Journalists can have opinions, too

(U-WIRE) EAST LANSING, Mich. – As a critic of the media, you might think the word objectivity dominates my vocabulary. For so many of my colleagues and readers, that word represents integrity, the pillar of ethical journalism, often their only consideration when critically analyzing the news. It is abhorrent for a media member to be politically observant, they say. It is unprofessional to be opinionated, to protest injustices or even publicly show support for political candidates with hand clapping.

These attitudes are a spear in the gut of newspaper journalism. The lack of news analysis and development of opinions is what makes journalism so meek. Not that I think a reporter or editor should tailor the news to suit his or her agenda. News organizations have a system of checks and balances that ideally monitor the fairness and accuracy of reporting so that rigging the news should be impossible, especially if the media is truly accountable to critical readers.

Newspapers’ principal value should not be to portray a monotone scope of the globe and expect readers to interpret it entirely for themselves. The bulky and confusing nature of all of this information can make it impossible to decipher. Certainly, diligent readers are capable and deserve that responsibility, but input from insiders through editorials and opinion columns is crucial. Newspapers must not go the way of the talking hairdo – the television newscast, which has long abolished the commentary course of its stale news cuisine.

The opinion page of newspapers is what asserts the medium as a necessary element of our democratic society. Can a reporter still be trusted to throw down the nation and world pages, reliably and objectively, even if he or she is very opinionated about national and international politics?

The most respected and successful journalism pairs diligent reporting with astute conclusions, just in separate sections to avoid any misunderstanding. Earlier this century, confronted with many greedy powers that challenged democracy, muckraking journalists dug in. They prevailed because they did not write that oligarchy was maybe a threat. The same evils that the muckrakers jousted are still here, bigger and badder than ever and still picking on the American people. But the media are too busy chasing Buttafuoccos to really do their job. They shrug it off saying, it’s what the people what.

I like to give newspaper readers more credit. They use newspapers for community activism. They understand the difference between the news pages and the opinion pages and recognize the merits of each. Readers deserve more than inconclusive, bland news stories: Protesters say there is police brutality and substantiate this conclusion with reliable evidence. Police retort, saying it is not true without any proof. These incidents happen over and over and the media give them to audiences with the same jaded and uncritical spin. If that treatment is respectable, objective journalism, then there are many deluded journalists. If a reporter is questionable ethically and endangers his or her credibility because he or she edits national and international news stories and wants to tie it all together in the appropriate forum, perhaps journalism is more engorged with paranoia and disease than I thought.
-The writer is a columnist for The State News (Michigan State U.).

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.