The Case For Frustrating Journalism

Julian Sanchez, as usual, is worth reading:

What might be more helpful, at least in some instances, is an article that spends the same amount of space setting up the problem, and getting across exactly why it’s so difficult for brilliant and highly educated people to agree on an answerespecially when many people outside the field tend to have an opinion one way or another, and believe that they’re justified in holding it with some confidence.

Not just a clash between two confident but opposed viewswe get plenty of that all the time, and it’s part of the problembut an examination (assuming good faith) of what’s keeping these smart jousters from reaching consensus. Not “the case for policy A” vs “the case for policy B” but “the epistemic problems that make it hard to choose between A and B,” as though (I know, it’s crazy) the search for truth were more than a punch-up between mutually exclusive, preestablished conclusions. The message is not (to coin a phrase) “we report, you decide” but “we report on why you’re not actually competent to decide, unless you’re prepared to devote a hell of a lot more time, energy, and thought to it.”

The average reader would come away feeling, not as though he’d learned something, but as though he knew less than he had coming in, with no good way to say who’s right or what the correct position might be. These would, of course, tend to be incredibly frustrating articles, and given that journalism’s already on the skids, perhaps this isn’t the time to be proposing that publications deliberately frustrate their audiences. Then again, folks who already secretly suspect things aren’t as simple as all that might find the genre appealing.