Keepin' It Real (But Not Objectively Real) | Media | Chicago Reader

Keepin' It Real (But Not Objectively Real) 

Intriguing arguments from the rapping Atlanta Web site editor who fired a reporter for believing in an "objective reality."

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Matthew Cardinale at an Atlanta city council committee meeting in January

Matthew Cardinale at an Atlanta city council committee meeting in January

A young, beefy Atlanta media figure stood in the well of his city's council chambers on February 1, held a sheet of paper with lyrics on it up to his face, and sang a rap song.

The council was considering a measure to limit public comment at committee meetings, and Matthew Cardinale, founder and editor of the Web site Atlanta Progressive News, intended to make his feelings known.

Five minutes ain't enough
To cover all our stuff.
Five minutes ain't sufficient.
We shouldn't need permission . . .

Cardinale's 80-second performance made it to YouTube, but it did not go viral. He had better luck a few days later.

On February 10, Cardinale, 28, fired his top reporter by e-mail. When Andisheh Nouraee, blogging for the local alternative weekly Creative Loafing Atlanta (which shares a parent company with the Reader), asked what had happened to the reporter, Cardinale e-mailed him a reply that would soon startle journalists across the nation.

Cardinale began by grousing, "Atlanta Progressive News was not planning to make any public statements regarding Jonathan Springston's departure from Atlanta Progressive News until having been contacted by [Nouraee] with the news agency's threat of publishing a blog entry about it. It should be noted that Nouraee's motives in writing this piece are questionable, seeing as how he has made negative statements about APN's Editor in the past."

But, since Nouraee had asked . . .

Cardinale praised Springston as a journalist, predicted he'd do well at a more mainstream sort of place such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution or even Creative Loafing, and laid his departure from APN to philosophical differences. He explained: "At a very fundamental, core level, Springston did not share our vision for a news publication with a progressive perspective. He held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News. It just wasn't the right fit."

Once posted on Nouaree's blog, this heresy did go viral. Cardinale's language is a little muddled, positing a tension between a "progressive perspective" and belief in "objective reality" as if they were simply opposing choices. Nonetheless, his point is clear enough: Springston made the mistake of striving for objectivity when objectivity doesn't exist.

Journalism, like the church and the law, is a faith-based profession. Whatever a priest might think from time to time about the existence of God, he must presume God exists because the work he does is predicated on it. Likewise with lawyers and justice. And likewise with journalists and objective reality.

Cardinale's comments were soon being debated by members of a listserv I belong to that connects journalism graduates of the University of Missouri. Many grudgingly conceded that Cardinale had a point. For instance, freelance writer Anna Vitale remarked, "Sometimes I think American news sources would do more of a public service by taking a page out of the British playbook and, as this article says, not pretending to be objective. . . . Unfortunately, readers/viewers are all too often convinced that 'their' news source is objective. Might be nice if everyone just laid it out on the table."

On the other hand, Robbie Ketcham, a young Mizzou graduate who's now a Lutheran seminarian, wrote on the listserv that "if there's no reality, then the whole practice of journalism might as well give up.

"Sure, the rejection of ontological reality might sound tempting at first. . . . We all like our egos boosted and to be told we know as much as anyone else, and so have as much claim on truth as anyone else. It sounds nice, that is, until you face the existential crisis that, in a world where everyone's views are good and true, then nobody is truly good nor true."

John Marsh, who runs a PR firm in Atlanta, admitted he'd lived there for 23 years and "never heard of APN until today." That said, he had to agree with Cardinale. "His is a philosophical approach, to be sure," Marsh wrote, "but then again, isn't 'objectivity' in newsgathering and reporting a philosophical, learned approach? And haven't reporters at outlets that subscribe to the philosophy of objectivity been fired for not being objective? I don't think this episode in any way threatens journalism as we know it."

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