Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fairness and Accuracy in Media: Janine Jackson

When it comes to figuring out if the latest story in the New York Times is fair, Janine Jackson goes straight to the sources.

Jackson, program director for Fairness and Accuracy in Media, met with the students Friday morning. She is one of eight people working for the non-profit media watchdog group.

FAIR focuses on the work of the “big” news media, defining their target outlets by their level of influence on the national scene. While Jackson willingly admits that the politics of the group leans to the left, she said the group’s methodology of focusing on the sources in stories shows the scope of the debate on a given issue and is research everyone, regardless of politics, can accept.

The organization distributes its analysis in its monthly magazine Extra!, radio program and Web site. Some of the organization's most famous reports have been on Nightline and the News Hour, which demonstrated a top-down source structure where government and corporate officials were well represented, but public interest groups were not, Jackson said.

Jackson said before FAIR began its work, people did not have an understanding of the structure of media outlets and how that structure affects the news, as the organization seeks to point to areas where the goals of media as a profit-driven institution conflicts with their ability to do journalism.

“The thing about media is that it’s our climate. I don’t have to read the New York Times to be affected by what the New York Times is saying,” Jackson said.

Today, the Internet is changing how people read the news and is breaking up both the “one wayness” of the media and the influence of big media, Jackson said. However, people should be reading the New York Times with the same critical eye as a Web site with a lot of all caps letters, she said.

Though the organization is mostly reactive to individual articles or segments, Jackson said they also do look a bit at what is not being covered. Jackson said she has observed that the most taboo subjects for media have been racism, structural inequality, and criticizing a U.S. position on an international issues, especially in times of war.

The organization also tries to help reporters learn and improve. Jackson said the group sometimes calls reporters directly to talk about concerns and provides information on additional sources.

For journalists of the future to avoid their peers’ pitfalls, she recommended students know about how journalism is done in other countries, the history of media in the United States and something beyond journalism to give them a more critical eye.

-Derek Casanovas and Jasmine Linabary

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