Saturday, November 15, 2008

A call for 'forensic journalism'

South African born anthropologist John Comaroff uses a phrase I haven't heard very often, "forensic journalism."

He defines it as an anthropology for the public: "the kind of journalism that precisely takes as its obligation the probing of surfaces -- why are we hearing what we are hearing..."

Christopher Lydon interviewed him for his blog/radio podcast, heading the entry This Pariah-to-Messiah Moment: John Comaroff

Here's Comaroff on Obama's "audacity of hope."

"I have the audacity to hope that the return to democracy is going to be about hearing. But that, of course, throws a moral obligation on journalism. I think that the press let us down very badly over the Iraq war. I think it gave a free ride to a president who didn’t deserve a free ride, even when there were plenty of critics making very strong arguments, well-backed arguments about the falsity of the claims [justifying the war in Iraq]. They were cowards. They were self-censoring. In a democracy, no one self censors.

"I have an enormous respect for forensic journalism. Forensic journalism is basically anthropology for the public: the kind of journalism that precisely takes as its obligation the probing of surfaces: why are we hearing what we are hearing, why are we being told what we are being told, who is asking the questions on our behalf.

"I think that journalism is the first estate, not the third or fifth or whatever, it is the first estate—the estate of truth. And it can only be the estate of truth to the extent that it represents its population. We know now that politicians don’t–they represent capital, they represent capacity to turn financial assets into votes in congress. They don’t necessarily, when they vote, represent us… But, the press is always there and always ought to be representing us."

Follow the link above for more text transcripts, the full 52 minute audio interview, and a brief video clip.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Telling stories with online depth

This August item from Slate includes a links to PDF and Excel files full of census data... a nice example of one way online journalism can empower readers to dig deeper.

Sorry, Pal, but You're Rich. - By Daniel Gross - Slate Magazine:

"...two pieces of bad news for the over-$250,000 crowd. First, the reversal of some of the temporary Bush tax cuts is probably inevitable, given the Republican fiscal clown show of the past eight years. Second, I regret to inform you that you are indeed rich."