Objectivity and the media industry

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3 min readJun 13, 2024

👋 Welcome back to the Medium Newsletter
Issue #97: 50 contradictory truths, gardening flubs, and building a morning routine
By
Harris Sockel

“You know the stereotype of the NPR listener: an EV-driving, Wordle-playing, tote bag-carrying coastal elite,” begins reporter Uri Berliner in a contentious essay accusing NPR, his former employer, of left-leaning coverage that lost Americans’ trust. A lot of journalists, including his colleagues, found the essay dishonest and politically motivated. NPR suspended Berliner for writing it; he later resigned.

If it’s really true that, as Berliner claims, NPR’s coverage has gotten more politically one-sided over time — what explains that shift?

There are a lot of explanations. Zeroing in on media bias alone, former attorney Dustin Arand writes a lengthy (and nuanced) response to Berliner on Medium. He does see a shift in NPR’s coverage, but he attributes it less to NPR’s individual choices and more to the media ecosystem as a whole.

Human beings have a very hard time accepting that complex, apparently goal-directed processes can actually be the result of many independent actors making decisions based on short-term considerations,” Arand says. It’s an extension of his observation that media companies tend to run with the same stories and facts that have been vouched for by other companies they trust — rather than beginning with independent research and interviews.

Basically, if one media company serves up biased coverage, it affects the whole constellation as everyone else copies, rejects, or is subtly influenced by it.

Arand digs even deeper, though, into the slippery nature of “objectivity.” Media bias doesn’t just come through in topics covered. “Every word is an argument,” he writes, because every word is connected to a web of meaning that implies a certain way of seeing the world. One example: the word “unhoused” vs. “homeless.” Many orgs believe the former is literally more accurate than “homeless” since “home” can be figurative — but because “unhoused” was popularized by coastal activists and academics, some read it as a liberal calling card.

Pure objectivity “was always a myth,” Arand concludes. No matter how you write about something, you’re always going to use words that reinforce or challenge people’s assumptions in some way.

What else we’re reading

  • Palestinian-American filmmaker Mo Husseini’s “50 Completely True Things” is a stark, and moving, list of contradictory statements relating to the Israel-Hamas war. It was the #1 most-read story on Medium last month, generating over 200 responses — some filled with gratitude, others with pointed criticism. Husseini published a follow-up post last week responding to the responses, writing “many got stuck on particular points of disagreement… that sometimes prevented them from grokking my broader message about the critical need for empathy, compassion, and nuanced understanding as the foundation for peace.”
  • I just learned there are 13 “zones” for gardeners in the U.S.; if you know your zone, you’ll know what to plant. In my zone (7b), I should be planting pumpkins right now. Gardener Carly Newberg (zone 6a) shares every mistake she’s made as a newbie gardener, reflecting: “Gardening has changed my life in so many ways, and the metaphors it provides are the best kind of medicine for the soul.”

☀️ Your daily dose of practical wisdom: about morning routines

There’s no single best morning routine because we all have different schedules, lives, and jobs. As one writer on Medium discovered, exercise or meditation might help you focus, but doing something escapist like reading a chapter of a novel might help you feel freer. After testing seven morning rituals, Annie Atherton came away with this lesson: “If we insist on designing our mornings to reflect the values we want to inhabit, the rest of our lives will follow suit.”

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Edited and produced by Scott Lamb & Carly Rose Gillis

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