Audiences are increasingly drawn to highly personalized and idiosyncratic approaches that emphasize drama, personality, and viewpoint. Podcasts represent the democratization of radio, and the most popular podcasts tend to be ones that push an agenda and have outsized personalities as hosts. Narrative journalism, blogging, and other popular forms don’t hide behind the royal we or pretend to be omniscient. But if objectivity is elusive, impossible, and unattractive, that doesn’t mean that basic codes of fairness and engagement shouldn’t be front and center in contemporary journalism. Not misrepresenting opponents’ viewpoints is a good a place to start, as is foregrounding biases and predispositions rather than hiding them. Admitting errors and correcting them in real time is a prerequisite, and so is engaging the audience, which long ago stopped being passive (if it ever was).
According to the Knight Foundation survey, Americans are split “on the question of who is primarily responsible for ensuring people have an accurate and politically balanced understanding of the news,” with 48 percent saying it’s up to individuals and 48 percent saying it’s up to the media. Either way, Americans want trail guides to their world and what’s happening in it, not infallible experts who issue ex cathedra statements with Pope-like certainty. They also want choice and variety and don’t expect, say, the Associated Press to follow the same blueprint as Reason, even if they expect each of us to adhere to our missions and ethics. The turn to the “artisanal” matters every bit as much in journalism as it does in restaurants, woodworking, and crafts. People want to know what you believe, how your shit is sourced, and that they can trust you to live up to your word. That should come naturally, if not easily, to journalists.