Waxing Libertarian

Kevin Drum says those of us who like to complain about the trouble with objectivity need to check ourselves:

The problem with the convention of objectivity isn't that no one recognizes that it's a problem. Everyone recognizes that it's a problem. Entire tank cars of ink have been spilled discussing it. The real problem is that so far no one has come up with a solution — a practical, functional, real-world solution — that's broadly acceptable. Any ideas?

One observation is that I think it's simply false that everyone recognizes it's a problem. Everyone pays lip service to the idea of recognizing that there's a problem here, but I think your average major American news organization believes it is doing an excellent job of covering US politics when it is not, in fact, doing an excellent job.

The solution, at any rate, is pretty clear to me: market competition. There isn't a procedural rule that will correctly identify the right level of editorializing and the correct person to write the stories. Rather, as we move toward a world where the internet provides consumers with a large degree of choice, managers and reporters who manage to consistently cover the news in a way that people find useful will prosper, while those who fail to do so will suffer. Ask a journalist about the objectivity convention that governs US newspapers and he'll tell you a story about the vital role a neutral press plays in sustaining a vibrant democracy. It's an intriguing story, but if you ask an economist about the optimal strategy for a media organization in a market with few competitors, he'll tell you that the important thing is to be bland and inoffensive, like television before there was cable. Not coincidentally, America's newspapers have, secure in their possession of local monopolies, gotten really good at being bland and inoffensive. I'm reasonably optimistic that in the emerging, more-competitive world, new approaches will emerge.