I could have chosen in today's story to write about all the health benefits on not using pesticide and provided tips on Imageshow to weed without chemicals. But would that have been doing my job? I argue no. As a reporter I need to tell the community what is happening at City Hall without letting my personal bias get in the way. I certainly have a personal opinion on the ban, but you should never know that from reading my stories. I should be presenting both sides of the argument to allow readers to make their own decision.
It's a fair position to take, and I'm glad that there is still a line between straight journalism and 'advocacy' journalism like much of the content on RTH (I believe each form plays an important role).
At the same time, the idea that a journalist should simply 'present both sides of the argument to allow readers to make their own decision' is problematic.
It can easily slide into the false journalistic value of "balance", in the sense that the two sides of an argument are given equal weight regardless of the relative merits of their arguments.
For example, when Councillor Lloyd Ferguson says, "You're going to fine people for taking care of their lawns," he's being disingenuous at best, distorting the issue and attacking a straw man for emotional appeal. Doesn't the journalist covering the subject have a responsibility to identify these argumentative fallacies when public figures try to employ them?
I think it's important for the news media to subject both sides to critical, objective analysis so readers can draw informed conclusions.
It's as if a group of people formed a new Flat Earth Society and petitioned the government to change the science curriculum, and the news headline read: "Opinions differ as to shape of earth".
Also, the conflict around the proposed pesticide ban is more complex than merely a binary struggle between environmentalists and lawn companies.
Many companies can see where the political climate is going and are embracing pesticide-free products and techniques to make their business models forward-compatible.
Oversimplifying the diversity of opinions and the dynamic nature of business to adapt to changes in its regulatory environment tends to reinforce the false alternative between business and the environment, as if one has no alternative but to choose between them.
(In an analogous case, the automakers with the strongest growth and highest profits worldwide are those companies operating under some of the strictest regulations and producing the cleanest, most fuel-efficient automobiles. Clearly, regulation for environmental safety is not necessarily bad for business.)
I don't think MacIntrye is "stirring the pot" or "promoting a war", but in a debate as "likely to be as lively" as this, it's especially important to cut through the heat and drama and assess the actual claims on their merits.
Noting, for example, that one side in a debate has a strong case with plenty of evidence and the other side is relying mainly on ideology and FUD is not the same as taking sides.
In any case, thanks to MacIntyre for offering a 'peek behind the curtain' at the kinds of issues that journalists struggle with in trying to remain professional and objective. It's a lot easier for armchair media theorists to prescribe what journalists should be doing than it is for the journalists themselves to do their job.
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