Why does the public distrust the press?" asks Steven Brill. The founder of The American Lawyer and Court TV now turns his attention to answering this question in his new magazine, Brill's Content, which is now hitting the newsstands.

Right up front — well, on page seven, which is the first editorial (as distinguished from advertising) page — Brill describes the rules by which he intends to play, and which he thinks should be applicable to all nonfiction media. In brief, they are:

  1. Nonfiction should be "true", which Brill defines as "accurate in fact and in context".
  2. Truth in labeling and sourcing. "If a source has an ax to grind, that should be spelled out."
  3. No hidden motives. If it's to be considered nonfiction, any agenda must be "clearly disclosed."
  4. Full accountability.

To this end, Brill has published his policy on corrections, and has appointed an independent ombudsman to represent the interests of readers of the magazine — Bill Kovach, curator of Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism and former editor of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.

The mere fact that Brill addresses these issues up front should suggest that he thinks they're lacking in other media, and the examples he gives in the first issue, from the 60 Minutes hatchet job on Audi 5000-series sedans in 1986, to the feeding frenzy that has resulted in some ostensible news sources presenting "All Monica, All The Time", show that he's probably cutting them too much slack. At the beginning of the 21st century, information is king; as consumers of information, we owe it to ourselves to find out if the king is dressed in the emperor's new clothes. For this sort of research, Brill's Content looks to be one of the quintessential tools.

The Vent

#106
22 June 1998

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 Copyright © 1998 by Charles G. Hill