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White noise


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 19 October 2011 00:00


Should news carry opinion with it? This question I asked of a young journalist a couple of days ago and the answer to my question was (to me at least) surprising – because she said ‘yes’.

Now if this same question was asked of me 25 years ago, when I was a young buck in the print media, my answer would have been a definite ‘No!’

Those were the days when the purity of a news report was judged by how much a reporter could distance him or herself from a story, meaning not allowing one’s personal feelings get in the way of what was being reported.  It was what journalists called objectivity.

According to Philip Patterson’s book ‘Media Ethics,’ this form of writing/reporting is developed from the ‘correspondence theory’ of truth. The correspondence theory asserts that truth should correspond to some external set of facts or observations. In line with this, facts were considered sacred and comment was free. The two had their own places within the pages but were clearly demarcated; i.e. the news pages carried the factual stories and the editorial and op-ed pages gave space for comment.

For those who are not familiar with the terminology of the newspaper world, facts are the who-what-where-when of a story.

The why and how can also become facts or sometimes not, depending on the source of a story.  And for a story to be factual, it needs to go further by being checked by several independent sources.

On the other hand, an opinion or comment is entirely subjective and need not in any way be associated with any factual position but just a take on what someone thinks about any given situation.

But today, the lines are getting more and more blurred.  The reason why opinion must be a part of a news report, says the young journalist I spoke to, is because “it’s important to get more than the facts from the mainstream media.

 Today we are bombarded with information through the internet, through texts and so many more ways incomprehensible to the generations before us.

Through the newspapers and the news on TV, I expect an informed opinion – not to tell me what to think, but so that I can put all the information that I have been bombarded with in to perspective.  

So the news we get is filtered and contextualised so that we are in a better position to understand the nuances of the news and get a clearer picture of what is happening in the world around us.

For instance, just hearing about a protest isn’t enough, we need to understand why, how and who was involved.

So information in context is a richer source of knowledge in an era where just plain information has almost become white noise – which we tend to filter out.” It is clear that the change has to happen in the way mainstream media is reporting news.

In this day of social media being active in the world around us, the opinion of a journalist reporting news has to become a relevant part of the news report.

How this is done is another formula altogether. Some newspapers get journalists to blog, giving their opinion on events and happenings around them.

But I too think the time has come when we need to go a step further and actually add comment into news.

 However, we have to also ensure that we make it sufficiently transparent so that the reader is aware that they are also getting the opinion of the news reporter.

Mainstream media will have to relook at the way news is reported. In this day and age when the consumer is demanding more than just a set of facts, it is clear that opinion plays an equally important role.



(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)


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