Monday, March 23, 2009

A Journalist's Perspective on Opinion

More frequently than ever, I've been asked by readers and colleagues about my credibility as a journalist, being that I blog regularly and am outspoken about my own opinions. Ironically, I feel the need to answer these questions with another blog post.

Throughout life, I've always been taught to question everything and remain a skeptic until undisputable evidence has been shown. My dad told me once to never ever be closed-minded, because in discourse, there is always room for the new and improved to phase out the old and the irrelevant. (Considering my Dad is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, it's a bold statement for someone to make who regularly preaches for something that cannot and never will have proof to justify its following.)

The media is the fifth branch of government, behind the Executive, the Legislative, the Judicial, and the Fed. And in lots of cases, we hold more influence over the American people than the other four branches combined. One thing that always amazes me about journalism is that a common man, such as myself, is expected to regularly hold the powerful accountable and ask them hard, pointed questions in order to seek the truth, and bring it to the people. I regularly speak to my state's Governor, a slew of state politicans, and am on first-name basis with the local authorities for whatever beat on which I happen to report. For minimum wage, I'm required to confront these people and get the real answers. That's why I love my job.

However, my responsibility to the public discourse will only grow in importance the more I rise up the media food chain, so to speak. As I move to bigger and bigger markets and broadcast to more people, my responsibility to the people also grows exponentially. The people, for good reason, expect only the truth, and only the best reporting, 100% of the time. And it can get stressful at the highest levels, I'm sure.

One example is the WLEX 18 newsroom, where I worked last Summer as an intern. I taught myself how to use their professional video editing software and regularly made news packages of my own and had them evaluated by whomever I could find in the newsroom; anchors, reporters, producers, editors, and photographers. All of these people had made their bones doing what I had done and am doing now in smaller markets. And in this newsroom, we got regular updates from city officials and had a constant police scanner feed. We got news updates from the AP news wire, and had an intricate communication system in the newsroom so everyone knew basically everything that was going on, 100% of the time. I realized then that journalists are proliferators of information; we have all the information, and it is our job to get that information out to the people in a compelling, interesting, and objective way.

Being a journalist, and having my background growing up, I never form an opinion on an issue before taking a fair look at the arguments of both sides. I also look at each side's ability to articulate their argument eloquently, reasonably, and logically when forming my opinion. Regular readers and critics of my blog can both reasonably assume that my ideology is more center-left than anything else, given my opinions on current issues.

Despite my strong support of my opinions and my spirit for debate, this doesn't mean that my journalism or reporting of the news will be biased in any way. One of the things I have the most respect for is my job; my responsibility to the people as their voice to the sitting powers. Doing anything to spin my stories anywhere from the truth would jeopardize my credibility as a journalist, and thus, I could lose my job. As such, I always give my 100% best effort at each story I write to make sure my news is compelling, informative, and most importantly, objective.

Some may see this as a proverbial conundrum; if a credible journalist is required to tell the truth wihtout bias, how does one get so outspoken about his or her opinions? This is the question I'm asked, more than frequently. Especially from those with whom I engage in debate. Here is my answer.

As a journalist, a proliferator of information, as someone who has all of the information and is required to distribute it effectively, whose opinion would be better to trust? That of an average media consumer, or the word of a newsman himself, whose job is to thoroughly study and write about the issues we face every day? Not only do I believe that journalists have a right to express their opinions as the rest of Americans do, but I feel that journalists should be encouraged to express their opinion on their own time. While news stories are objective and without bias, i believe a good reporter's opinion on an issue should be valued and respected. And those opinions, if effectively and logically communicated with eloquence, reason, and thought, should be considered valued information.

Hope I answered your questions! Keep reading, keep learning, keep discussing, and most of all, keep thinking for yourselves and be willing to adapt to the newer, better ideas. Always move forward.


  1. You can do both! Report and be unbiased in your news bulletins, then be as biased as you want in your columns :)

  2. I don't think it's possible to be unbiased. Even when trying to be as objective as one possibly can, they are still proliferating this news through their mind, a mind that has been and is continually being molded by their surroundings. That's the beautiful thing about the human mind, it's not static. However, it can be problematic in presenting a viewpoint without reflecting the ideas that have been imprinted upon it. Granted, there is some degree of room for restraint of personal opinion. I think your dad's advice is best for the reader in any situation; if the information presented to the reader is, like you said, "effectively and logically communicated with eloquence, reason, and thought," then there should be no question as to whether or not it is valid and respectable.

  3. That's hardly a fair criticism. I can't think of a single major journalist who DIDN'T voice their opinions on the appropriate forums. Look at Hunter S. Thompson. He's one of the most respected and legendary journalists and authors in American history, and his personality was the driving force of everything he did--it was a vital organ in each and every body of text he ever created.

  4. Good post overall. I understand your objections to Christianity, even if I don't agree. The discussion over the rationality of science being able to explain every phenomenon in the universe can come later. Considering our past discussions, you might say that a zombie carpenter saving mankind is pretty far fetched as well. I shouldn't put words in your mouth. I tend to agree with Kyle: reporting without bias may be impossible. It is a noble goal, but I can't find one organization that reports without bias. Even the beloved NPR erred a few months ago in their reporting of the split between pre and post Vatican II catholics in Louisville. Pretty much every person they interviewed or referenced was on the post-Vatican II side of the argument, and the one "expert" they interviewed was from Notre Dame, a notoriously liberal catholic university. Don't be like them. Seek out experts on both sides of the argument, and you will have the respect of those who value integrity in journalism, not sensationalism. Good luck, Carl, you aim is noble.