It is not uncommon for conservatives or bloggers — and especially conservative bloggers — to engage in rants about the bias of the “mainstream media.” This is not one of those rants. It is a rant about an extraordinary expression of bias up one creek of what might be called the tributary media, the small, specialized publications that cover one industry or topic.
Last month the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education held its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., as part of the annual meeting of the American Council of Education. I have just listened to an audio transcript (available from ACE) of the Feb. 13 session on “Journalists’ Perspectives on Diversity,” and I was, quite frankly, shocked by the presentation and subsequent comments of one of the panelists, Scott Jaschik, editor of InsideHigherEd.
On one level what seemed to be the theme and purpose of this panel — helping diversity officers figure out how to pitch their pet programs to the press — would have struck many professional journalists as inherently problematical, or at least it would have in the old days. Even today I suspect eyebrows would be raised in some circles if reporters covering politics for the mainstream press appeared on a panel at a meeting of partisan political consultants to one party designed to help them hone their message.
But let that go, especially because a couple of journalists on the panel — one of them was Peter Schmidt of the Chronicle of Higher Education, whom I’ve criticized too many times to cite but always found fair and professional — made it clear that their role prevented them from being advocates. By contrast, InsideHigherEd’s Scott Jaschik sounded like a shrill shil for “diversity.”
He went way, way beyond telling his audience to “tell me what I should write,” an invitation that he attempted to cover with the pro-forma declaration that he might not always accede to their wishes. Mentioning several times that the “critics of affirmative action” were much better at dealing with the press, he “volunteered some help” at press relations, help that he offered to keep “completely off the record,” which suggests an unusual (or at least I hope it is unusual) view of the role of the press.
He offered, for example, to hold off the record coaching sessions where he would “pretend that I’m Fox News” and ask the sort of questions Fox News would ask. “It’s not my job as a journalist to tell you what to say,” he said with what sounded like a wink, “but I can tell you how it sounds.”
And I can tell you how that sounds, but I don’t need to. It certainly doesn’t sound like journalism.
Some people say blogs are biased because they don’t have editors, but an editor like Jaschik suggests their absence can be a blessing.
If any of you intrepid souls want to listen for yourselves, the mp3 recording of the journalism panel is on the second of the two 07-ACE CD-ROM discs; the file name is 046.mp3. I listened to 046ao.mov through QuickTime, which worked fine.