Having reached a certain stage in my life and career – here at Landis I’m the senior account supervisor – I’m the first to admit that I’ve got some rather well-defined and otherwise stubborn opinions which inform many of my day-to-day decisions. I’m far from unique in this regard. Nobody is immune from opinion. Opinions are like sunrises: they sometimes arrive too soon, they can often be beautiful, and they can shine brightly or be shrouded in clouds. But above all, they are inevitable.
Yes, opinion is everywhere. And, most notably, opinions are shaping the way we receive our news. The phenomenon of opinion-injected news is not new. In fact, the story is so old and belabored that I am reluctant to discuss it here. But after seeing yesterday’s fantastic compendium of opinion writing excerpts in the New York Times, published to commemorate the 40th birthday of its Op-Ed Page, I was compelled to share my own, well, opinions on the matter.
It’s worth considering that, in the 40 years since journalism was given the new twist of opinion with the advent of the op-ed page, we have devolved into a world in which opinion has come to take the place of fact. When the editor John Oakes at the Times began publishing the opinions of select novelists, essayists, and other contemporary minds, on the page across from its Editorials (thus the name “op-ed”), I wonder if even he envisioned the impact it would have on journalism 40 years hence.
Today we’ve got newspapers and magazines devoted entirely to opinion journalism. Cable news networks have flourished in the garden of opinion – having in many instances completely discarded objectivity in favor of opinion – the more extreme the better. And, most dismaying, many of the best newspapers in the world, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times included, have increasingly obscured the walls between its opinion pages and its news pages.
There are solid arguments to be made in support of the notion that objectivity in journalism is dead – dispatched by slow death at the hand of the op-ed page born 40 years ago. But as a former journalist myself, I am not willing to yet concede the argument. I still believe that objectivity in journalism not only still exists, but continues to provide the critical life blood of the industry – however anemic that industry may now be. And, especially since I switched my focus years ago to the public relations side of the equation, my opinion that great journalism is still be practiced by great journalists is even more stubborn. I have the pleasure of working every day with journalists from all over the nation who practice the age-old craft of objectivity. And I view the role of public relations as one of helping the media practice that craft.
Now, before you bring me to task on the preceding statement – I know that many view the public relations industry with the same degree of skepticism as they do journalism – let me make one further, more compelling point about the topic. Journalism, like PR, is only as good as the individuals performing it. Even as a PR professional, I can only take a story so far on behalf of a client. Ultimately, it’s up to the media professional to develop a story based on the information provided and – most important – independently gathered. In my experience, most journalists still operate this way. Do they have opinions on the stories they write? Undoubtedly. But if they’re being true to their profession, opinions are usually checked at the door when journalists are developing a story.
Perhaps mine is an outdated notion. Quaint, even. A 40-year-old relic of an era gone by. And please, if I’m misguided or being naïve here, let me know. But I, for one, am not ready to wave the white flag on objectivity in journalism. And, ultimately, it’s up the consumer of media to identify the line – blurrier than ever – separating objectivity from opinion.
What’s your opinion? Email them to me here: [email protected]
PS – Here’s an “opinion” we can all agree on: SF’s own Warren Hellman throws a great free party. His Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival takes place this weekend. It’s free. It’s fun. And that’s a fact!