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Saturday, 14 August 2010

Winning is everything in politics and sometimes it's also the main game for the media. At least according to Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University.

Rosen visited Australia as a guest of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance this month and spoke at the union's annual Walkley Media Conference, which was held in Sydney. He also spoke to academics and appeared on the ABC's Lateline news commentary program on Thursday night.

Asked about his notion of "horserace journalism", Rosen elaborated at some length, pointing out that it is a very easy way to do journalism compared to concentrating on "what the country needs to settle by electing a prime minister" - in other words, 'issues' journalism.

He illustrated this when asked by host Leigh Sales to explain his experiences. Rosen's exposure to a one-hour 2008 radio documentary changed his perception of stories about the GFC, he said, because it gave him the required set of cognates necessary for understanding the "incremental stories" that appear over time. Rather than being "turned off" by reporting on the GFC, he was now engaged.

But Sales didn't take time to touch on another topic Rosen has been talking about for some years, which is "he said, she said journalism". This is unfortunate, as this aspect of contemporary media practice has a lot to do with that fundamental concept of reporting, which is 'objectivity'.

When I spoke with an old school mate last month about his new book, which I reviewed earlier this month, we talked about his venturing into the realms of creative non-fiction, or literary journalism.

After mentioning an influential writer, Adam said that objectivity is a debatable quantity in journalism. Of course I agreed but then he began to suspect that a can of worms was about to be opened and made his exit, joining others milling about the big room on the top of the cliff where we had congregated to renew contact after a period of 30 years.

Of course it's debatable, which is why Sales frankly disappointed me in missing this chance to update Australia on this seminal thinker's views on a subject that is rarely discussed here, if anywhere.

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