Journalism vs. Art- Crossing the Blurred Line


Mike Daisey is an American author and actor, most famous for his monologue “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”. This American Life host Ira Glass has now produced two episodes on the subject, the first containing Daisey’s monologue, and the second retroactively exposing the inaccuracies of the first. Glass apologized for endorsing and reporting Daisey’s embellished story, explaining that journalists have an obligation to report facts- something Daisey’s story was apparently lacking. Daisey agreed that misleading the public is wrong, but argued that his monologue was art, not journalism. His goal was to make people passionate about the very real labor problems going on in China, and he thought that would be better accomplished by reporting what had been happening, even if he hadn’t seen it himself.

I don’t have an issue with Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” monologue. Although the story is routinely embellished, if not completely made up, it accomplished its goal- to get the public thinking. As social commentary, the monologue is great. My problem with it arises from Daisey marketing his piece as journalism, a view that Glass shares. Art and journalism are two completely different beasts and should be acknowledged as such. A journalist should report the facts. Ideally, they would be free from biases and focus on informing the public as accurately as possible. Art, on the other hand, is much more open to interpretation. There is no “wrong” art in the same way that a journalist could be wrong. Art is used to express feelings and emotion, something Daisey did quite well. However, when he went on This American Life and discussed his “experiences” as “fact”, Daisey attempted to blur the line between art and journalism- without the public’s knowledge.

While I disagree with Daisey’s conduct ethically, and logically comply with the idea that journalism and art are different, I cannot refute that there is art in journalism. In describing the epitome of a journalist earlier, I used the key word “ideally”. In reality, and in concurrence with the technological boom of the past two decades, journalism has devolved into a competition to see who can create the most eye-catching headlines or tell the people what they want to hear. Generally speaking, I think mass media still has the ability to be a trusted news source, but it is not currently the case because of the merger between art and journalism. Daisey gives a perfect example of this mentality. There is truth in what he had to say, but he felt the need to dramatize it to increase public reception. In doing this, Daisey created a moving piece of art, but not a piece of journalism.

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6 thoughts on “Journalism vs. Art- Crossing the Blurred Line”

  1. I think you make a really interesting case for the art in journalism, and would even push it further to say that truly objective journalism is art as well. But even journalism as an art form has requirements in the way that a sonnet has requirements to earn its place in that particular artistic category. I personally never felt that Daisey categorized his piece as journalism, it seemed that his credibility and the perception that his monologue was journalistic material came from Ira Glass and TAL.

    Regardless of whether or not Daisey marketed his piece as journalism or art, do you think that he succeeded in inspiring an emotional response in his audience? Do you think that this response from the audience was worth the smack on the wrist from TAL?

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  2. I think he succeeded in inspiring an emotional response from his audience when he first released the monologue. The story had a huge following and gained a lot of recognition. However, I believe people were very disappointed when they discovered he was not telling the truth in regards to what actually happened on his trip. I think Daisey believes the initial response from the audience was worth the smack on the wrist. His goal was to draw our attention to the issue and that is what he did.

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  3. You make a good case about the merger between art and journalism affecting the ability of mass media being a trusted news source with the technology boom. But looking at it from the benefit of technological advancement, it has created a more transparent world allowing individuals to find the truth. Yes, Daisey may have fabricated the story, but he accomplished his goal of getting people passionate about the poor working conditions in ShenZhen, China. I think his monologue was the key to unlocking the truth about this issue because people who now become passionate have the ability to find the truth on the Internet through many sources. So I think journalism today, in a way is doing the same with eye-catching headlines to get people interested in reading their article and the topic they are writing about. After getting the reader interested, the Internet is at their disposal with many possibilities to find the truth.

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  4. Well, is the fault in the public then, that wants dramatization? Or in the profit motive built into most news journalism?

    “The Giant pool of Money” is fascinating drama AND journalism, isn’t it?

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  5. There is of course art in journalism. If our journalists simply stated the facts with no color whatsoever, people would watch even less than they do now. Unfortunately, I think when Daisey starts letting the art take over his journalistic integrity, we have shows like This American Life see their reputations damaged over a retraction.

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  6. I think as readers we need to be able to separate the “art” from the “journalism”. As Pat said, the art makes news interesting and more memorable for the reader. If Mike Daisy would of made a report rather than this artistic monologue, it wouldn’t of had the same impact on us. We need to learn to separate the facts from the art and take the facts for what they are worth. I worry that a lot of people toss out the core of what Daisy says because it had small fabrications when most of it is in fact true

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