Equivalency journalism assumes that there are only about two sides to anything and that they are equally valid.
When practicing equivalency journalism, once two sides to an issue are found, then the only task of the journalist is:
- Find spokespersons for each side.
- Transcribe what they say.
What we know from real life, though, is that no two approaches to anything are objectively equal. But the myth of equivalency is what drives most media organizations today.
Equivalency journalism is essentially self-absolution by media organizations that just don’t want to go to the trouble or time to seriously research anything to get to the bottom of it.
Equivalency journalism has, at its heart, the cynical assumption that there is no real, objective truth to anything. There is only a panoply of opinions. And so, once the major opinions are given voice and passed along, job done.
What happens then, is that wacky, off-beat, unsupportable opinions are given equal weight to carefully developed positions that have gone through multiple iterations in a larger group of thinkers and is broadly accepted.
This has huge ramifications nationally and locally.
Nationally, for instance, it means that those who believe that President Obama was not really born in Hawaii, is a secret Muslim, is trying to destroy America from within, etc. are given equal weight to those who actually develop evidence from what is documented about him.
On a local level, it means that accusations about a candidate or organization are dutifully reported even if there is no plain evidence of any kind. The assumption in equivalency journalism is that since it is passionately spoken, it is all just a matter of time before the evidence will show itself. But, what if it doesn’t?
Equivalency journalism gives organizations run by cynical political hacks a platform that they have neither earned or deserve.
The lifeblood of democracy is a free press. But if that free press does not exercise its freedom by asking the very questions that some don’t want to be asked, they are failing not just us, not just traditions of journalism, but the democracy itself.
So here’s how consumers can have an impact on news media–most especially TV “news” :
1. Demand that reporters ask questions of fact.
- “How do you know that?”
- “What are your evidences of what you are saying?”
- “What your sources?”
2. Demand that reporters clarify the sources of evidence that a spokesperson is giving.
- “Where do your sources get their funding?”
- “What are the interests of those sources in providing that information?”
3. Demand that reporters follow up on stories to clarify open-ended questions raised when the story first broke.
If readers and consumers of media make demands similar to these, then this unthinking equivalency will begin to die and true, incisive journalism will thrive.