I think, aside from the “both sides” fetish, this is my least favorite journalism Thing:
— Elon James White (@elonjames) October 18, 2017
Every newspaper editorial page hauls this out when someone calls the paper out on publishing racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise utterly bullshit: Oh, we’re just contributing to the Great Marketplace of Ideas Where We Debate Everything Civilly. Leaving aside that bullshit isn’t an idea, I could almost let this go at a time before TV and the internet, back when newspaper editorial pages were, you know, the main places ideas were debated.
When it was either the Opinion Section of the Beaver County Tidbit or literally yelling on a street corner to the passing omnibuses, I could see the editors of the Tidbit feeling obligated to present as many views as possible. In the interests of traffic control if nothing else.
Now, though? When there are approximately 31 squillion places ideas get debated, and a medium for every message, and newspapers are struggling to differentiate themselves from every other information source?
Now this is just chickenass and lazy. We publish stuff we don’t agree with. Why? Like why do you?
Do you sincerely believe there’s some kind of enlightened debate happening? Because your own voicemails should have convinced you otherwise like 20 years ago. Do you think publishing one conservative wanker every other week will shield you from criticism in your reporting? Because again in things you should have learned in the past two decades: Nobody gives you points that you can redeem when you trip on your journalistic dick. That’s not how anything works.
Why publish stuff you have to disavow the second it comes out? Why not publish what you DO believe? Why not publish what you do agree with? What, the online frogboys will howl? They’re already doing that no matter how many tired contrarians you run. Do you think the Journalism Police will come take your Cracker Jack badge away if you don’t run One A Conservative and One A Liberal each week? You’re not under any legal obligation, nor any moral one either.
Publish what you think people should know. Publish what you think is important. Publish underrepresented voices, on understudied topics, and celebrate them instead of distancing yourself from your own content. Set an agenda with the limited pages that remain in your august publication, and make the editorial choices you make work for you instead of hoping they shield you from criticism. Put something out there you can be proud of. Quit apologizing.
Stop trying to not suck. Because it ain’t working.