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Evidence-based journalism

Richard Sambrook, director of the BBC‘s World Service and Global News, has posted an excellent engagement with Jay Rosen’s piece on He Said/ She Said journalism. He agrees that that type of journalism is a problem, but the problem isn’t with the He Said/She Said format. The problem is lazy journalism, says Richard. He points to some cases where we want a juxtaposing of views, which I’m sure Jay agrees with. Richard says his real concern is that some may take Jay’s piece as license to simply spout off. He writes:

Evidence-based reporting, the basis of objectivity (as distinct from impartiality) is in retreat and needs to be bolstered. He Said, She Said started life a hundred years ago as a journalistic discipline to counter yellow-journalism as Pulitzer and others tried to establish a degree of civic responsiblity in the press. It may have run its course but there are many who simply favour journalism of opinion – under the cloak of “calling the story”. I maintain we need evidence, fact-based reporting more than ever in a world awash with information rumour and opinion. That sometimes calls for a journalism of restraint – in which the New York Times (and the BBC) has an honourable tradition.

Evidence-based is a nice way of cutting through the argument about objectivity’s corrupt philosophical underpinnings. Of course, people are going to argue about what counts as evidence and what the evidence means — that is, I disagree with the implication of Richard’s blog’s tagline — “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan — but evidence is an important term not used often enough in these discussions. Evidence provides a way to disagree that can progress towards truth, or at least towards agreement, or at a minimum, an understanding of where the actual disagreement lies.

Of course, I offer this opinion without any evidence :).

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