Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thinking Twice About How to use the Ofiicial Style in an Argument

**This essay is one of many in a book titled Will the Last Reporter Please Turn Out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done to Fix It, edited by Robert W. McChesney and Victor W. Pickard. The pages this essay is on in the book are 314-319. (Pictured below is the article on the D2L website)**

In a scholarly essay titled Public Funding and Journalistic Independence: What does research tell us? by Rodney Benson, there is a proposed argument about the importance of journalism and the need for increased funding by the government to maintain the quality and volume of journalism. Benson uses the “Official Style” in his writing as means to persuade and inform the members of the government this topic concerns. There is a wide scope of areas (such as obscurity, word choice, use of sentence combining strategies, etc.) in this essay that have the potential to be analyzed in this article, but for limited length purposes I am going to invest more time into the readability and clarity of his essay, and as a result deciding if his projected audience will both understand and be persuaded by his claims. Specifically I’d like to determine if his use of official style is the right style to use in this essay.

Benson’s paper argues that journalism in the United States is not receiving enough government funding compared to the funding received in other countries such as France. Without government funding, not only will journalism most likely disappear but what little would remain of journalism would be bloggers or unprofessional journalism; the quality of the field would plummet.

Putting this into an activity system process, Benson is attempting to influence the government (his targeted audience) to take a bigger part in funding journalism and news broadcast (the motive), resulting in the continuation of journalism as well as improving the overall quality (the outcome). The (production of) improved journalism will indirectly affect the nation because journalism in the news keeps the nation informed of all important stories, but directly involves the journalism community. This public funding would affect and improve all of the aspects of the journalism and publishing industry’s divisions of labor (specifically writers and editor branches), and help the journalism career continue to be reputable.

This particular activity system could create tensions with other activity systems connected with the government…basically anything that uses government funding. As we are in a national deficit, priority does come into play. I can see many different groups of people getting angry of “excess government spending” if the government chose to fund the quality of journalism over “more important things”, such as jail security or public education.

As I mentioned before, Benson uses multiple methods of the Official Style, however I am not sure that the government will clearly understand and be actively engaged in his essay. This is because government officials are very busy and don’t necessarily have the time to read Benson’s English major infused paper. Most likely, they would prefer a “summary” or key argumentative points instead of a well thought out paper. After reading the essay, there were parts that I started to zone out in and I believe it is Benson’s many uses of sentence combining strategies that make his argument a little muddling. Benson makes a strong argument, however it takes more than one read to comprehend his argument without losing focus.

Let’s look at this example:
“To be sure, safeguards need to be in place to protect journalists from attempts at manipulation or influence peddling. Inside corporate-owned newsrooms, as profit pressures have increased, informal Hwalls" protecting the editorial side from business interference have tumbled at most media outlets. Even so, top editors and reporters working under corporate CEOs have continued to fight-and even publicly resign in protest if need be-to maintain professional standards of excellence and independence. The same professional values also guide journalists who work at entirely publicly funded media outlets like the BBC, or partially publicly funded newspapers like Le Monde. In fact, compared to commercial media, the "walls" protecting public media are often made of firmer stuff, such as independent oversight boards and multiyear advance funding to assure that no publicly funded media outlet will suffer from political pressure or funding loss because of critical news coverage. Whereas public media like the BBC often criticize the government, how often do even the best U.S. newspapers such as the Washington Post or the New York Times criticize their publishers, their major shareholders, or their leading advertisers?”
He starts off this paragraph with “to be sure”. The third sentence starts with “even so”. In case we still haven’t gotten to his main point, the next sentence starts off with “In fact”. The point is finally made in the last sentence of this excerpt. This is an excellent example of the “slow sentence opening” seen in official style. The readability of this excerpt is a grade level of 16, equivalent to a fourth year college student. . Assuming that government officials viewing this argument all graduated college, there’s still the issue of readability and clarity. The reading ease was 32.7, which translates to relatively low amounts of people being able to effectively read and understand this paragraph. If I were a busy government worker, I would have wanted Benson to get to his main point from the getgo, instead of building up three long sentences to see what he was getting at. Instead of sentences being so long and complex (the average sentence being 22 words), I would prefer less complexity and a more direct approach. This is also a good example of when my eyes began to glaze over, as Benson kept building and building up to his point.

If I were a government official responsible for looking over Benson’s argument to decide whether or not to grant funding, I’m not so sure I would agree to it. From his argument I can deduce that in comparison, the U.S. does not adequately compare to other countries as far as government funding for journalism. However, after reading the entirety of the essay, upon reaching the conclusion I am concluded with this:
“Finally, let me be clear about what I hope will be the ultimate shape of the U.S. media system: even given the demonstrated virtues of European public media, I am not proposing that we run out and start subsidizing all the newspapers, nor would I suggest that public media can or should replace private enterprises. My point is simply that government involvement with the media does not inevitably lead to "dictatorship" -in fact, far from it! In the best-case scenario, media in any country should be funded from a variety of sources: paying or donating audiences, advertisers, foundations and other civic organizations, and citizen contributions via government. The more, the better. If public media have their blind spots, so do commercial media. That's why it's important to have both. Countering First Amendment fundamentalists' rejection of any and all public media, the consensus of research shows that government can be a positive, indeed an essential, part of the mix.”
Upon reading this argument, my first reaction is that I just wasted my time reading his argument because Benson suggests that funding can come from just about every other public method besides the government, and that he was simply just making the government aware of the current state and future of journalism. It is with these examples that I conclude Benson’s use of the official style are not effective in his motive, and that his main objective does not come across clearly to its intended audience.

Benson was on the right track using the official style to form his essay, however where he most likely has a degree in English and writing, government officials do not. They mainly deal with a legal vocabulary and some of Benson’s euphemism and word choice may not be entirely clear to a government worker. It is likely possible that they have experience working with wordy and lengthy documents, such as bills and budget summaries. Benson’s point does come across; it’s just for some people they may have to reread it in order to remember and/or digest what he is saying. Based off my experience with this essay, I would conclude that his argument does not come off as clear and to the point to his directed audience. The government official reading this essay will either give up halfway through it, or upon reaching the final paragraph of the essay, would become frustrated that after having read his entire argument for more government funding, only to see at the end Benson addresses all other types of funding that could be used instead.

--By Annalise Falck-Pedersen

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