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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Get ready for nasty gonzo journalism — by partisans

The prank calls to the governors of Wisconsin and Massachusetts in recent weeks are only the tip of a journalistic iceberg coming  our way. A new era of journalism dirty tricks is fast approaching based on our polarized, partisan democratic culture.

Now we have so-called “citizen journalists” (read “political partisans”) like James O’Keefe catching NPR executive Ron Schiller on a hidden camera making unguarded and controversial comments about Tea Party members and other people.

This is “gotcha” journalism pure and simply, only this time it is being practiced not by professional journalists but by people with an explicit agenda to embarrass their political enemies — and not, by the way, to embarrass their political friends.

To the people who celebrated the decline of the power of mainstream professional journalism, I say: You ain’t seen nothing yet. You may live to pine for a return of a modicum of professional journalism standards in news media.

New technology has empowered citizens to mobilize against tyrants and to join the journalistic conversation. Terrific. Yet there is a down side. Such tools will be used increasingly for blatant political purposes and biased reporting. We are witnessing the rise of a new era of unethical journalism — if we can call it journalism — where anything goes when it comes to advancing one’s political goals. Forget minimizing harm. Forget restraining one’s freedom to publish. Forget any talk of using fair methods. The reputation of journalism will only sink lower in the minds of the public.

This new era puts pressure on responsible newsrooms to not use these methods, and to cover such journalistic practices with a critical eye — making sure they clearly explain who the so-called journalists are and the political groups they represent. In addition, citizens must become more savvy in their media literacy skills, so they are not taken in by the political biases of people who use journalism for their own purposes.

Isn’t this new era of partisanship and the joyous rejection of objectivity a wonderful thing?





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