There was a time in America when people would watch the evening news or read the morning paper and then go to work and discuss what they had seen or read. Often,these discussions crossed political,religious,or societal lines,and the news story simply was discussed. Since the Vietnam War,this style of journalism has been dying a slow death. Many journalists now pepper their stories with their opinions or the opinions of their editors.
A return to the roots of journalism is called for in this day and age of upheaval in the world. People have a need to be informed of a situation and then to form their own opinions based on the facts presented. As journalists,we should not attempt to sway the views and opinions of our readers. Some readers even consider this insulting and wonder who appointed us the opinion makers of society.
Correspondents dating back to the earliest days of journalism have held to a rigorous standard of reporting facts and avoiding opinions. We have ample opportunity to voice our opinions in our votes and in editorial columns. Today,we have even more ample opportunity to voice our opinions and beliefs through social media networks and blogs. What we need to do when reporting a story is report what happened and the effect of the event. Sound,solid journalism will always stand on its own and be appreciated by those reading it.
A challenge to all journalists is to find the story and report the story. We often become so entwined in a story that our natural reaction is to inject our opinion. This would not be tolerated in public school teachers educating our children. They are told to teach the curriculum and to not spin the curriculum toward any certain direction other than the stated goal.
Words have power;and as journalists,we wield a powerful sword. Our words can sway elections and public opinion in basically any direction we choose. Current headlines are a prime example of this. The current gun control debate is on the verge of spilling into open hostilities between pro- and anti-gun advocates. These opinions are shaped by the media outlets those advocates read.
A liberal outlet intentionally supports the liberal view,while a conservative outlet supports the opposite view. To many reading this,it may seem a logical and balanced approach to journalism;but it is not. No matter the source of the story,the media outlet should report the facts from all sides and avoid attempts to sway public opinion. As a case study,I give you the example of the now infamous New York gun owners list.
A journalist and editor with obvious political leanings decided to take it upon themselves to inform the public of the addresses of all gun owners in New York. It is almost certain that during an altruistic moment of decision-making,they felt they were performing a public service. In their own way,they were providing the public with a means to avoid addresses known to possess guns. The result,however,was certainly different than the supposed intention.
At least one home of a registered New York gun owner was burglarized,and his guns were taken. Through ill-considered actions,this reporter and editor created a victim. They turned a law abiding citizen into a victim of crime. The argument can be made that it was coincidence that this happened;but the facts of the case negate that argument. This home was targeted out of several surrounding homes,and guns were taken during the crime. In all appearances,this was the act of criminals intent on obtaining weapons that they would perhaps use in subsequent crimes.
In addition to adhering to the ethics of our profession,we should refrain from injecting our opinion in the interest of public safety. The aforementioned example was ill-conceived,ill-timed,and a very poorly made decision. Not all injection of opinion has such mundane consequences. As journalists,we have a duty to inform the public. The best way to do this is to report what we know,not how we think.