I read two academic articles earlier this week that got me thinking about whether, and how, our acceptance of an argument should be influenced by the conditions that the person producing the argument was in.
The first was Citizen Video Journalists and Authority in Narrative: Reviving the Role of the Witness by Mary Angela Bock. The article looked whether “citizen” and “professional” journalists differed in how they attempted to assert their authority in their work, given that “citizen” journalists lack the institutional authority most “professional” journalists enjoy.
The second was Epistemologies of TV journalism: A theoretical framework by Mats Ekström. Ekström’s proposed framework for studying TV journalism’s epistemology included questions about how TV journalists decide that a claim is one they want to put on the air, how they can gather and test facts, and what has to be true for the audience to accept the “knowledge” these processes produce.
Ignoring for a minute that these studies focus on only visual journalism, as I read I thought about myself, a journalism consumer (or user), reading or hearing the material that emerges from the places Bock and Ekström studied. Knowing what those scholars tell me about the images I see is very interesting. I want to know the questions that are in play about why the news I read is the way it is.
But what does this knowledge about the conditions of production have to do with whether I accept the arguments that journalists are offering me?
Say some journalists come out with some story with some conclusion, but initially I find their evidence unconvincing. Should I think differently knowing that the story was shaped by the conditions and institutions of journalism that Bock or Ekström describe (or, for that matter, those described by Gans, Tuchman, etc.)?
My first reaction is, “of course not” — no more than I would excuse the poor argument of, say, an economist just because the argument happened to be persuasive to people in the field. It strikes me as an explanation, but not an excuse.
But is my reaction too harsh? None of the journalists involved decided how the routines of journalism should be; in the case of TV journalism, none of them decided what sort of behavior and content the medium should encourage and what it discourages. Yet my reaction leads me to ignore them all the same.