With all the claims of “fake news” and deliberately inaccurate information being thrown around on social media, I see another problem that frustrates me – some people can’t tell (or don’t know) the difference between news and opinion in “mainstream” media sources.
My degree is in journalism. I’ve worked as a journalist in one form or another for most of my career. I’ve written for newspapers, magazines and radio news. I’ve written hard news stories, features and opinion and reviews.
Often I see someone share an opinion piece on social media, because the sharer happens to agree with the opinions being presented. Then others will criticize it, and the mythical “media,” for having opinions in the first place.
I will be the first to admit that journalists have biases. They wouldn’t be human if they didn’t. Any ethical journalist recognizes that and attempts to add balance by making sure there are multiple voices in a story, representing as many sides as possible.
One thing journalists struggle with, while striving for balance, is the question do all sides really deserve equal weight? Does a flat-Earther deserve as much air time or print space as a NASA scientist talking about the space program? The short answer to that is, of course, no.
It becomes more difficult to achieve balance when it comes to more nuanced discussions. Pick anything on the front page today. I promise you, though, every journalist I’ve ever met really believes in what they are doing (it isn’t for the money) and wants to get the story right.
Generally speaking, opinion pieces in newspapers are relegated to the Editorial Page. Exceptions are made for things like this column. I do research and try to include information in them, but they are opinion. That is designated by that column title and the goofy cropped photo beside it – called a column signature or “sig” for short.
On television, statements of opinion are typically labeled as “Commentary.” Of course, cable news channels (all of them) blur that line when they have the anchor between two commentators giving their opinions on the top news stories.
My short solution for that is any time I see a “panel discussion,” I tune out. Those are people paid to offer — often outlandish — opinions on topics. I can think for myself and really don’t need anyone to tell me what to think about a topic.
To label all news to be biased and inaccurate is off base. There are gray areas, and journalists make mistakes from time to time. They are human. But don’t make the mistake of reading an opinion piece from a major news source and deciding that the newspaper or magazine or broadcast outlet is biased.