Posted by: Christine Johnson | July 14, 2008

Is This Too Different Than Before?

The AP is going from “unbiased journalism” to opinion journalism.  I use quotes on “unbiased” because they have been slipping towards opinion more and more over the years.  So things aren’t too different except that the AP is being honest about it now.  Now when they gush over Hillary or Obama, they do it without pretending to be neutral.

Ron Fournier says he regards Sandy Johnson, his predecessor as head of The Associated Press’s Washington bureau, as “a mentor.” 

Johnson, though, regards Fournier, who replaced her in a hard-feelings shake-up in May, as a threat to one of the most influential institutions in American journalism. 

“I loved the Washington bureau,” said Johnson, who left the AP after losing the prestigious position. “I just hope he doesn’t destroy it.” 

There’s more to her vinegary remark than just the aftertaste of a sour parting. Fournier is a main engine in a high-stakes experiment at the 162-year old wire to move from its signature neutral and detached tone to an aggressive, plain-spoken style of writing that Fournier often describes as “cutting through the clutter.” 

In the stories the new boss is encouraging, first-person writing and emotive language are okay. 

So is scrapping the stonefaced approach to journalism that accepts politicians’ statements at face value and offers equal treatment to all sides of an argument. Instead, reporters are encouraged to throw away the weasel words and call it like they see it when they think public officials have revealed themselves as phonies or flip-floppers. 

The new approach was on display in a Liz Sidoti news analysis written earlier this month with the lead, “John McCain calls himself an underdog. That may be an understatement.” 

Last week Beth Fouhy’s dispatch on her feelings about the end of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign began, “I miss Hillary.”

Fournier himself, shortly before taking the job as bureau chief, wrote several models for what he’s called “accountability journalism.” A January lead declared that “Obama is bordering on arrogance.” A month later, he began a column with “The Democratic nomination is now Barack Obama’s to lose.” 

Fournier and other critics of the conventional press model, especially those on the left, have said that being released from the tired conventions of news writing is exactly what journalism needs. 

By these lights, the mentality that presumes both sides of an argument are entitled to equal weight is what prevented the media from challenging the Bush administration more aggressively on the Iraq war and other issues. 

Oh, yes…we all remember the glowing articles about the Iraq war, how they were so unbiased in showing both the good news and the bad news, giving both sides of the idea equal time!  
Hey, get up off the floor and stop guffawing.  Really, it’s unseemly.  
Anyway, like it or not, the AP has been moving more towards opinion, but at least they’re admitting it now.

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