I’ve always dreaded the day I would turn into the guy that said, “Back in my day…” But, alas, it’s finally happened. I can’t take it anymore. The sullying of the news industry is moving at a breakneck pace and something has to change.
So, as I was saying, back in my day when I was a newspaper reporter, it was vitally important that no one knew my personal opinion on anything. I never discussed religion or politics with anyone unless it was to get their comment for a story. I didn’t profess an opinion on much of anything and while most people probably didn’t realize I was consciously doing this, I bet that if you had asked them where I stood on an issue, they would have been hard-pressed to figure it out.
That was all a part of my attempt to remain as objective as possible when reporting on a story. But, more importantly, it was a way for me to eliminate any perceived conflicts with sources. I didn’t ever want someone thinking they wouldn’t get fair treatment in one of my stories because I was biased in some way against them or their issue.
It’s too bad the current cable television news channels don’t practice this division between fact and opinion. Ask people why they watch CNN, Fox or MSNBC, and it will probably be because they think the networks they don’t watch are too biased to the left or right.
It’s also no wonder that this happens though, when you consider that the line between news and commentary is blurred regularly on all of the networks. Too often, the morning “news” shows are full of opinionated comments from the hosts about the news they are covering. Throughout the evening, the “news” networks are filled with shows based on personalities known more for their vitriolic tirades than their commitment to sharing fact-based news with their viewers.
I’m not suggesting there isn’t a place for opinion-based commentary on TV. After all, newspaper columnists and radio talk show hosts have been informing and entertaining people for many years. But newspaper publishers, radio station owners and even local TV news outlets have traditionally done a better job with drawing a distinctive line between what is news and what is opinion. On the cable TV networks, however, this line is blurred.
That’s why it’s time to get the opinionated commentators on their own network. Call it CNN-Commentary or Fox Opinion — but get it off the news stations. If we don’t get the opinion out of the news broadcasts on TV, we are going to continue to see the erosion of the journalism industry as a whole.
Get the opinions out of the news and you’ll soon see credibility working its way back in. It’s not too late — is it?
(Image courtesy of Knight Science Journalism Tracker)