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COLUMN: Opinion is ruining journalism

April 6, 2017

Nobody likes being told what to think. If you disagree, case in point: I just told you what to think and you didn’t like it.

As journalists, our job is not to tell people what to think. Our job is to present the facts in an objective manner. If our job is done well enough, people are informed enough to make their own decisions based on what is indeed factual.

Some people are just plain ignorant, and maybe they should be told what to think occasionally — but we’re not the ones to do it. If we’re doing our jobs right, the truth should be clear and only able to be ignored through copious amounts of effort.

The problem with this premise is an increasing number of people don’t believe a word journalists report anymore. From talking heads spewing drivel to CNN’s scandals to the “fake news” epidemic, there are plenty of reasons why more people seem to write off the media than ever before.

I don’t know which reason could or should be pinpointed as the main claim to blame, but I know which one I’m going to rant about: opinion.

Yes, like what you’re reading.

During the election, I saw some raise a question I had not considered: what are institutions that claim to be bastions of objectivity doing endorsing presidential candidates?

No matter which side you are — or were — on, partisanship is poking its ugly little head through our institutions of reporting far more often than it should, in the wrong places, and has been for awhile. 

Doubt has been sown among the public and journalists have reaped the sweet harvest of distrust, a yield typically reserved for politicians and prophets. It’s up in the air whether people trust us more or less than the current administration.

For sports journalists, speculating about a team’s chances or where that player might be traded is natural. For entertainment journalists, reviewing a piece of media is a key component of their work. For hard news journalists, telling the audience what you think about the latest issue isn’t in the job description.

Or, at least it shouldn’t be.

Opinion and news, after living it up in a torrid affair, find they can’t seem to coexist in their everyday lives. It’s like putting ice cream on pizza; it’s taboo and tempting and you just can’t help but try it once, but then once the fun’s over you realize there’s a good reason your parents told you not to put them together.

News is embarrassed of opinion, it has a reputation to uphold and opinion’s free-spirited rambunctiousness just makes people think less of news for associating with it. Opinion, however, feels stifled by news’ fogeyish adherence to all those darn rules and traditions. It’s just not interested in having fun and it’s dulling opinion’s spark.

Opinion writing is by no means worthless, in fact it’s often the most entertaining type of writing. Its place in the media shouldn’t go anywhere. The sad reality is that after all those years of marriage, opinion and news have just grown too far apart. Opinion should divorce news, take half the ad revenue and get joint custody of the clicks, find itself a nice domain in the city where it can open that yoga studio it always dreamed about.

But don’t take my word for it.


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