Friday, February 04, 2011

Blurred boundaries between news and opinion

Is this happening with your home town newspaper? It used to be that there was a separation of news and opinion columns. I am not saying that editorial and personal biases were ever missing from news stories; but I am saying that columns containing opinions were clearly labeled as "opinion." That seems to be gone now. We are presented with news stories that subtly present the reporter's opinion as part of the news.

Here is an example from today's New York Times and Boston Globe (the same story by Anthony Shadid):

The Egyptian government broadened its crackdown of a 10-day uprising that has shaken its rule yesterday, arresting journalists and human rights advocates across an edgy city, while offering more concessions in a bid to win support from a population growing more frustrated with a devastated economy and scenes of chaos in the streets. (This part is news.)

The campaign was a startling blend of the oldest tactics of an authoritarian government — stoking fears of foreigners — with the air of sincerity of a repentant order. (This part is opinion.)

And another from the Globe:

US Representative Barney Frank announced yesterday that he plans to seek another term, increasing the possibility of a battle — the first in 30 years — between two sitting Massachusetts congressmen over a single congressional district. (News.)

Frank, 70, an irascible (opinion), liberal (news) Newton Democrat....

I am not saying either opinion is wrong. (I don't know Mubarak, but the characterization of Barney is dramatically understated.) What I am saying is that you would expect the newspapers of record to be better about separating reporting from opinion on their front pages. In my view, the story should tell the story, leaving readers to form their own opinions. Opinions should be clearly set forth in stories labeled as opinion or analysis, whether on the front page, the editorial page, or the op-ed page.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

In my 'opinion' this phenomenon has overtaken every form of public communication, even the weather forecast, which now seems pitched more to attract viewers/readers than to scientifically (as much as possible) predict the weather.

nonlocal

jonmcrawford said...

Perhaps it's just less skilled insertion of opinion now, so you're noticing it? I wouldn't say I've ever see *just* news anywhere, but I'm only in my 30s.

jgnat said...

Traditional news sources are under assault from the new media, where anyone can post what Father Says any hour of the week. The tradition of integrity (and spelling) in news reporting may not be as recognized as it was in the past. On the other hand, have you ever read historical newspaper accounts? They can be downright gushy. http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers/LCA/1907/06/06/7/Ar00702.html?query=newspapers%7Cqueen%7C%28publication%3ALCA%29%7Cscore

fairhavenhorn said...

The journalism community has noticed this and for some years now it has been a topic of energetic discussion. I have seen no consensus of opinion emerge.

There are many aspects of observer bias to deal with, and many aspects of reader bias. There are time and knowledge limitations. There is debate whether you should attempt to separate opinion from news, or whether it is better to merge the two and acknowledge a point of view. It can be hard to tell them apart at times.

For example, in your (news) categorization I can argue that it is (opinion) to list the economy as "devastated". I can also argue that it is (opinion) that they did not mention the overwhelming and all pervading government corruption affecting every aspect of life. This corruption is the topic of more than half the Egyptian public complaints, and was the core of the Tunisian complaints.

But that can equally well be explained as observer bias (ignorance) by the reporter. If you have not been watching for the past few months, you might not understand the connections and importance of the extensive corruption.

The journalism community is struggling extensively with all these issues.

Paul Levy said...

From Facebook:

Justin: My opinion is that you make some good points. I like Secretary Chu's comment regarding global warming denialism. He reportedly said, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts".

Cheryl: I agree, let the readers form their own opinions. I wonder if all the people out there spending time, getting news from reading and expressing their opinions online may be competing with news media, is at the root of some opinionated reporting.
3 hours ago · LikeUnlike

Bette: Perhaps there is no objective truth when it comes to reporting. People see things as they see them.

Alex: Many journalists seem to operate guided by the assumption that their opinions themselves are the news, and that the germinal subject is merely stimulation. It seems somewhat generational, another reflection of the self-absorption that has come to characterize our culture to a lamentable degree.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion there does seem to be more opinions written than actuall stories that let us the readers form our own opinions. What's your opinion on this?