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October 23, 2008

Are Critics Unethical?

I'm preparing to yak at some cultural colleagues (in a classroom context) about credibility and ethics in our new age of immediate journalism and have come to an unexpected, though tentative, conclusion:


That critics, as opposed to reporters, are unavoidably "unethical" by the very nature of our jobs because opinion, however transparent or fact-based, doesn't fit the usual J-school ethical guidelines. Remember the high-school definitions of ethics and morals? Something of their squishy difference seems to applies to how we measure "right and wrong" for reporters and critics.


I've always wondered why big-boy editors tend to mistrust and sometimes disdain their own feature departments, and this may be one of the reasons: "All sides" reporting and singular opinion seem inimical. Any editor who's worked with a reporter-critic who's fearful to write that something is good or bad knows just what I mean.


Sure, a whole batch of the usual ethical guidelines apply to both types of work, and most apply equally in the blog fog and out. (Here's where I will recount about how one new, multiplatform company I worked for asked me to cross the editorial/advertising line and another traditional one did not.) But the replacement of the longtime classical music critic at the Plain Dealer, Donald Rosenberg, ostensibly because of his lack of critical sympathy with the relatively young Cleveland Orchestra conductor Franz Welser-Möst, brings up ethical issues related only to critics. (Wanna read a really good blog post about negative criticism? Here's Ann Powers on her own review of diva Tina Turner.)


So, do any of you critics or editors have any thoughts 1) on whether digital multiplatforming (and the overwork it entails) has changed ethics and credibility, or 2) do critics require a different set of rules to play by? Love to know.





October 23, 2008 9:23 AM | | Comments (2)


I know, I know, we're supposed to be polite--because we're supposed to be polite, and because it's better for the world as well as us when we get work than when we don't. But Jeff, you know the score. Front-of-the-book people look down on back-of-the-book people as a matter of habit and, all too frequently, intellectual incapacity. Journalistic "fairness" is an ideology that cripples truth-finding almost as often as it ensures it. J schools--well, I don't have the time, but let's just say they're every bit as imperfect as the rest of academia. One reason I always liked the Voice was that it wore its prejudices like they were military insignia. Criticism is rationalized opinion, and should be. Good critics tend to be more skillful at revealing or implying their prejudices so readers can orient themselves, and most of the time (not always, as exemplified by the late great Lester Bangs), empirically grounded opinions are more credible and useful than willful ones. But that's as far as it goes. Great link, BTW. Not only is Ann Powers typically thoughtful and soulful, but the comments are pretty smart.

Yeah, I particularly like the assertion that Tina will be an eternal idol: "In 100 years, a Tina Turner biographer needs to know how her later performances compared to earlier ones."

Any article that is part prolegomena for future music journalism is A-OK by me. Preach, sister.

Isn't it always rather unethical to make future projections? Also, inspiring.

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