There was recently a post at the EuropeanTribune about “the average American journalist’s cluelessness about what they are writing about, their generally carefree attitude towards this cluelessness, and why this is the case.” Since the mainstream media is one of our main problems, and since I don’t think most BoomanTribers follow the EuropeanTribune closely, I thought it would be worth reproducing that whole post after the fold. (Here I am following the example of Jerome a Paris, who did the same thing at EuropeanTribune, his blog.)

Why is the American journalist typically clueless about what they are writing about? This is for a number of reasons which feed each other.

First, journalism training is, generally speaking, pretty specialized, a branch of speech and communications. Like accountants, one is not educated in a subject, one is trained in a craft. Knowledge of the subject one is going to write about is a good asset to have, but certainly not required. The proof? This article migeru is citing, where not only the journalist, but her editor(s), are clearly clueless about major parts of the story she’s writing about in the (so-called) paper of American record.

Second, the American educational system does little to nothing to teach Americans about the rest of the world (the secondary schools being egregiously bad on this score), and the US is a very insular place to begin with. I’d reckon that if maybe a little more than half of American students with a college diploma can locate Belgium on a map (and forget about those with only high school diplomas), maybe one in five hundred can identify the two main linguistic communities there much less give you a bit of color and background as to the history and culture of these. They go to cover a land they know little to nothing about, and unsurprisingly they become unwitting vessels for whatever ignorant crap happens to be in the air the time deadline hits. I especially loved this one’s treatment of vlaams belang in this regard.

Third, and this is problably the most damning, you have to be the child of wealthy parents to become a journalist in the US these days. How’s this? First, j-school is not cheap by any means. Second, you don’t make money to help pay for j-school or attendant expenses on summer holiday. No, if you want to work for the NY Times one day, that resume better be full of some good internships, starting now. And those internships, in the US they’re mostly non-paid. So daddy and mommy are going to have to foot the bill for more than just school. And, once you’re done with j-school? Another internship, this time perhaps paid (though quite poorly). Journalism is not a well paid profession when one is getting one’s start. Want to get the Time’s attention and catch on as a cub reporter? Probably best to work in New York. Not a cheap place to live, New York. So, daddy and mommy are going to have to foot some more bills. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what sorts of parents can afford to give their erstwhile budding reporter this kind of shot at big time journalism.

So you have three factors contributing to this – no knowledge requirement to be a serious journalist, great insularity of most Americans, and journalism opportunities limited to the children of the upper middle- and upper-classes (with the attendant ideological biases). There is no meritocracy, and ignorance is not an elimating factor; unsurprisingly, American journalism is pretty bad and getting worse.

You ask me for English-language newspapers worth reading? Aside from the Independent, I can’t really think of any. As a general rule, if it’s in English and in a major media outlet, it’s far more likely than not to be either false, biased or (more likely) both. Go back and read the English-language coverage of the run-up to Iraq war in everything from the Washington Times to the Guardian to see what I’m getting at. Does this mean everything in the Times or the Post is for shit? Heaven’s no. But I don’t think either is worthy of support, and I prefer to let the blogs filter out the shit for me – if something at either is worth reading, I’ll hear about it from someone I trust. I certainly don’t trust the name of either anymore, nor am I alone in this distrust, which explains the rise of blogs in the first place. If anything, some of the smaller outlets (likme McClatchy) are “getting it” with far more regularity than the self-satisfied gasbags at the Times or the Post.

As for the ideological references you make to American papers, I’d say your estimations are slightly off kilter. The Wash Times is definitely biased hard, hard right, but the post is biased to the right as well, albeit a fair amount less. The New York Times is generally center to center-right, the Chicago papers definitely conservative, and so forth.

Within these papers (and in most others in the US), there are definitely places which are systematically biased to the right, in particular the business and finance sections and the sports pages, the combination of the two making up more than half your average American paper. On the other hand, there are no systematically left voices in any section of any paper, nor is any mainstream paper generally left.

And this is unsurprising, given who owns the papers, and how journalists are made.

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