“The manner in which you organize information is way more powerful than the actual information that’s inside. And because we can’t agree on a frame, we can’t come together into one narrative, then what we have is not competing information. We have competing frames, and that is a very difficult war to solve. Because we’re looking at the same information, the very same facts, but because we frame them differently, we cannot see each other.” — Jonathan Pageau, Decoding Culture Podcast
About: I send this email most mornings to force myself to stay informed and in touch. It’s typically ~8 links, a quote, and an update on what I’m working on. Write me back! And please share the email. If I added you and you don’t like it, please click unsubscribe below. I was a newspaper reporter for 14 years at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Des Moines Register and Minneapolis Star Tribune. I gave the basic story of why my family left Minneapolis here. You can find my new venture, Scuffed News, on YouTube (please subscribe!), Twitter and Instagram, and you can support the project with your money, in exchange for exclusive video and early access to some of the video, on Patreon.
"Sausage-making" - what a great word!
I agree about "calling things what they are." If that were actually simple, or even possible, nobody would be arguing about anything right now.
I'm surprised that folks are challenging you on trying to be neutral. Isn't that what journalists are always supposed to shoot for, and certainly to communicate? Perhaps their question shows that Americans have gotten used to lots of bias from their media sources. I've been pleased, if occasionally surprised, at the balance you work hard for. It's hard not to judge downright crazies!