Thursday, October 28, 2010

Are journalists opinion makers?

Cevipof, a research center on French politics connected to Sciences Po and the school of journalism organized on Monday October 25 a fascinating debate on journalism and public opinion. The 3 speakers, Jean François Fogel, Dominique Reynié and Geraldine Muhlman are academics who have done a lot of research on these topics.

What is the relationship between journalism and public opinion? In a famous book "Public Opinion", published in the 1920's, Walter Lippmann described well this complex interaction. However, his position stressing the particular responsability of journalists was criticized by Dewey who favoured a form of community including journalists among others.
In the early nineties, Jay Rosen promoted the idea of public or citizen journalism. It was the idea, out of Dewey, that the journalists should listen more to the public and let them contribute to the production of information. The aim was to get back readers who had been moving away as early as the eighties, well before Internet.

Geraldine Muhlmann stated clearly that she considered the promoters of public journalism had gone too far. It is not enough to interest the public, good journalism implies a fair assesment of facts. One must find a middle way between the positions of Lippmann and Dewey.
Dominique Reynié did not disagree: the coverage of news is a proper job and must follow the rules of checking the facts. The public is not able to provide that kind of information but it is not possible to really influence the public opinion.
However, I would have liked to hear more from the speakers on the last events in the American world of the media: what about the manipulation of the press before the invasion of Irak? How to explain the success of blatantly biased TV Channels such as Fox or CNBC? Is it due to the influence of public opinion? A lot more could be said but time was too short.