Tuesday, August 11, 2009

News, Opinion,
and the old Editorial Page

Since the age of dinosaurs, newspapers have had "opinion" or "editorial" pages. Readers would find "institutional editorials" to represent the opinion of the paper, "columns" to represent opinions of individuals (often journalists), "letters-to-the-editor" to represent readers, and an "editorial cartoon" to represent art-as-opinion.

News dominated the "A-section" and theoretically was devoid of opinion by journalists, but near the end of the front section you'd often find the editorial page -- and opinion.

TV news rarely included editorial opinion. A few local stations had some kook who'd come on at the end and share, but rarely did the networks do so (60 Minutes being an exception, but that was a news magazine, not a newscast).

We've reversed this approach.

Now, opinion seems to be the "A-section" of most cable news programming, with a little news tucked in here and there. Certainly that's the Fox News and MSNBC approach, and to a lesser degree (and less successfully) one pursued by CNN. Newspapers still have a front section and opinion pages, but the average reader looks at it and wonders "what's the difference?" True or not, it's a damn good question.

Bloggers often start with the assumption that there's no difference between news and opinion, that "truth" is the ultimate goal. As if journalists don't also try to get at "the best obtainable version of the truth." One of the differences is "obtainable." Journalists gather information, bloggers often react to information (yes, there are great exceptions to this, but I'm in no mood to get subtle, but yeah there are some damn good bloggers out there actually walking and talking and leaving the safety of their mom's basement to find stuff out).

The line between news and entertainment have blurred, not only in practice, but also in the minds of many Americans. The line between news and opinion? Same line. Blurred.

Is this a bad thing?

To old traditionally trained journalism guys like me, the answer should be YES! But I'm not so sure. I'm still wrestling with this, balancing the practical against the philosophical.

I now divide the world not into mainstream media and non-mainstream media, but into two other camps: Rational Media and Irrational Media. I'll get more into this dichotomy on another post, but rational is not merely in the eyes of the beholder. And I'm not entirely convinced my reasoning here won't unravel if one smart person tugs at a thread, but then again that's what this blog is for, to test ideas. But I'll give you a hint. Irrational Media include not only Fox News (easy) but also Jon Stewart. It includes Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity (easy), but it also includes others that will make conservatives and liberals angry. I'm a radical moderate, so it's not like I care.

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