2022-08-28 Jay Rosen When in doubt, draw a distinction

Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu): "When in doubt, draw a distinction."

Not sure where he got it, but in grad school one of my teachers told me that. Some of the best advice I ever received.

This THREAD is about some of the key distinctions I draw on to do my work. If you're into that kind of thing.😎

Ready? 1/

Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu): For distinctions to do work, the terms have to be sufficiently close that prying them apart clears space for thought.

If I write, "bending is not the same as breaking," well, who said it was? That one is going nowhere. But "naked is not the same as nude" is an idea with legs. 2/

These notes about some of the distinctions I draw in order to do my work were written under the influence of two masters of the form: the French critic Roland Barthes, and the political philosopher Hannah Arendt, known for her striking distinctions— such as labor vs. work. 3/

For those who don't know me, I'm a J-school professor and press critic who writes about the media and politics, and journalism's struggle for survival in a digital world. I have a PhD in media studies, and 35 years experience in puzzling through problems in press behavor.


Here we go with some key distinctions I use to do my work.

An audience is not a public.

"Audience" = people attending to a common object, typically a performance or spectacle.

A public is people with different interests who live in the same space and share common problems. 5/

Audience vs. public, cont.

When people share common problems but don't realize it, they are an "inchoate" public. (John Dewey.)

One reason the presidential debates are such a big deal is that they are one of the few occasions when the audience is the public and vice versa. 6/

Key distinction number two: journalism vs. the media (vs. the press)

I think of the media as the attention business, an industry whose product is audiences.

Journalism is a social practice, the purpose of which is to keep publics informed and hold power to account.

However— 7/

Most journalists are employees of the media, and thus part of the attention business. This creates endless problems and compromises, which I hear about nonstop.

The press — to my way of thinking — is the institution that endures over time as journalists come in and out of it. 8/

Media, journalism, and the press are not interchangeable terms. Yet they are bound up with one another.

Media is the attention industry Journalism is a social practice The press is a key institution in a democracy

Journalists who work in the media carry forward "the press." 9/

Jay's third key distinction: truth-seeking vs. refuge-seeking behavior in journalism.

Truth-seeking needs no definition. It is finding out what actually happened— and telling us.

Refuge-seeking is telling the story in a way that protects against anticipated attacks...


Seeking truth vs. seeking refuge, cont.

My favorite description of refuge-seeking behavior in journalism comes from a former reporter for the Washington Post, Paul Taylor, in his 1990 book about election coverage. I have quoted it many times. 11/ https://twitter.com/jayrosen_nyu/status/1363670144694824961/photo/1

Truth-seeking is what journalists see themselves as always doing.

Refuge-seeking includes such common practices as false balance, "both sides do it," steering the story "down the middle," and the depiction of "dueling realities" in a divided nation. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/live-updates/2020-election-campaign/?id=73886088 12/

What is "political" need not be politicized. This is a point I make again and again in my press criticism.

When TV journalists with Sunday morning shows push back against major party candiates who are floating poisonous charges without evidence, that is a political act.


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