News media surround us like the air we breathe, but we’re barely aware of how they operate and how they influences the way we think. But if you tune into American News Media (feed, booklist), a new course taught by UCSD political scientist Daniel Hallin, you’ll see journalism in a whole new light.
In the first few lectures, Hallin narrates a quick history of American journalism, and then goes on to analyze how reporters go about newsgathering, and writing up their findings. One important principle is what Hallin calls the “objectivity norm,” which mandates that a reporter should cover both sides of a controversy. But he points out that reporters only use this norm in some kinds of stories. For example, sports reporters do not feel obligated to give voice to the opinions of fans who don’t root for the home team. Heartwarming stories about community betterment projects or high achievers are also exempt from the objectivity norm. These stories fall into the “sphere of consensus,” rather than the “sphere of legitimate controversy.”
Media critics who complain about media bias are often complaining about what they see as the misuse of the objectivity norm. For example, global warming activists complain that journalists report the views of climate skeptics far too often, since the scientific consensus holds that global warming is actually occurring, and is caused by human activity.
Hallin’s course, like most UCSD podcasts, will probably disappear at the end of the quarter (roughly the middle of June), download it while you can.