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Musings: What on earth happened to journalism?

By Jane Hagl & Lauren AguirreMarch 8, 2017

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news consumption Getty Images

L: These days, journalists are often looked down upon. This is due in large part to the fact that not a lot of people actually know how journalism works. It is often misunderstood in narratives that want to paint “the media” as biased and unhelpful.

J: I think it’s more the lines of journalism are getting blurred, making it harder to find where objective journalism stops and editorial begins. In defense of the general public, for the longest time opinion was relegated to the opinion page. Now, with the internet, anyone who wants to be an authority on a subject matter, can be.

 

In defense of the general public, for the longest time opinion was relegated to the opinion page.

L: There is definitely an issue distinguishing between journalists and commentators. That’s kind of the fault of cable news. The typical format for a political show is presenting the story and then going to a panel of experts and commentators to discuss it. It’s a strategy used to fill time and usually doesn’t provide any updates to the story or anything new to the audience.

J: I think panels are similar to getting different quotes from different perspectives. It’s just a matter of getting the right panelist. Just like getting a quote from a person unrelated to a crime scene is unnecessary, it’s just as unnecessary to get a panelist without any personal experience, academic background or tie to the situation. It’s like that guy who was talking about Chicago crime when he lived in a suburb outside of the city. Picking loud or aggressive panelists just because you want sparks to fly during your show is being an irresponsible producer.

L: Another issue with panelists is the contributors. Networks will often pay commentators to appear on their shows regularly. These are labeled as “CNN contributor” or “Fox News contributor.” But they are still just commentators. What they say may help illuminate parts of a story, but that’s essentially the same as paying someone for a quote. In a way, these contributors are treated as regular opinion columnists on TV. But it can be little murky for the average news consumer to differentiate them from real journalists. Contributors can still offer value, but their placement causes confusion about the definition of journalism.

J: Well, news consumers are going to have to a pay attention a little more. Thinking for yourself is important and being able to assess information based on what’s being said and by whom is part of using your brain. But contributors are regular opinion columnists. Just like opinion writers. It’s the same job, just different mediums. But again, it’s the responsibility of the news director and producer to clearly differentiate between news and commentary.

L: This is why media literacy is important. Producers should definitely work to make it clear to the audience what’s commentary and what’s not. The problem is not everyone really wants to analyze the news they consume. This is a big deal, especially when there are millions of blogs out there commenting on things and hyper-partisan sites offering a sharp spin on the news. But if there weren’t the traditional mainstream reporting outlets, these sites that aggregate and spin the news wouldn’t even be able to exist.

J: I don’t think people honestly have time to consume news and media then dissect it. Like I said before, people need to think for themselves, but there’s also a plethora of content with various spins. So it goes back to being responsible media. It’s kind of like bartending. If you have a customer already intoxicated or really buzzed, you wouldn’t serve him alcohol. It’s both a legal and ethical obligation. It’s the same with news. You don’t add more messy journalism, especially when you know how much of an impact your news organization has on the world.

L: That’s why it bothers me when say The Washington Post publishes more click-baity or viral content. You kind of have to do it to stay afloat in the online news business, but it bogs down real journalism and reporting. And further blurs the lines between something like traditional Buzzfeed click bait and a deeply reported piece from The New York Times.

J: Buzzfeed has produced some serious, well-developed news features that give traditional media run for its money. Being legacy media doesn’t carry the same weight anymore and they do some of the crappy reporting, too. It really doesn’t matter who you are at this point, so you might as well make an effort to be responsible. If you can’t present news or facts in an objective matter, then pick a new career. Advertising, sales, business, politics — you can go spin somewhere else.

 

If you can’t present news or facts in an objective matter, then pick a new career. Advertising, sales, business, politics — you can go spin somewhere else.

L: Buzzfeed News has constantly impressed me with their deep investigations and reporting. Even new sites like Vox are providing great context to the stories that are ongoing. I agree. At this point, with so much space for journalism on the web, it’s more important to just report what’s happening. Journalism is a field that has been highly respected in the past and because so many people keep blurring the lines between reporting and commentary, the view of the profession has gone downhill.

J: I’ve always found that the Associated Press, Reuters, and local news sites tend to be really accurate for hard news. International news, politics and business are a little more complicated since leanings are more likely to trickle into those subjects. But looking at the site’s sources really can tell you a lot about the reporting.

L: The moral here is just be skeptical of pretty much everything you read. Make sure it’s not just making things up or slanting the facts too much. Anything else is probably good journalism.