(The following was published in the Newsleader on July 10, 2009)
Like most of you I am a consumer of the news. I read newspapers, watch TV, listen to the radio, and scan the Internet. I have grown concerned over the past few years however as I have watched what has happened to news reporting. In reading this column you are reading an opinion piece. It is not news. On the same page of this paper are other opinion pieces as well as an editorial offering the view of the publishers and editors of the Newsleader. News appears on other pages of this paper as well as other newspapers. Unfortunately the line is often crossed by reporters of so-called news to include opinion.
If I report to you that ice in the Arctic has melted back by two inches in the past decade, and I have facts to back that up, that is news. If I report that the ice in the Arctic is melting and will soon cause the oceans to overflow, that is opinion. If I report to you that we are running out of fossil fuels and will soon be at the mercy of an angry earth, that is not news. That is wild eyed speculation and opinion. If I further report that you should do something to stop this runaway use of fossil fuels because we are going to run out, that is not news. That is someone telling you how you should feel about a situation that isn't even a fact. It is just opinion.
For several years now we have allowed our news gathering and reporting services to get away with shoddy, unproven speculation and offer it as news. I am a strong advocate of a free press. I believe we must have a strong unbiased media that is relentless in rooting out the news that the news makers would otherwise like to keep hidden, but news is something that has already happened, Events yet to occur are not news, they are conjecture. To offer them as news is a violation of the practice of good journalism.
Here's a little test. Take any news story that is current and visit several news reporting services. I am talking about all forms of media. Then see how different the same story becomes when the various agencies put their slant on it. The New York Times will report one way, and Fox News will see it quite differently. CNN has their view and ABC or NBC will sell their point of view in another way. All of this under the guise of news reporting. The problem of course is that none of these agencies has the franchise on truth.
Reporting from war zones is something else. It continues to be almost impossible to garner the truth about what is really going on by the reports we are given. Very often truth is a casualty of agenda driven reporting and editing.
Here is one final little test to try. When news reporters offer a statement as news, and by its nature you know it is just opinion, add this comment to the end of their offering, "or not". That puts the whole thing in a different perspective. I love reading the opinion pages and I hope you do as well, but we should never confuse opinion with news. News reporters need to get back to sound journalism. As Jack Webb used to say on Dragnet, "Just the facts Ma'am, just the facts."
Ron Scarbro June 28, 2009
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