Here on Slugger, we do a reasonable mix of blogging on sheer factual analysis, and comment. Chris, Fair Deal and Turgon have all produced useful and insightful analysis from their own various points of view on the Dromore byelection. Pete’s more detached style often throws light on detail that might otherwise be missed by the mainstream. Timeliness of news is important too, but as Julia Hobsbaum will argue in a speech in New York today (the extract on Comment is Free gives Slugger a mention) it is beginning to become a commodity:
News is narrated in real time, which a century ago meant by boat or telephone and now means by nanosecond. Yet news has become steadily devalued in almost direct proportion to its proliferation. News operations are scaled for continuity first, with accuracy often (obviously not always) a casualty of time and resource. The rush to “get the story out” matters most.
That doesn’t mean that the base facts are not important, they just aren’t the frame for the story. Yet over at Brassneck, there’s a lively discussion going on about crime at the moment, which makes it clear that even government statistics are suspect. As Onora O’Neill pointed out in her much respected 2002 Reith Lecture:
How can we tell which claims, counter-claims, reports and supposed facts are trustworthy when so much information swirls around us?.. Supposed sources proliferate, leaving many of us unsure where and whether there is adequate evidence for or against contested claims
Hobsbaum usefully quotes another sage of the past, which absolutely goes to the heart of what distinguishes useful comment from public hectoring from American columnist Walter Lippmann observed in 1922 in his book Public Opinion:
“News and truth are not the same thing, and must be clearly distinguished. The function of news is to signalise an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality.”